Jason McDowell | November 2016 | The post-millennial generation, known as Generation Z, is the first of its kind. In the same way that millennials were the first to grow up with the internet, Gen. Z-ers were the first to grow up in the age of smartphones and interconnected devices.
Despite its uniqueness, however, Gen. Z does share something with the millennials: This youngest generation also faces a set of challenges specific to its upbringing, and we’re just now beginning to see those challenges manifest in the labor w.
For one, Generation Z is less independent than previous generations, according research from Multi-Health Systems (MHS), a firm that specializes in psychological assessments. When the company used the Emotional Quotient Inventory 2.0 (EQ-i 2.0) to assess the emotional intelligence of 259,000 working people between the the ages of 15 and 75, it found that Gen. Z-ers tend to score lower on the independence factor than their predecessors do.
“Low independence can manifest in a number of different ways,” explains Dr. Steven Stein, founder and CEO of MHS. “For one, [Gen. Z-ers] tend to check more often with others before acting or carrying out tasks. They’re less sure of themselves and want to confirm that they are making the right moves. They will want to check with peers, social media, and websites before taking action more than other generations have previously.”
The Interdependent Generation
Being the first generation to grow up constantly connected to peers and family members through social media and mobile devices has had its consequences for Generation Z.
“They have a greater need for approval,” Stein says. “So whether it’s moving out on their own, purchasing health insurance, getting a car, or switching jobs, they are more likely to depend on significant others, family, or friends before making that final move.”
Generation Z struggles when it comes to making decisions, and businesses that feel their Gen. Z employees aren’t quite up to snuff may need to change the way they approach their younger workers.
“Being less efficient in decision-making means that, when making decisions, [Gen. Z] can be distracted by their emotions or other factors,” Stein says. “It’s important to be clear about tasks you want accomplished. You don’t need to tell them how to do it, but indicate the kinds of solutions you are looking for.”
Stein notes that employers will have to make sure Gen. Z workers “see the problem as it is” and don’t move too quickly or too slowly in coming up with solutions. But as long as they are clear about what needs to be done, employers should have little problem with getting Gen. Z to be and stay productive.
“Being direct and having clear expectations will help keep this group on task,” Stein says. “They are fast learners and can be very creative. Additionally, it’s important to reinforce the importance of the work they are doing. This group values meaningful work.”
One of the reasons that Generation Z may struggle to make decisions is that they lack emotional problem-solving skills, according to the study. Too much or too little emotion when trying to work through a problem may send Gen. Z-ers off course and ultimately lead to indecisiveness.
“If you use too much emotion in a situation, you can become sidetracked and make poor decisions,” Stein says. “If you use too little emotion, you might make a very logical decision that you ultimately don’t feel good about.”
But that doesn’t mean Gen. Z is a lost cause. Stein says these young workers are very open to coaching and training, which can help them make up for any deficits they may have in the problem-solving department.
“Coaching should ensure that [Gen. Z-ers] have an opportunity to generate a number of solutions to problems they are working on and receive some guidance and direction when it comes to selecting and implementing solutions,” Stein says. “Teach them to come to you with solutions, not problems. Then go through the potential solutions with them, evaluating the potential consequences together.”
Stein also says that Generation Z “wants more guidance and welcomes multifaceted learning opportunities.” That means it is a good idea to use both digital and face-to-face training solutions with them.
“Do not just use digital solutions with this group,” Stein says. “They highly value in-person time.”
The Experience Factor
It is critical to note that hope is not lost for Generation Z. Many baby boomers, Generation X-ers, and millennials felt a little lost or insecure when beginning their new careers. They, too, lacked important skills in their younger days.
“Some of the trends we see in emotional intelligence are age-related,” Stein says. “That is, we get better at certain skills with experience. We learn to be more patient, take more things in stride without overreacting, and concern ourselves more with the needs of others. We also get better at managing ourselves and our emotions. So you would expect to see certain increases occur with age or maturity.”
However, Generation Z remains the product of the unique, interconnected, interdependent environment in which its members were raised.
“The gaps in the areas identified – independence, problem-solving, and stress tolerance – are greater than what you would expect [if they were the result of age alone],” Stein says.
But each new generation tends to challenge workplace norms in some ways. Generation X-ers were the first to grow up with two working parents, and the amount of independence they brought to the workplace unsettled older generations. When millennials challenged the 40-hour work week and demanded a better work-life balance, many scoffed at the idea. Now, however, flexible work schedules are normal at many companies.
Ultimately, the business world will adjust to Generation Z and the unique challenges it presents as well. Time will tell exactly what these adjustments will look like, but based on the historical trends, it won’t all be bad.