Generation Z is the youngest and most ethnically diverse generation in the United States. With 61 million people, it’s also the biggest, and will make up 30% of the workforce by 2030.
Gen Zs have different aspirations, expectations, and skills than their predecessors. (Take our quiz to test your knowledge.) One defining characteristic, of course, is their status as the first “digitally native” generation. Yet studies suggest Zs aren’t as glued to their phones or Instagram as you might think.
“We think of Gen Z as dependent on technology,” says Michele Parmelee, chief people and purpose officer at Deloitte. “But they have mixed feelings about social media.” According to Deloitte research, she adds, more than half believe they would be healthier if they reduced social media consumption, and more than a third wish they could stop using it completely.
Gen Zs aren’t as interested in pats on the back as they are in continuous feedback from managers and colleagues.
That raises an interesting question: If Gen Zs are souring on social media, what technologies will matter the most to these digital natives as they enter the workforce in massive numbers? And at a time when artificial intelligence and other innovations are changing the nature of work itself, what kinds of digital tools will create experiences that will help Zs succeed on the job?
Recent studies, including a new Gen Z survey by ServiceNow, point to several digital innovations that employers ought to consider developing for their youngest workers.
Continuous feedback tools
Like anyone in an organization, Gen Zs want on-the-job feedback. But unlike stereotypical “trophy generation” Millennials, they’re not as interested in pats on the back as they are in continuous give-and-take with managers and colleagues—to help them improve, learn, and grow into new roles. More than half (57%) say they’d like to get feedback several times a week, according to the ServiceNow survey.
“With Gen Z, they want to move quickly,” says Brian Westfall, principal HR analyst for software consultancy Capterra. “If you aren’t going to promote me, I’m going to go somewhere that will. And they have the power to do that in today’s labor market.”
Emerging feedback platforms are starting to address their needs. In some cases, cloud-based tools and mobile apps let employees share check-ins with bosses and other colleagues, and track progress against goals. Managers don’t just provide feedback through these apps. They can also share results with higher-ups or send them out to HR analysts to spot trends in engagement or other metrics.
Employers should realize, however, that the digital tools have an upper limit with younger workers. When it comes to the most important feedback from managers, the ServiceNow study shows that Gen Z employees overwhelmingly want to hear it face-to-face: 83% prefer in-person meetings over channels like email (48%), phone (39%), or messaging platforms (21%).
“Because we are so connected to our phones, we’ve lost time that we used to have for a human connection,” says Bryanna Fuller, a 22-year-old sales finance analyst at ServiceNow. “That’s why we want in-person communication with managers—because now more than ever, we really need it.”
Millennials and Gen Zs start evaluating their loyalty to employers as they sign an offer letter—not several months into a new job. That’s one reason many companies are revamping their onboarding process for new hires. (Just 12% of all employees today say their companies offer a decent onboarding program, according to Gallup.)
Instead of taking days or even weeks at the start of a job to get employees to fill out forms and chase approvals for laptops and other needs, many companies are digitizing the process and allowing workers to complete background checks, benefit forms, and other steps using mobile apps or one-stop online portals. The payoffs go beyond convenience: At ServiceNow, a new digital onboarding platform has already been shown to boost productivity of new hires by 70%.
“We all want to exceed expectations on that first day,” says Adam Golab, 21, a product manager in the HR department at ServiceNow. “We want to come in knowing what our managers don’t expect us to know.”
Soft-skills training with VR
Virtual reality is now starting to penetrate the workplace: Just 3% of workers report using VR tools on the job. Yet 32% of Gen Zs in the ServiceNow survey expect to use VR at work within the next five years.
Employee training is one VR application where Gen Zs will likely get their chance. “There’s a lot of kitschy uses for VR being thrown around in HR, but training is one that is absolutely effective at delivering a better employee experience,” says Westfall. “It’s more tactile and hands-on, and helps employees retain more knowledge than traditional methods.”
While companies in healthcare, energy, and manufacturing already use VR to teach complex manual processes and safety procedures, VR shows new promise for training in soft skills. Lyft, Google, PwC, and Coca Cola are four companies that currently use VR for diversity training to run immersive simulations of workplace bias and discrimination.
Even in entry-level jobs, and with less work experience than any previous generation, Gen Zs don’t expect or want to waste time on administrative tasks such as filing reports or scheduling meetings. Nearly two-thirds of Gen Zs consider such chores to be detrimental to their careers, according to a Profitect survey.
That’s why a new class of virtual and voice assistants—some with AI capabilities—stands to gain traction with the youngest class of workers. Some can self-manage email communication with sales prospects. Others use machine learning to automate data entry in report-filing, or to even write first drafts of financial reports.
One of the biggest differences between Gen Zs and older employees is their awareness of mental health as an important factor in job success. It’s a big issue for all workers, of course: Workplace stress accounts for an estimated $190 billion in annual healthcare costs.
More than half of millennials and 75% of Gen Zs say they’ve left jobs for mental health reasons, compared with just 20% of employees overall, according to Qualtrics research. And despite their lack of job experience, nearly half of Gen Zers in the ServiceNow study say they’ve already experienced job burnout.
“A couple weeks into my job, my dad calls me and says, ‘Eight to five? You’re grinding,’’ says ServiceNow’s Fuller. “I said ‘No—I did this for the last three summers all throughout college and I’ve always been really busy. This is the same.”
Corporate wellness programs need to do more to catch up with the problem, starting with education. EY recently launched We Care, an initiative aimed at informing employees about mental health.
An array of new wellness apps are showing they can lower stress and improve focus. A recent study by Northeastern University found that workers who used a popular workplace meditation app called Headspace for just three weeks reduced levels of aggression by 57% and raised compassion by 23%.
To some managers, all this catering to younger workers might seem like overkill. Gen Zs have a counter-argument: More than a third say they’ll prove to be the hardest-working generation of them all.