People try to put us d-down (Talkin' 'bout my generation)
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People try to put us d-down (Talkin’ ’bout my generation): Generation Z and what it means for your organisation


Generation Z is about to enter the workforce, but what does it mean for you and your organization?

A series of new studies looking at this question have just been published in academic journals.

Before I look at what they are saying here is a quick primer about the generations, their outlook and motivations.

Previous generations in living memory

  • The Lost Generation. Also known as Gen 1914. These are the people who lived through the first world war.
  • The G.I. Generation or Greatest Generation are the world war I generation who came of age in the era of the great depression.
  • The Silent Generation. This is the generation of the Vietnam war.

Contemporary generations still in the workforce.

  • The Baby Boomers or the ‘Me Generation’. These are the generations who were born after the second world war between 1946 and 1964. Baby boomers are associated with a rejection or redefinition of the then traditional values of the previous generations who were adults during this time. Many grew up in a time of affluence and they tend to see themselves as identifiably different from the previous generations.
  • Generation X or Gen X. These are the people born between the late 1960’s (1965 on) to the early 1980s.
  • Generation Y or the millennials who were born between the early 1980’s up until 2000.
  • Generation Z are the group born typically between 1995 and now, although it is too early to see if there has been a shift in perspective since 1995 as the incumbents are too young to discern patterns in outlook.

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Research about generations Y & Z

A number of interesting studies have emerged recently about the generations that are about to enter the workforce.

A study of 265 generation Y and Z individuals found that the single largest influence on their lives is the internet. Generation Z particularly have lived their entire life with internet access and it has had a direct effect on their development.

Researchers from Curtin Business School, Curtin University in Australia and the Universidade Aberta (Portuguese Open University) in Lisbon, Portugal found that there are positive and negative aspects of this backdrop to development. The researchers found that the internet has become a powerful force among these generations particularly in terms of communication, cooperation, collaboration and connection. However a series of problems from cognitive, social and physical developmental aspects are developing as a direct result of the pervasive nature of internet usage on their lives.

The study found that the positives are:

  • Enhanced problem-solving skills.
  • Biased towards proactive study.
  • Good information gathering skills.
  • Heightened global and local awareness.
  • Heightened awareness and interest in a wider range of environmental and political issues.
  • Stronger communication and collaboration skills. In fact they expect collaboration and don’t respond well to command and control scenarios.
  • Greater wish for gamification – they respond well to games both online and offline (physically). This, it has been found by another study, is critical for these generations’ involvement in education and training.

On the down side the researchers found:

  • Lower requirement and interest in physical contact and activity.
  • Thinking, concentrating and memory skills are reduced. There is a particular need for Generation Y and Z to learn how to think (particularly critical thinking) about information and distinguish (evaluate) between levels of evidence based information and understand its validity.
  • Higher incidence of depression and isolation.
  • Increased laziness and less resilience and tolerance for difficulty.
  • Expect to be entertained.
  • Over reliance on search engines like Google to source information. They expect immediate results and often lack the tenacity and patience really to pursue knowledge and get to the bottom of issues.

Generation Z learning

These are the people who are entering the mix in organisations and universities right now. I lecture to Generation Z and my teaching style has had to adapt. Interestingly my facilitation skills are much in demand as this generation do not take kindly to being ‘lectured at’. I now lecture to people behind laptops and tablets. As a result I have incorporated these devices into my teaching to help them learn to use them to make good judgements and learn to think critically about and understand the limitations of the search engine driven world.

Generation Z in organisations

The organisations I consult and work with are just getting to grips with these later generations. Learning and talent development that addresses the weakness mentioned above tends to work well. In particular, a focus on emotional resilience and team-work skills development makes a huge impact.

Insecurity, trust and suspicion

The diversity encountered in organisations is increasing with the entry of Generation Z. Organisations need to think about the effect of this. Not only have Gen Z grown up with the internet as the backdrop to their entire lives, they have also grown up with a rise in global terrorism, financial insecurity, corporate malpractice and dishonesty. Other studies are finding that this generation, unlike those before them, is looking for greater security and trust. However they are more suspicious of motives, particularly corporate motives than previous generations. Additionally there is a greater connection between the members of this generation and they have access to communication tools other generations aren’t really using. It’s like they have a private global generational communication network.


Why education and training rarely equips the learner for work: New study(Opens in a new browser tab)


Motivating Generation Z

One study found that Generation Z particularly wants and expects:

  • Role models. Leaders and managers who act with honesty and integrity.
  • To learn. They are interested in learning but they want to have fun at the same time.
  • To work with people they like and get on with. Friends are particularly important to this generation.
  • To be treated with respect. Respect is a big theme with this generation. They will readily leave employment where they don’t feel valued.
  • Flexibility. This generation, together with Generations X and Y do not like rigid rule based environments. This is the busy generation. Most of their waking lives are full and they want work to fit in.
  • Interesting work. Boring, monotonous work is not for the constantly stimulated and entertained generation.

There are challenges and generational clashes ahead, however it is what it is. Generation Z brings new qualities into society and work. This new generation is flexible and is having to adapt to a rapidly changing world. The question is can we, the older generations also adapt?


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Issa, T., & Isaias, P. (2016). Internet factors influencing Generations Y and Z in Australia and Portugal: A practical study. Information Processing & Management.

Jagman, H., & Swanson, T. (2015). Not Just where to Click: Teaching Students how to Think about Information. Association of College and Research Libraries, a division of the American Library Association.

Korpijaakko, M. L. (2016). Cracking Facebook: The Importance of Understanding Technology-Based Communication. Springer.

Livermore, D. (2016). Driven by Difference: How Great Companies Fuel Innovation Through Diversity. AMACOM Div American Mgmt Assn.

Mahzan, M. S. W., Abdullah, N., & Nor, N. H. M. (2016). The Impact of Reflective Inquiry on Professional Development of Student Teachers. In 7th International Conference on University Learning and Teaching (InCULT 2014) Proceedings (pp. 323-335). Springer Singapore.

Montana, P. J., & Petit, F. (2008). Motivating Generation X and Y on the job and preparing Z. Global Journal of Business Research, 2(2), 139-148.

Wilson, Darren; Calongne, Cynthia; and Henderson, S. Brook (2016) “Gamification Challenges and a Case Study in Online Learning,” Internet Learning: Vol. 4: Iss. 2, Article 8.

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David Wilkinson