Future of Work : Are we ready for Generation Z?

Kasmin Cooney is Managing Director at Righttrack Consultancy.  In 2011, she was awarded an OBE for services to Training & Export.  She is renowned for her extensive, international experience in Learning & Development, cutting edge ideas and highly creative approach.  


There’s been lots of talk about Generation Y but Generation Z has arrived. Is your Management team prepared for another generation to bring new contributions and challenges?

Much has been written about Generation Y and the impact they are having in the workplace. Over the last five years or so, managers have been dealing with the change in employee behaviours from this technically savvy group.

Generation Y, born between approximately 1980 and 1998, will hardly remember life before the internet, and certainly not before owning a computer. They were the first generation to fully benefit from the technological revolution that was started by a previous generation. Generally speaking, within the work place they are set apart from other generations due to their high level of expectations, the need to be fully informed of everything that is going on around them, a desire for rapid promotion, a drive to network and collaborate with others both in and outside of the organisation. Generation Y are confident to challenge authority and make full use of parental experiences, using mum and dad as sounding boards and to a point, unpaid consultants.

But life never stands still, Generation Z is on the way and although this generation will be a head on comparison to Gen Y in many ways, they will also present a different set of challenges. On the one hand and to the benefit of the organisation they work with, Gen Z will have very well honed technical skills and knowledge over a wide range of technologies and softwares. However, the challenges will lie in their lack of verbal communication skills.

I am not referring to standing up in front of a crowd and delivering an inspiring presentation, but rather the ability to communicate and engage with people either on a one to one basis or in small groups during the general day to day interactions. Many from this high-tech generation, will have difficulty in communicating verbally within the work environment, making telephone calls to customers, contributing to meetings etc.

One client reported that he is being challenged by his Gen Zs’ over making telephone calls to customers and not sending emails. When he insisted on direct telephone communication, one young person commented ‘Why make a call at a time when you could send 40 messages to 40 customers at the same time’. Flummoxed, he didn’t have the stamina to discuss the need for relationship building.

Others I have spoken to recently, comment on Gen Zs’ gravitating to the corners of the office to make telephone calls. Although to be fair, this is quite often the case, with very young people within the work place, who may lack self-confidence.

On a recent visit to Kuwait I got into discussion with a very experienced HR professional, she was very concerned with the lack of verbal communication from the younger generations. As she commented, it is not just the fact that they don’t like to communicate and reach out verbally; many just don’t see the value of it, again, missing the point that engaging with people and building relationships is an essential part of life, not just work.

Generation Z is still very young, however, in only a few years’ time, they will be the new graduates and employees. Now is the time to consider how we shape our induction and on-boarding events, how we design customer service training programmes to accommodate this ‘phobia’ with verbal communication. Those managing sales teams may have to consider the importance of relationship building with theircustomers and whether this can be adequately achieved using social media and other technology, or does the human voice count for something.

To a certain extent, most of us could set a better example. We are all sending an email, when we could pick up the phone and have a proper conversation. But for Generation Z, social media and constant messaging is a lifestyle, a constant process, carried out like their lives depended on it.

In a recent conversation on the subject, one colleague commented that her 16 year old daughter asked her not to telephone to see how she was, but to send a Whatsapp message. The Mum complied and was quite proud of herself, until she noticed that the only time her daughter ever said she loved her was via the Whatsapp response back.

I appreciate this is not a workplace scenario and we don’t want to tell our customers we love them. Well not directly, but don’t we want to convey our appreciation for their business, build relationships that are collaborative and sustaining, understand them as people and have some fun in the process.

I am an advocate for making the very most of technology, but I see warning signs, and it is down to us more experienced ‘old’ timers’ to develop strategies to deal with this and be prepared for what is to come.

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