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Gen Z, defined generally as those born between 1996 and 2014, has taken a lot of flack recently. Between their plucky attitudes, technological know-how, and their do-it-yourself mentalities, they’re easy to mock, and sometimes hard to understand. You may even have a few Gen Z interns in your office who catch some flack for their love of TikTok therapists or YouTube celebrities. But just as you were once mocked for enjoying the delicious (yet perhaps expensive) treat of avocado toast and for moving home after college (just for a few months), don’t let your biases about Gen Z get in the way of seeing what they can teach you.
One of the most important things to learn from your Zoomer colleagues — a nickname for the Gen Z crowd — is that in life, you can’t take things too seriously. This generation is far more comedically self-deprecating, absurdist, and quirky, and their strange version of humor can often take coworkers by surprise. Scott Fogel at Fast Company argues that this is because Millennials see the virtual world as a sort of catered lens with which to view life, whereas Zoomers have done the opposite. Between Twitch streams, YouTube vlogs, day-in-the-life TikToks and much more, Gen Z recognizes that life is inherently bizarre, wild, and dark-yet-entertaining. This bleeds into the way each generation interacts in both professional and interpersonal settings, causing older generations to be more withholding and interested in presenting a tailored image of themselves, and younger generations to feel more empowered to be their honest selves.
While you might not understand the obscure, layered memes your Zoomer intern sends to the Slack chat, it’s important to understand that they’re not only commenting on the situation at hand. In a way, they’re making a joke about using a meme as a vehicle for comedy in the first place. Zoomers can teach us, in this way, to step back and contextualize things as being part of a (sometimes laughably peculiar) bigger picture.
When you think about young people asking for raises, your first thought is probably a cheeky article with a title like “Entitled Gen Z workers want raises, promotions just for showing up.” But is this entitlement, or survival?
Many Zoomers were raised both during the 2008 recession and the COVID crisis, and as a result, they’ve seen family and friends lose their homes, cars, jobs, and more. As a result, 69% of Zoomers would accept a stable job over one that they’re passionate about, just to ensure a roof over their heads. The average salary for a recent grad with zero to five years of experience is $47,000, whereas the median living wage in the US is $67,000. So it’s safe to say that if you can’t live off of your salary, you’ll probably be asking for a raise sooner rather than later – especially if you’ve been traumatized by years of financial insecurity.
Even if the idea of negotiating raises is new for other generations, many Millennials have already received the memo on this talking point. A Bank of America report on generational money habits states that over half of Millennials have asked for a raise in the past two years and that 80% of those who did actually got those raises. But they still have a long way to go to catch up – Zoomers will reportedly surpass Millennials in income by 2031.
Your idea of the future of work is shuffling from your home office to your regular office, checking emails, muting yourself on Zoom meetings, and doing whatever task your boss assigns you without putting up a fuss. But Gen Z has a different idea about how the future of work is going to look, as they know that they’re the ones driving it.
The one thing to learn from Zoomers here is that you can work hard and smart at the same time – but don’t just work hard with no end goal in mind. InsideOut defines Zoomers as well-educated and entrepreneurial, as 64% aim to earn an advanced degree, and another 72% want to start their own businesses one day. This generation isn’t too keen on doing administrative tasks for unclear reasons, or straying from their core responsibilities without knowing why. A good manager for a Zoomer always needs to give clear explanations as to why they’re assigning the tasks they are, lest your Gen Z employees lose motivation, and no longer respect your authority.
These goal-minded youngsters have a clear sense of where they want to be – they know that they’re the arbiters of their own destiny, and they’re willing to work for it. An additional 88% want to work longer hours to achieve their goals of quick promotions, and 75% would consider holding multiple positions in their company at the same time if it would help them reach their goals faster. And who’s to say any of that is unfeasible? Take in Zoomer’s work ethic combined with their need for clarity, and you might learn something.
You might be used to rolling with the punches, keeping your head down, and trying not to make too many suggestions, it might be time to think differently. Zoomers know better than to stay in an untenable situation, and though they might seem quiet or nervous in meetings, behind the scenes, they know their worth, and you should too.
While many Zoomers care more about a steady paycheck than a diverse work environment, their deal breakers come in other forms. If their managers aren’t offering the kind of coaching, support, and guidance they need, they’re much more likely to look for another position. Their biggest fear is being trapped in a position that doesn’t offer professional growth, and 20% say that they need some form of daily feedback, or else they’d consider quitting. They’re also likely to look for greener pastures if their herdsman brandishes the cattle prod too often; 25% of Zoomers say that they would leave a company in which their boss manages through fear.
While many of us have probably learned this lesson already after experiencing the highs and lows of the pandemic, if there’s one thing Zoomers can teach everyone else, it’s that we need to start considering our impact on the world at large.
Worries about the future of society haunt Gen Z more than other generations. In the APA’s Stress in America survey, 62% of Zoomers report feeling stressed by the rising suicide rates, and an additional 58% are deeply concerned about climate change. But many don’t feel paralyzed by these dark clouds and have faith that as long as they work hard and stay strong, sunnier days are ahead. A report from Girls With Impact shows that 65% of Zoomers polled want to personally change the world for the better, and many want to work for a company that helps them facilitate that goal. So while they’re looking for stability, they’re also looking to make a positive effect on the world.
Your newest Gen Z coworker might initially come off as someone who’s timid, afraid to make a mistake, anxious for feedback or constantly striving for perfection. But the more you get to know them, the more you’ll realize that their anxieties stem from a life of uncertainty, and their perfectionism is really just a manifestation of their drive to succeed. Eventually, once you crack their skittish shell, you’ll get to know a funny, ambitious, hard-working and good-hearted individual, and even if you don’t fully understand what “cheugy” means, you’ll be able to empathize a little more with the kids these days.
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