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Gen Z in the Workplace

Smartphone Generation, iGeneration, Millennials on Steroids, Homeland Generation — whatever you want to call Generation Z — may reshape the workplace and ways employers approach communications and training. Gen Z’ers range from 12 to 20 years old with a gap generation up to 22 years old who can relate.

Think you can approach Generation Z the same as previous generations? It’s time to take a look at your youngest employees.

Consider the following: Gen Z have grown up with technology and information at their fingertips. The Internet has always existed. They can’t remember a time before smartphones. They have no memory of 9/11. Educators teach them with e-books and online resources. Unlike the previous Millennial generation who came of age during recessions, Gen Z are entering the workforce with a strong entry-level job market, especially in the restaurant sector.

“That has completely shaped the way that they not only interact with the world but with one another,” says Gen Z expert Ashira Prossack, based in New York City. “They are an emerging generation because the speed at which technology is influencing change, they are going to continue changing. We’re going to keep seeing a lot of seismic shifts happening in the workforce, in these entry-level jobs.”

The youngest Gen Z’ers are already entering the workforce but in a very different way. “We look at this absolutely precipitous growth of the gig economy, so you’ve got 13 year olds running businesses on Upwork and Fiverr,” Prossack says. “But that is preventing them from entering into the conventional workforce. So right now, we seem to be seeing a divide. The ones that are entering the workforce are entering at that 16 or 17 years old again. Once they are able to drive, they are getting jobs.”

Putting a ‘help wanted” sign in the window may not attract Gen Z. “Businesses have to start doing more outreach,” Prossack says. “Go into the high school, maybe host an assembly. You have to preface these entry jobs as ‘Here’s how it can help you in the future.’ And that’s for Millennials, too. It’s especially true in the smaller communities where it is even tougher to find workers. Companies now have to have value propositions to employees. That is the market we are in.”

Gen Z has come into the workforce carrying several known characteristics and stereotypes. Prossack says many are either unfounded or can be nurtured as an asset. “One of their absolute best qualities is their ability to multitask without getting overwhelmed,” she says. “You can throw seven different tasks at them and they will get everything done. It’s usually flipped on the negative, ‘Oh they are not focused enough.’ They will voice their dissatisfaction, shall we say, but they’ll do it.”
Recently, I reached out to Pizza Today Facebook followers to ask: What are your takeaways on Generation Z in the workplace? Pizzeria operators from across the country responded with insightful comments.

Prossack, who consults with companies on Gen Z engagement, weighs in on common observations in the Facebook thread:
• Addicted to their smartphones. “They are always on their phones, so tap into that,” she says. “These kids are all about social media. Every business needs a social media feed and it needs to be active. Let them do a SnapChat. Have them run your Twitter feed. Post on Facebook. Engage them. ‘You are going to be our Twitter ambassador for this week. Have fun with it. Here are your guidelines, here’s what you can’t post and do it.’ They are going to be thrilled and they are going to be so much more engaged.

• A communications disconnect. “They text their friends instead of talking to them,” she says. “In terms of scheduling, especially if you need someone to come in, don’t call them, send them a text. Don’t e-mail a Gen Z person. They don’t do e-mail. It’s all about text or any kind of instant message.”

• Less math skills. “Unfortunately, that is true because, here again, technology,” she says. “Make a little cheat sheet and tape it on the register. Nothing confuses a Millennial or Gen Z more than you hand them $10.01 and they are like, ‘But your total…’ You can literally see the panic on their face.”

• Less pride in their work. “That one is very much a perception base. Because Gen Z communicates through the phone and they are sharing their feelings with their followers and their friends and not the people immediately surrounding them. “It’s not that they don’t care. It’s simply that they’re not outwardly expressing their emotion in the same way we all used to. … Look for other signs. Are they engaged? How are they interacting with the customers? How are they interacting with the other team members? That’s a measure of how you can see how much they ‘care’ about their work. Their priority is that they want to share it with their online friends. The big companies all have Slack or some other kind of instant (group messaging app). Even if there are five people on your team, you can have a Slack channel.”

Prossack sums up how to reach Generation Z in one sentence: “Meet them where they are.”

Gen Z: A Whole New Training Game
The young generation is changing the way employers train them. “The training models of yesteryear where you sit there and you read through a manual or you go through those simulations…those don’t work,” Gen Z expert Ashira Prossack says.

“Gamification is exploding and it will continue to,” she adds. “It’s basically turning these dated training videos into quick little 30-second video clips where they answer a quiz about that and then it moves on to the next one.”

The thousands of dollars pizzeria owners have spent to develop training programs do not have to be wasted, Prossack says. “If you are a creative manager, you can turn your existing training materials into… you can gamify those if you are that inclined to it,” she says. “If you have that 10-minute video, you are going to play it, pause it and say, ‘Okay, here’s why this is really important to reinforce that.’ You can fast-forward past the parts that are monotonous or repetitive. So you are helping them extract the most important bits of knowledge. What you do after that is you simply just have to keep reinforcing that.”

Prossack warns you cannot put a Gen Z’er into a room with an employee handbook and videos and expect them to retain the information. “Managers are going to have to work a lot harder at developing the communications skills and face communications skills of Gen Z because they really don’t do a lot of it. Helping them is providing them with guidance. Role play.”

Role playing is especially true when greeting and interacting with customers. “Things that for us in the older generations that are common sense are honestly not for these kids,” she says. “They text. There is no greeting in a text. You simply ask what you want. With the role play, you will be met with a lot of eye rolls but all of these employees will say ‘This is great. This is helping us.’ After the first week or two of eye rolling, they are going to be really engaged in it.”