Welcome, Generation Z



A few weeks ago, we welcomed several new CPAs to our firm. Almost all of these young people have never known a world in which brick-and-mortar libraries are crucial for thesis work; in which learning the title of a song requires days of detective work; and in which announcing your location to your friends every hour raises eyebrows. And now they are our co-workers.

“I see no hope for the future of our people if they are dependent on the frivolous youth of today. The present youth are exceedingly disrespectful and impatient of restraint.” This sounds pretty much like a typical complaint about today’s youth, but it’s a statement often attributed to ancient Greek poet Hesiod. All the way back to the 8th century BC. Complaining about young people who mess everything up is definitely an old hobby.

Just when we’re starting to understand millennials a little bit better, here comes a brand-new cohort: Generation Z, born in the late 1990s or after. Surveys show that Gen Z eclipses all other generations, even millennials, when it comes to embracing diversity and inclusion. They are more likely than other generations to have close friends of varying religions, sexual orientation, racial and ethnic origin, and political beliefs. Entrepreneur Jason Dorsey once said that Gen Z notices diversity only when it is absent.

In their article “Generation Z enters the workforce,” Deloitte’s Carolyn O-Boyle, Josefin Atack, and Kelly Monahan explain that the arrival of Gen Z is no different from that of the millennials, with much of the dialogue focusing on the impact that “omnipresent personal technology” has had on this generation. After all, these people grew up knowing—instinctively, it would seem—their way around smart phones and tablets. My five-year-old son even had to teach his grandparents how to full-screen a video, use the front-facing camera, and switch apps sans the home button.

Gen Z is expected to bring an unprecedented level of tech skills to the workforce, and many organizations have started to predict how this always-connected population will influence the workplace.

O-Boyle, Atack and Monahan urge organizations to redesign the entry-level employee experience, so that entry-level roles can attract and engage Gen Z and, at the same time, continue to serve as a crucial training ground for them.

For the older generations, entry-level jobs were a rite of passage for a long-lasting career, the lowest rung in the corporate ladder where future leaders learned the needed skills. Entry-level roles gave organizations a chance to build a steady pipeline of professionals who are “trained in an organization’s methods and steeped in its culture.” In knowledge-based industries, entry-level roles typically focus on developing and honing technical skills and soft skills needed for advancement.

But times have changed: ladders have shortened, career options have widened, and entry-level employees often leave after only a couple of years.

In addition to the arrival of a new generation, automation and technology are pushing organizations to change what entry-level work looks like. Automation is reducing the need for human intervention in many routine tasks at the entry level, so incoming Gen Z professionals may, instead, be greeted by jobs that require more critical thinking and reasoning, which, at this stage in their careers, they might not yet be ready for.

That’s why O-Boyle, Atack, and Monahan are pushing organizations to evolve and take a fresh look at the collective set of experiences that professionals undergo in their first few years with an organization—from acquisition to development to organizational culture. Learning delivery methods should be modernized; now popular are “nano-learning videos” that are being used to provide right-sized lessons in a format that is familiar to millennials and Gen Z. In addition, Gen Z expects an inclusive culture that promotes flexibility and mobility, ensures frequent coaching, and puts priority on well-being.

None of this advice sounds new, of course. But it’s increasingly important to act on such advice when it comes to Gen Z professionals, primarily because of their unprecedented expectations of openness and transparency.

I’m still baffled by how often and how eagerly my young colleagues share their salary information, but this seems to be the norm for them. And they expect the same from everyone else. They expect open conversations not only about strategy and decisions, but also about threats and failures, topics that most leaders aren’t keen to talk about.

O-Boyle, Atack and Monahan offer the following recommendations:

1. Act on input from young professionals: In most organizations, decision-makers come from a different generation than the majority of the workforce. It is, therefore, important that mechanisms, whether formal or informal, are created to allow young professionals to share their perspectives and incorporate their values into the decision-making process.

2. Break with traditional norms: Many of the suggestions mentioned in the Deloitte article may differ from what leaders experienced back when they were entry-level workers. But they need to be convinced about the urgency to change, to spend more time with junior professionals to pass down tacit knowledge, and to be more open to “looking across the ecosystem to find and develop talent.”

3. Acknowledge that individual needs may differ from generational trends: We should remember that individual professionals are just that—individuals, and they expect their experiences to be specific to their personal preferences and goals. “While generational trends can point us in a direction, an employee’s experience should be a unique path.”

Our conference rooms and workstations are now starting to be occupied by more and more Generation Z professionals. If we can rise to the challenge of adapting for them and allowing them to do their best, then they should feel perfectly at home in our organizations. And, contrary to Hesiod’s misgivings, we would all be the better for it.

The writer is a director for Human Resources at Navarro Amper & Co., the local member firm of Deloitte Southeast Asia Ltd. – a member firm of Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited – comprising Deloitte practices operating in Brunei, Cambodia, Guam, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.


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