As the next emerging generation of workers — known as Generation Z — begins entering the workforce, what can we expect from them? And what are the expectations and aspirations of a generation that has grown up with Google, Facebook and Twitter, and how will that generation interact with those of us who can remember black-and-white TV and the first Apollo moon landing? 

I recently sat in as an audience member for a Business Record micro-event, “Inside the Mind of Generation Z.” We invited a panel that was a mix of professionals representing Gen Z as well as millennials and Gen X, and the result was an insightful conversation about how we view Generation Z, and — most interesting to me — how Generation Z views the rest of us. 

Generation Z encompasses those born between about 1995 and 2012, which puts the oldest members of this demographic right at the point of entering the workforce in their early 20s. 

On the panel with Chris Conetzkey, publisher of the Business Record, were three Gen Z members: Jessica Campbell, electronic banking specialist, Bankers Trust Co. Annelise Escher, student staffer with the Harkin Institute for Public Policy and Citizen Engagement. Ben Swanson, an Iowa State University student and a summer intern at the Business Record. Also on the panel were Abby Rodewald, president of the Young Professionals Connection (a millennial), and Deb Rinner, vice president and chief learning officer at Tero International (a baby boomer), who provided her perspective as a generational consultant.

Technology has shaped each generation differently 
Having grown up with instant access to information from Google, Gen Z generally has an attitude of “I can figure it out myself,” Swanson observed. So they’re less likely to ask a mentor at work for advice, and they’re not going to read a how-to book to research a subject or task; they’re just going to jump into it and then start Googling as questions arise. 

Generation Z members of the panel also said that they prefer work environments that reflect the quick-hit, multitasking approach of online browsing. “I like thinking about many things at once, Escher said. “We like to do multiple things in quick succession.” 

At the same time, a negative aspect of their large comfort zone with technology is that it may hamper their ability to interact with co-workers and supervisors. As Campbell put it, “It kills your ability to sit down with people or to seek their opinions about something. I can see some problems with our ability to work together.” 

Networking preferences are different 
The newest generation of workers sees networking differently, and that will have implications for how businesses and organizations may want to think about the more traditional formats of networking events they may offer. 

As Campbell expressed it, “We like to do outside-the-box things” — such as small, informal gatherings at a coffee shop or bar, rather than a large organized breakfast networking and panel event at a conference center. 

“I don’t want to go to an event where I’m one of 100 and I might or might not meet someone from my industry,” Escher said. And Generation Z wants individualized attention, Swanson noted, with a preference for one-on-one interaction rather than being addressed as part of a group. 

Technology has probably encouraged and nurtured that preference for individuality. Rinner observed that millennials and boomers can relate to the time when everyone was listening to the same Top 40 hit song on the radio, whereas now many people prefer to have their own playlist on their phones. 

Campbell said she sees the individualization of Generation Z as one of its strengths. “When we come together, we have all these different perspectives,” she said. “I think that makes the workplace stronger because we have that diversity of views.” And Escher said she thinks that Generation Z’s individualized tastes will provide an advantage in seeing the possibilities in developing products that are individualized as well. 

Marketing and consumer engagement will shift 
It looks like companies are going to have a tough time keeping pace with Generation Z’s fast-shifting preferences. A social media meme that’s “a thing” this week could lead to a marketing success for a company, but they’ll have to be on it quickly and ready to move on just as quickly to the next thing, the Gen Z panelists said. Additionally, the generation will probably disregard a company that’s obviously outdated in its social media posts and will engage with those companies that are willing to engage with them online. 

Gen X wants security and community engagement 
Rodewald said that when she was looking for her first full-time position after college, just landing a good job was the most important consideration, while considerations such as the quality of the benefits package were secondary. Generation Z, however, is more likely to look at factors such as whether there is a good retirement plan and whether the company offers opportunities such as time off to volunteer. 

Campbell, for instance, said she likes the security that Bankers Trust offers as an employer, but also sees an advantage in working for the organization because it can offer a lot of mobility between different departments. “It keeps me feeling secure,” she said, “but also allows for keeping me engaged and involved.” 

The importance of community involvement seems to be a common interest among millennials and Generation Z members. In recognition of that, the Young Professionals Connection is planning an Oct. 6 day of service event. “We see (community involvement) as incredibly important to this generation,” Rodewald said. 

Rinner noted that it will be important for employers to encourage the same type of dialogue between generations as the panelists engaged in. “If you don’t understand why someone is doing something that they’re doing, ask them about it, rather than judging,” she said. 

Each generation has its strengths to offer in the workplace, Campbell said. Accordingly, “we should emphasize playing to the strengths of each generation,” she said. 


Abby Rodewald is a manager at the Heart of Iowa Marketplace, and is the president of the Young Professionals Connection.

Annelise Escher is a senior at Drake University studying economics and international relations. Escher is a student staffer and public policy researcher for the Harkin Institute for Public Policy and Citizen Engagement.

Ben Swanson
 is an editorial intern for the Business Record. Swanson is a junior at Iowa State University studying journalism and environmental science.

Jessica Campbell is an electronic banking specialist and recent Drake University graduate. Campbell also serves as the student coordinator of the Young Professionals Connection.

Deb Rinner is the chief learning officer at Tero International, which specializes in research and corporate training. Rinner has previously spoken on generation-based panels hosted by the Business Record, serving as a “generational translator” as well as bringing a baby boomer perspective.

Chris Conetzkey is the publisher of the Business Record.

Watch the Discussion:

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