With many people postponing retirement and multiple generations working side-by-side, organizations are facing new challenges attracting, engaging and retaining employees from these different backgrounds. In the context of the workplace, the most talked about generations have been the “Veterans” (born pre 1945), “Baby Boomers” (1946-1964), “Generation X” (1965-1979), and the most studied so far, the (in)famous “Generation Me”, better known as “Millennials” (1980-1995).
Each generation is defined by its shared beliefs and behaviors that come from their common location in history and key defining moments. As a Millennial born in the early 80’s, for me, one of the most defining events in history is September 11th, a sentiment shared by over 1000 Millennials who participated in a recent study by the Lovell Corporation.
As Baby Boomers start to exit the workforce and Millennials now make up over a third of the workforce, a new generation is emerging to change the face of work even further. Gen Z has arrived, also named by some as “The Change Generation”. Those born past 1995 are said to have an entrepreneurial spirit, to be socially conscious and driven by success and meaningful work.
A recent EY report tells us Gen Z is not an extension of the Millennial generation; they’re self-reliant, self-aware, tolerant and the first true “digital natives”. Being born into an “always on” reality means that Generation Z is expected to be the most ambitious, diligent and creative generation in history. They’re set to outnumber Millennials within one year.
To try and understand the ramifications of Gen Z entering the workforce we explored the personality profiles of 2,959 Good&Co app users that could be identified as Baby Boomers, Gen Xers, Millennials and Gen Zs.
Are “Gen Z” and “Baby Boomers” Personalities Different?
First, we focused on the possible differences between Baby Boomers compared to those of Generation Z app users. We ran multiple comparisons on all the personality traits included in our psychometric model to which we added a Bonferroni correction to increase our confidence in reporting significant differences. The data shows that Gen Z app users were more than twice as likely to be calculating (or politically minded) than Baby Boomers. It’s interesting to see, however, that they are also twice as likely to be (or appear to be) more compliant.
While this might seem contradictory, it actually makes sense. It suggests that Generation Z is more politically savvy. Gen Zs are growing up having to navigate an increasingly complex world compared to the world Baby Boomers grew up in. This fits the notion that they are a generation of aspiring entrepreneurs; being aware that the world isn’t as straightforward as it seems, which in turn means that being more calculating can help in achieving one’s goals.
In terms of compliance, Baby Boomers grew up in a time of social reform and are well known for challenging existing norms and questioning the status quo. On the other hand, despite being thought of as the next wave of “disruptors” Gen Z appears to accept the knowledge passed on to them – their parents tend to treat them as equal and in turn a whopping 84% of Gen Z trust parental advice (“Consumer Insights”, Viacom 10/2013).
What Makes Gen Z Different?
As we continued to dig into these personality profiles, we compared the average scores of each of the four generations to find out what sets Generation Z apart from its predecessors.
In line with findings from EY and Lovell Corporation, Generation Z was the most inclined to feel a moral obligation to help make things better, scoring 3.5% higher on fairness compared to the overall average score of the preceding generations. Their outlook on life is more positive too, scoring 19% higher on cheerfulness than the average. It’s interesting to see that Baby Boomers scored the lowest here, suggesting that age may be related to a decline in optimism.
However, this emerging generation also showed the highest levels of inclination towards depression and anxiety, scoring 19% and 21% higher than the average respectively. This is a worrying, yet not surprising trend, considering the pressures of growing up in a world where the boundless access to information make dangers and stresses feel very real, especially for digital natives.
Nevertheless, this may also indicate that generation Gen Z is more emotionally literate in identifying and acting upon mental health issues. In the workplace context, they will likely expect employers to provide well-being and mental health support as part of their personal development (Lovell Corporation).
Another positive note, Gen Z appears to be the most adventurous and imaginative generation, scoring 14% and 19% higher on these traits respectively. This suggests that Gen Z is indeed more creatively inclined than past generations. They are more likely to be “experience focused” and open to try out imaginative new approaches- a hugely important attribute in today’s fast-evolving workplaces. Baby Boomers were the least imaginative, suggesting they might be predisposed to a more concrete and pragmatic approach.
How Will Gen Z Operate in the Workplace?
In line with the predictions by EY and the Lovell Corporation, our research suggests that the next generation of employees is likely to bring a new wave of innovation. They are a cohort of people who know what they want, appearing very able to navigate our complex and information-laden world with diplomacy and social responsibility.
To attract Gen Zs and maintain their loyalty, organizations will have to step up their game, making work meaningful and purpose-driven. Promoting a culture of work-life balance and putting the emphasis on well-being can help companies differentiate themselves in the eyes of these potential new recruits.
The culture of living for work, rather than working for a living fostered by the Baby Boomers will potentially become obsolete. To achieve career success, Generation Z is not driven by prestige or accolades, but by personal development, quality of life and having a purposeful job that promotes social responsibility. Now we wait and see how the “Change Generation” will impact the workplace.