Make Way for Generation Z

My son in avatar face paint

My son Justin and friend after Earth Day fun.

My son Justin, who just turned 17, is on the cusp between Generations Y and Z. He’ll be entering the workforce in the next few years. Are we ready for him and his friends to flood our workplaces?

Here are some traits I’ve noticed about these young folks:

  • Multi-tasking. They are the consummate multi-taskers, listening to their iPods while texting, playing interactive games online  and doing homework, all at once. While generation Y might do two or three things at a time, Generation Z does three or four.
  • Constant Contact. Teenagers text hundreds of times each day. They are literally always in contact with their friends and peers except when sleeping or forced into separation by parents, teachers and coaches.  Oh, and supervisors, once they start working.
  • Communications. Generation Y and Z prefer to text rather than call. And if they do call, they don’t leave messages. How how will this continue to play out in the workplace?
  • Writing. Generation Z never really learned cursive. They didn’t need to: they jumped right from printing to text. They always had spell-check and cut-and-paste. Punctuation and capitalization are optional. Are we ready for continued redefinition of what is acceptable workplace communication, Generation X and Boomers?
  • Egalitarianism. This could partly be a function of our geographic location (the liberal suburbs of Washington, DC), but I see a new level of egalitarianism and multiculturalism in our youth. My son has friends of many types: boys, girls, popular kids and not so popular, gay, straight and bi, kids with and without disabilities, and lots of religions and cultures.  While Justin was still in middle school, two girls were voted “cutest couple” for the yearbook. One of his closest friends has grandparents from Jamaica, Israel, Egypt and Scotland; while I think this is cool, Justin is very blasé about it because that’s just what his world is like. This new,  more inclusive mindset will [positively] affect the workplace.
  • Helicopter children. Continuing the trend of Generation Y, Generation Z are the product of helicopter parents. On the plus side, my son’s friends seem very at ease with adults, though sometimes are too familiar with them. As a drawback, the real world of work may be a shock to some; I wonder if we will experience parents calling employers complaining about less than perfect scores on their kids’ performance reviews?
  • Ownership. My son’s generation has a different sense of ownership than mine. I have sentimental attachments, for example, to CD’s and photos. My son owns neither. He keeps his pictures on his phone and on FaceBook,  and he purchases individual songs by mp3. He loves his technology, but since he’s continually upgrading it, he doesn’t really own it, he just uses it until he misplaces it or his next birthday comes around. Obviously, we’ve been seeing a parallel trend in workplace technology (SaaS, etc.) and it will be interesting to see where Generations Y and Z take us.

Generation Z experiences a number of advantages I didn’t at their age. But here’s one thing that I have which they’ll never understand:  the joy of reconnecting with a long-lost friend on FaceBook. They wouldn’t understand, because they’ve never lost touch.

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