From a generational perspective, we have frankly been fixated on Millennials.

Countless articles have been written about Millennials (born 1981-1996) and how they have fundamentally changed societal norms. They’re not buying homes. They refuse to get married. They don’t eat cereal. They’re killing golf. You name it. The reality is, however, that as the oldest Millennials approach their 40s, they are starting to fall into more traditional conventions. They are getting married. They are buying homes. They are having kids. And when it comes to the workplace, they are starting to settle into leadership roles and are adopting the organizational expectations that come with that.

“Ultimately, as happens with most generations, Millennials are proving that once they approach mid-life, they really aren’t that different than the generations that came before,” says Al Gorriaran, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, lead faculty with Capella University’s Master of Science in Human Resource Management program. “All generations eventually end up at a place in their lives where they want to nest and settle down. When it comes to their careers, Millennials are still motivated by having a sense of purpose and making the world a better place, which is great, but it’s who’s coming next that I find really interesting.”

According to Gorriaran, it’s high time that people managers and human resources professionals turn their focus to Generation Z. He explains that those born between 1995 and 2012 are proving to be every bit as fascinating as Millennials, but also very, very different. He compares them to the Greatest Generation, or those who came of age during WWII. What’s more, the oldest of Generation Z are now entering the workforce, and we have much to learn about how they operate, what motivates them, and how they can drive businesses forward.

Gorriaran shares the following four defining characteristics of Generation Z.

Generation Z is highly independent.

According to Gorriaran, unlike Millennials, Generation Z is not motivated by “group think,” nor do they feel the need to be hyper-collaborative. In other words, give them direction, and let them do their thing to get it done.

“They are not so dependent on a need to continually collaborate to get the job done,” Gorriaran explains. “That collaborative mindset was not core to their upbringing. These are hands-on people. They want to fix things themselves. They are very DIY. They want to be treated as competent professionals and be allowed to do their work without interference. This “boot-strap” mentality will serve organizations very well.”

Generation Z is frugal.

More than any other characteristic, Generation Z’s cautiousness with their wallets aligns them with the Greatest Generation. As Gorriaran explains, the Great Recession happened in Gen Z’s youth. They witnessed the hardships that many of their parents endured, and it left an indelible mark. The good news? Generation Z brings this sense of financial austerity to the workplace and can be expected to treat precious organizational resources with great care and frugality.

“These are people who are simply much more financially aware at a much younger age,” Gorriaran says. “Yes, they are likely to be smart, thoughtful, and planful with organizational resources. But they will also be equally focused on demanding equitable compensation for themselves. Human resources professionals had better have a firm grasp of their compensation programs and how they compare in the marketplace. Generation Z is going to demand they are getting the best possible deal for what they have to offer.”

Generation Z is entrepreneurial.

Building off their independent mindset, Generation Z is also very entrepreneurial. Having grown up as technology natives, they’ve seen and experienced first-hand how simple tech-based ideas can flourish into society-changing businesses in a very short time. They feed off this, and it inspires them, Gorriaran says. “These are people who say to themselves, ‘Why not me? I can do this, too!’ And they are. I’m personally excited to see what they come up with.”

Generation Z craves clarity.

Generation Z is focused. That is, they reject “blue-sky thinking” if they feel it won’t resolve into clear and achievable results, Gorriaran says. They don’t want to ponder just for the sake of pondering. That perspective could serve organizations very well in that Generation Z’s craving for clarity will likely result in work getting done more efficiently and in clear alignment with business objectives.

“Generation Z are not up in the stratosphere,” Gorriaran says. “They want to know exactly where an organization is headed and their role in getting there. They don’t like or want “fluff.” They want clarity on what the end result should be. They are going to get things done as efficiently and quickly and simply as possible. It’s what they do.”

Learn more about Capella University’s Master of Science in Human Resource Management.

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