Generation Z: Stop Assuming, Start Engaging


When you think of age discrimination at work, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? For many of us, age discrimination conjures images of older employees being treated unfairly. A former colleague of mine once told me that she’d been dyeing her hair for a number of years, despite wanting to embrace her natural colour. When I asked why, she replied that ‘being taken seriously’ in her role relied on appearing younger than her years, because she worked closely with technology and social media. In her mind, having grey hair simply wasn’t an option.

Although discrimination against older people in the workplace is still an issue, this group isn’t the only one affected. Younger people, at the very beginning of their careers, are also experiencing discrimination that could prove harmful to their job prospects and career progression – and they’re desperate to fight the assumptions being made about them.  

Last week, the BBC released the findings of their recent research exploring the views of Generation Z – and how Generation Y, Generation X and Baby Boomers perceive the youngest generation entering the workplace. The survey, carried out by Ipsos MORI for BBC Newsbeat, involved over 3,000 participants aged 16 – 65 in the UK.

We took a closer look at the survey findings to uncover what the other generations really think about Generation Z – and what’s actually important to them…

Hard working, or lazy?

When asked to select words or phrases that would best describe themselves, 24% of Generations Zs described themselves as ‘independent’. 28% stated that they’re ‘creative’, with 38% describing themselves as ‘hard working’ and 20% as ‘ambitious’. However, Generation Y, X and Baby Boomers described the youngest generation as ‘lazy’ (22%, 29% and 31% respectively) and ‘selfish’ (24%, 27% and 23% respectively).

It’s difficult to understand where these assumptions are coming from – though it’s fairly obvious that anyone feeling that they’re being labelled as ‘lazy’ or ‘selfish’ at the start of their career will be far from engaged. How can Generation Z prove that they’re hard working, ambitious and independent, with these assumptions being made about them?

What would make Generation Z happy?

When asked what achievement would make Generation Z happiest in life, a quarter of Generation X participants thought that being famous/on TV was top of Generation Z’s list, with Generation Y and Baby Boomers following suit (21% and 23% respectively). However, just 2% of Generation Z stated that this would make them happy. A fifth stated that having a job they love would make them happiest in the future, alongside having a family with children (17%).

Although a career in show business or television may be an ambition for some, it’s clear that the majority of Generation Z participants have other plans for the future. Generation Z are putting their happiness before their earning potential, with 20% stating that having a job they love is important to them, compared to being ‘financially well off’ (17%).

What’s important to Generation Z right now?

The differences in perception between the groups became even clearer when participants were asked what’s most important to Generation Z. All other generations assumed that the use of social media is hugely important to Generation Z (47%, 46% and 48% respectively), though only 6% actually listed this as important.

The older generations didn’t think that family was particularly important to 16 – 22 year olds (7%, 6% and 5% respectively), although 44% of Generation Z said that family was an important aspect of their lives.

As Chloe Combi reminds us in Generation Z: Their Voices, Their Lives, this group ‘has never known the world without the internet. They’ve grown up with […] an object unknown just one generation before: a smartphone.’ Even if many Generation Zs don’t consider technology or social media as important when compared to family, friends and future happiness, there’s much to be learnt from people who understand this kind of communication so innately – however young they may be.

Stop Assuming, Start Engaging

Born after 1995, many Generation Zs will be already be working within organisations across the country, with many others thinking about their career paths following University. Instead of assuming they’re social media and fame obsessed (or lazy, vain, and selfish), we should be embracing this younger generation in the work place – and learning from them.

As you’ll probably know already, Employee Voice is one of the Four Enablers of Employee Engagement (though we think there’s an extra Enabler to be considered – click here for a quick overview!) We know that listening to employees, finding out what’s important to them and learning from their expertise and experience is absolutely essential in achieving successful Employee Engagement. Generation Z is no different; so let’s listen to them, and be led by them – the creative, hard-working, ambitious next generation.

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