Four years ago, when I was pitching to our first set of investors, one of them asked me: What do you think your future learners are doing now—and how are they learning… those who are 14, 16, 18 years old? You need to build to them, for them.
Since then, a pandemic has tossed us all around: the world of work and learning has undergone changes heard and seen never before. Amid this churn and chaos, we are saying hello to colleagues who belong to Generation Z, those born between the mid-1990s and 2010. Your youngest team members are now Gen Zers, or post-millennials, entering and building their first decade of work even as the sturdiest of us—whether a baby boomer, Gen X, millennial—are still struggling to find our own and our team’s mojo.
Also read: Millennial Indians choose freedom over money
So, what will this new-generation worker, who’ll dominate the workplace from the late 2020s, through 2030s and 2040s, bring? A whole lot of good.
FINDING A BALANCE
Chief executive officers (CEOs) and chief human resources officers (CHROs) place great currency on resilience as a must-have skill to thrive at work, and they crave talent which is comfortable with ambiguity and can renew itself from a setback.
This new generation has done every kind of online-only learning, and a kaleidoscope of hybrid-first learning options, masking routines, travel restrictions, and has built friendships in college with classmates they sometimes met only in their first year, and then only for their last exams or graduation ceremonies.
This is a whole lot of flexibility, condensed in a two-year period, in a defining phase of growth and maturity. They’ve seen the world shape-shift, and they can do it too. They’ve seen the world rupture and repair itself. Which employer wouldn’t love a cadre of realistic optimists in their teams?
THE JOY OF WORK
They will bring this to the workplace, along with a much healthier relationship to, and appreciation of, the balance between online and offline. They’ve seen the loss of being cut off and the helplessness of lockdowns. They value the power and joy of both the online and offline world, the convenience of internet commerce and media, and the opportunity and know-how to learn across many modes. They are also familiar with the crushing loneliness and the unmatched happiness of meeting friends. No lazy stereotypes of them buried in their phones and laptops hold true here.
This interestingly came up in a survey of 100 Gen Z respondents that the insights team at Harappa helped me conduct for this article.
Even amid the relentlessly raging narrative around work from home and work from office, only 18% of respondents chose location independence (read: WFA, WFO, Remote) as a non-negotiable for a job. This was fourth in line, after working with an ethical business (came on top with nearly 30%). The second and third places went to, respectively, a work culture where I am heard, and an empathetic and safe workplace.
As the first online-native generation, bred on hashtags and algorithms, their appetite and understanding of content origins and quality is definitely better than their grandparents’. Many family WhatsApp groups are thick with conspiracy theorists, so often furthered by a generation that was taught to trust the written word and take it at face value.
Many of us have had to moderate our parents’ social media activity and diet. Gen Z could be the first generation that is naturally-resistant to fake news and click-bait headlines. Healthier consumers of information, and hopefully, by consequence, better critical thinkers. Now, that’s not too bad as a “thrive skill”, is it?
They’re also more comfortable with contentious conversations on sensitive themes, encouraged and nurtured by adults in their lives (older Gen Y parents).
Being able to have the conversations—whether on sexual orientations, mental health or romantic relationships—gives them a head start in navigating many of these fault lines, hopefully with greater equanimity. The balance this generation will strive to reach will be different from the fractious work-life balance debate of hours spent at work. They will aim for a more ambitious balance, of having a bit of everything: passion, purpose, growth, life, wealth.
LOOKING FOR GROWTH
Somewhat counterintuitive to narratives established in corporate research, the Harappa survey found that 21% respondents (highest of all options given) equated fulfilling work with a well-paid job.
An equal number chose being appreciated for what you do as a key parameter of fulfilling work, and the next two most polled options were a role that has opportunities for growth and making an impact in the lives of others.
Simply summarized: good money, good growth, fair recognition and meaningful work.
This is a sobering and reassuring insight, even if less than romantic. No spiky activism or material renunciations here, thankfully.
It’s important to remember in the analysis of generations that, as some nuances change, fundamental aspirations and expectations people have from work and the foundational human urge to progress, don’t change.
We do generations a disservice when we believe that their traits, and preferences of style, change their ambitions completely. Let’s not believe the extremes: that they only want vulnerable, empathetic leaders and workplaces.
Of course, many of the strengths I am optimistically choosing to focus could have the flipside shadows that all strengths do—how does the change muscle interact with loyalty? How does not trusting any source of information out there influence who they actually trust, and look up to? Could the balance of the little bit of all lead to boring middle paths? Or could it fuel too much ambition, in the drive to have it all?
Either way, this is a generation that bring its own values and idea to the workplace and we have to greet them with open minds and hearts.
Also read: The career success starter pack for post-millennials
Shreyasi Singh is the founder and chief executive officer of Harappa, an online learning institution that’s part of the One upGrad group.