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Prepare for the rise of Gen Z

How to fit a new generation of customers and staff into your business plan.

We’ve heard a lot about the impact of Millennials on the workforce — and the marketplace. Many businesses have had to adapt to this younger, tech-savvy generation who don’t remember a time without the Internet.

But if you want to stay competitive, attract talent and find new customers, it might be time to turn your attention to the next generation: Gen Z. This generation, born roughly between 1996 and 2010 (the years vary, depending on your source), are just starting to enter the workforce. And they’re just starting to become your customers.

Why does this matter? Because Gen Z will make up about 2.56 billion of the population by 2020, according to a report by Fung Global Retail & Technology.

Don’t make the mistake of lumping Gen Z in with Millennials. Sure, they’re both tech-savvy, having grown up with technology, but there are key differences. Surprisingly, Gen Z shares a few characteristics with skeptical Gen Xers.

Who they are

Gen Z and your SMB

Gen Y (aka Millennials) grew up as social media and mobile apps were developing. They were around when things didn’t work so well. Gen Z is different. They missed the growing pains associated with these new platforms and technologies. They likely used an iPad long before they learned to ride a bike.

Remember when “there’s an app for that” was a thing? Gen Z doesn’t ask if there’s an app. They expect it. They use apps, instant messaging and social media to communicate and stay connected. They watch a ton of videos online and value social influencers — but have little tolerance for blatant advertising.

Nor will they tolerate tech that’s slow or cumbersome. “At least Millennials can remember the days of slow Internet and downloading massive files for days on end,” writes Nicolas Cole on “Generation Z has no recollection of that — and neither will any generation that follows them. If something doesn’t work, they’re gone. If something is slow, they’ll move on.”

Related: How Gen Z will change everything

What makes them tick

Sure, Gen Z is tech-savvy, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. Gen Z grew up watching Millennials struggle to find jobs and pay off hefty student loans — so they tend to place less value on the importance of a formal education. Perhaps this explains why they share a sense of skepticism with Gen Xers, who saw their parents laid off from jobs where they worked for decades.

Like Millennials, Gen Z is looking for meaningful work. And they don’t want to wait years for a promotion. But like Gen X, they’re willing to work hard for it.

But while Gen X tends to be self-reliant (and may not care much what others think about them), Gen Z is quite the opposite. So in your hiring practices, this is something to consider (and may require an adjustment in your business practices).

How to reach them

Gen Z and your business

Because Gen Z spends so much time online, social media can be an effective way to advertise job openings. Snapchat has more than 100 million daily active users who watch more than 10 billion videos per day — and, since 72 per cent of 12 to 24-year-olds are Snapchat users, it’s worth considering this platform to target Gen Z. Instagram is also an option for posting recruitment ‘stories.’

Even though Gen Zers spend a lot of time with their face in a screen (some estimates say up to five screens daily), they still prefer face-to-face communications. After all, they’re a practical bunch, and they recognize the value of building relationships. So, if you hire a Gen Zer, don’t expect they’ll be anti-social and unable to hold a conversation.

But in a world of instantaneous ‘likes’ and ‘hearts,’ they’re used to constant feedback. An annual performance review isn’t going to cut it. To retain Gen Zers, you may want to consider a regular feedback program. Also consider mentoring and coaching opportunities, as well as development courses to keep them engaged. Flexible work hours, or the ability to work remotely, will also go a long way in keeping this generation happy.

What they want

Gen Z is less focused on work-life balance than Millennials. A multi-generational survey by digital recruiter Monster found that 58 per cent of Gen Zers were happy to work unsociable hours (like nights and weekends) for a better salary, and 74 per cent were willing to relocate for a decent job. And a majority of those heading into the workforce value high salaries and health benefits over trendy Millennial office perks like foosball tables and drinks on tap.

While they have an entrepreneurial spirit (and the work ethic to back it up), that doesn’t mean all Gen Zers want to be entrepreneurs. A study by Randstad found that 41 per cent of Gen Z workers prefer to work in a corporate office (while 21 per cent prefer a co-working space and 21 per cent prefer a home office).

It’s no surprise, though, that Gen Z places high value on technology in the workplace. That means, if you’re still using legacy technology, you need to get with the times — particularly if you want to attract and retain Gen Z workers.

Why you’ll need mobile

Gen Z and your SMB

And, if you haven’t already, you’ll need to spend the time, money and resources on improving your mobile experience to compete with the Amazons of the world. If your mobile experience is slow, cumbersome or clunky (or non-existent), you’ll lose out on Gen Z customers who do a bulk of their shopping online. You need an app, and that app must work seamlessly.

Perhaps you’re not targeting Gen Z employees or customers right now, but you will — and it takes time to change business processes and corporate culture. Prepare now and you’ll stand out from your competitors when the landscape shifts and adjusts to the rise of Gen Z.


Up Next: The next generation will be nothing like the former.

Vawn Himmelsbach

Vawn Himmelsbach is a freelance writer and editor based in Toronto. She has covered technology and travel for 15 years, for media outlets such as, The Globe & Mail, Metro News, ITBusiness, PCworld Canada and Computerworld Canada. She also spent three years living abroad and working as an Asian correspondent.

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