HR & Management

Collision or collaboration as Gen Z joins workforce?

4 min read

08 September 2015

Businesses already struggling with Millennials face huge challenges if they fail to adopt new ways of working, research shows.

More than half of workers say that their employers are failing to meet the needs of different generations in the workplace.

The stark finding points to a corporate collision course, as for the first time in history, a fourth generation – Generation Z – enters the working population.

But what exactly does Generation Z (those currently aged 19 years and younger) want and expect? Do they deserve the crude label given by some as “overly-demanding screen-swipers in search of instant gratification”? 

A survey of over 3,300 people from all four generations – spanning 22 countries across Europe, the Middle East and Africa – answers this with an emphatic “no”.

Generation Z is unique

Generation Zers are unique in that they have been strongly shaped by their individualistic Generation X parents, heard stories from their Baby Boomer grandparents and witnessed the errors and successes of Millennials. 

“Just like the possibilities afforded by digitalisation, the arrival of Gen Zers opens a catalogue of opportunities to all businesses,” David Mills, CEO of Ricoh Europe, which commissioned the research.

“With only seven per cent of SMBs currently selling across EU borders, Gen Zers who move on to managerial roles will be perfectly placed to drive borderless working and ensure their business competes in a single regional market. 

“Enterprise organisations stand to benefit, too. The experience and business know-how Gen Zers acquire into the future, coupled with their upbringing of ultra connectivity and collaboration, will see them play the role of agility enablers for bigger businesses.”

Diversity is good for business

The majority of workers (88 per cent) surveyed from all generations believe that having a workforce of different ages is an asset to a company. 

However, the survey also unearthed a key challenge that managers must overcome. Over a third (35 per cent) of older employees expect workplace tensions to increase with the arrival of Generation Z into their companies. 

With the next wave of technology-led change sure to soon hit and disrupt the workplace further, the need to establish environments that enable and encourage truly harmonious and productive working across the generations is paramount.

Read more about young people joining the workforce:

Sixty-five per cent of respondents agree that there are fundamental differences in how employees from each generation work. The clearest contrasts emerged in their respective attitudes, expectations and styles of working. 

Face-to-face communication at work, while still the most preferred method across every group, is in generational decline. Preference for it drops from 77 per cent among Baby Boomers to 58 per cent among Generation Z. Meanwhile, 73 per cent of Generation Z respondents believe their future employer will cater to their needs, opposed to only 48 per cent of the other three generations.

“There is no doubt that Gen Z is heading towards a reality crunch and businesses must adapt now,” adds Mills. 

“Trying to squeeze employees – particularly Gen Z – into the same traditional ways of working, and forcing them to use the same tools, simply will not work. People are often the biggest differentiator for an organisation and the most successful companies will be those who can empower and engage all generations in their workforce – from the most experienced through to the youngest rising star.”