Generation Z Characteristics in the Workplace

Current managers and bosses would be wise to learn what makes Gen Zers tick at work

By Robin Reshwan, Contributor

LIVE CHILLING AT WORK? Maybe not yet, but with approximately 80 million teens to young adults heading to the American workforce over the next decade, this may become a familiar work expression for leaving video chat apps open with friends or colleagues. Generation Z is a term used to describe people born between roughly 1996 and 2010. Not to be confused with their older, employed millennial colleagues, Gen Zers are either just entering the workforce or still in school. Here are four characteristics to look for in Gen Z interns, entry-level workers and future co-workers.

Multitasking Masters

"Switching between different tasks and paying simultaneous attention to a wide range of stimuli comes naturally to them," notes entrepreneur and Forbes Leadership writer Deep Patel. A lifetime of fast moving and constantly updating media and technology has strengthened this generation's ability to transition rapidly and effectively.

With a documented average attention span of eight seconds, the younger generation can absorb new information quickly and feels at ease with dynamic change. This is a huge advantage in modern business, where variables are many and staying in front of industry trends is a competitive advantage.

Committed to Intellectual Growth

Although many have yet to finish school, Gen Z is on track to be the most highly educated generation yet, according to Pew Research Center analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data. They are growing up and launching careers in an era where knowledge, both tactical "how to's" and explanations of more academic subjects, can be accessed quickly and cheaply online. Sites like Khan Academy, Udemy and LinkedIn Learning enable real time learning for personal and professional benefit.

Additionally, schools and colleges now offer a range of online courses, certifications and degrees. Early indicators show that the desire and ability to learn, unlearn and relearn will be a core competency of this generation.

A recent survey from Instructure and Harris Poll showed that 55% of Gen Zers seek out new job skills on their own, without expecting help or guidance from their company or boss. With the emphasis on learning as a competency, it is important for managers of Gen Z employees to foster intellectually stimulating environments. Encouraging ongoing training and creating active mentoring programs can be cost-effective ways to engage these new-to-career professionals.

Tentative About Tacit Knowledge

"Tacit knowledge, or specific information about process or customers (along with other subtleties such as culture), is usually passed down within organizations through decades of in-person collaboration and communication and is critical for long-term success and leadership development." In Deloitte Insights' "Generation Z Enters the Workforce," the authors give weight to the gap between the information gained online and deeper concepts like context that come from relationships, observation and interaction.

Gen Z employees and companies alike should be careful not to equate complex technical proficiency with knowledge of the more subtle nuances and judgment required to make business decisions independently. Internships and entry-level roles should clearly delineate technical requirements as well as "experience appropriate" challenges and decisions. A Gen Z employee may be an expert at getting 1,000 people to attend a business networking event, but that does not mean she knows what to do once they arrive.


The definition of diversity has expanded rapidly during the last 10 years. In a recent Deloitte study on Generation Z versus millennials, "Generation Z put nearly as much emphasis on the importance of diversity of gender, age, disability and education, but they put more emphasis on diversity relating to LGBT identity and religion than their elders." As executives and hiring managers actively strive to attract a wider range of backgrounds and viewpoints, Gen Z employees will seek out and embrace diversity.

Their comfort with diversity will have a positive impact on inclusivity and productivity among different teams and environments.

Generation Z already represents $44 billion in annual purchasing power, with 85% learning about new products via social media. These digital natives are not only target customers of many growing companies, but they offer a range of modern skills to strengthen the workforce. Internal apprenticeship programs, latticed career plans and matching skills to projects will allow for better success in staffing and development. Employers who create dynamic opportunities to leverage Gen Z's robust technical skills and fluency combined with ample opportunities for professional growth will be set up to thrive in the years to come.

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