Welcome competitive advantage Gen Z brings
Published on: Sunday, November 10, 2019
By: Dr Liew Su Ann
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Currently, the workplace is a highly diverse and interesting environment comprising a few generations who present myriad characteristics. That said, organisations should shift their focus to the youngest group in the workforce, post-Millennials, known as Generation Z or simply Gen Z. Unicef broadly defines this tech-savvy generation as those born after 1995. 

This is a generation raised on internet and smartphones and, hence, very comfortable with electronic communication and interaction. In short, they live and breathe technology. They use digital tools and quickly adapt to new devices. They are intelligent, brave, practical and fast, often requiring less supervision. However, it has been suggested that Gen Z has an attention span of merely eight seconds! 

With the early Gen Z now in their twenties and rapidly joining the employment market, questions on this generation’s values and workplace expectations need to be addressed. First, Gen Z job-seekers tend to use Linkedln in their search for employment. Apart from the expected active-ness on social networking sites such as Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook, they favour Linkedln to build their “brand” and make their presence known in the job market, according to a study on graduating Gen Z students. Personal branding – being able from the outset to naturally identify and showcase their prominent dispositions to interested employers – is highly instinctive for them. 

This is a generation who – despite or because of growing up in a world conscious of terrorism and public fear, due to acts of terrorism and mass violence – believe that they can make a difference in the world. Gen Z possess greater awareness and support diversity, equality and inclusivity. Therefore, in their search for the ideal job, they are attracted to organisations with a cause – a company that is socially responsible and actively contributing to the betterment of society and/or the environment. Once they find an organisation that matches their values, they will be focused and highly committed in their job. It is unsurprising that they are then willing to settle for lesser pay to work in a company that champions causes they believe in. In other words, Gen Z find such non-financial rewards more attractive. 

In line with this characteristic, many organisations now practise sustainable human resource management, where the sustainability agenda is delivered through workers, including Gen Z. This creates a win-win situation of person-organisation fit, in which 1) the organisation becomes more ethical and socially and/or environmentally responsible, while 2) drawing potential Gen Z employees. 

Another appealing point of this up-and-coming generation is how driven they are – often setting high expectations of themselves and of their employers. Having witnessed the stereotyping of Gen Y, this succeeding generation strives to uphold their own professional brand and prove that they are equally capable when they are offline. Based on extensive studies conducted by Ranstad US as well as Corey Seemiller and Meghan Grace, authors of Generation Z Goes to College, Gen Z students have high entrepreneurial spirit and some have intentions to be self-employed upon graduating. What is striking is that this preference for entrepreneurship is not just a conscious choice but rather a mechanism for survival in today’s world, having come of age during the Great Recession of 2008-2009. 

Opportunities that explore and encourage the use of technology are also what Gen Z look for in their work. Spending an average of three hours a day on social media, this generation is innately keen on and capable of accessing online materials, particularly social media, in getting the job done. Despite that, they are generally more aware of online privacy issues, having learnt from Gen Y the risks of over-exposure and divulgences on the internet. Such combined superior technical and language proficiency, along with their online security risk savviness, suggest that they indeed add value to the workforce. 

In addition, Gen Z prefer hands-on activities as they focus on acquiring skills necessary for their career. Two unique aspects of this generation are: 1) observation before trying out something themselves, such as viewing videos on YouTube or other social media video-sharing sites, and 2) broader application of their knowledge. 

They also enjoy playing games and thus, find the gamification of tasks highly appealing. A focus on how jobs can be gamified so as to hold their attention and enthusiasm is the way to go. Compared with their Gen Y and Gen X predecessors, Gen Z are stronger in the field of IT or creative works, and they perform poorly in monotonous activities. Instead, jobs that allow autonomy and individuality are ideal. 

Furthermore, Gen Z expect to receive instant feedback at work. They are bolder and want their ideas to be heard. They will only engage in teamwork when forced to, unlike Gen Y who believe in the power of collaborative efforts. Then again, Gen Z are more eager to share knowledge compared to Gen Y, albeit online rather than face to face. 

To sum up, Gen Z job-seekers favour workplace flexibility, immediate job satisfaction and recognition, as well as careers that allow them to reap immediate rewards or progression. These are distinctive and highly independent people who are happiest when their work has significant social impact, and are confident using technology in general and social media in particular. Let us welcome them to the workforce and embrace the competitive advantage they bring to organisations! 

n Dr Liew Su Ann is a lecturer at Sunway University Business School.


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