Chamber Blog

Generation Z Blending Old Values and New Goals

Posted by Susan Spears,November 27, 2018

If you’re like me, you are constantly trying to figure out how Millennials fit into your workplace culture. How do we meet them halfway when, from our viewpoint, they are attached to their phones, often lack social skills and appear to want it all without giving their all?

I’ve long believed that much of this stigma is inaccurate and not entirely descriptive of, or limited to, the people within the Millennial generation. After all, as a card-carrying Gen Xer, my group—and the Boomers before us—created the devices the Millennials are addicted to.

We also encouraged the “trophies-for-everyone” culture without thinking through the impact this would have on the future workforce. I can confidently state that I have patiently learned how to understand their work preferences in order to bring out their strengths, such as ideation and engagement through social media.

I am comfortable working with Millennials. Comfort, of course, is the enemy of business—the only thing business can be sure of is constant change. It is in this place of comfortable discomfort that I recently hired a Z.

What’s a Z, you ask? Well Millennials are also knowns as “Ys” (following “X”) so “Zs” are the next generation to enter the workforce. And no, they are not the same as Millennials.

There are similarities, but the post-Millennial generation mostly wants to feel like an integral part of building something meaningful and being a part of a larger community. We already know that Zs say they may stay at a job if it has an empowering work culture, which is nearly twice as important to them as a high salary. Zs are a purpose-driven generation that want to see the connection between what they’re doing and a bigger shared impact.

The chamber is a perfect fit for the Z we recently invited to join our team. We serve a great purpose by strengthening the business climate in the Fredericksburg region and therefore enhancing all residents’ quality of life. We also provide leadership development training, and we advocate for major improvements to our region, such as our commitment to sustainable and viable solutions to our traffic crisis. Our Z loves knowing we make a difference.

He is a student who is completing his final semester at the University of Mary Washington. He works three jobs. I remember my college years, particularly my senior year, when I, too, simultaneously worked three jobs with a heavy course load. I was an admin assistant at a marketing agency, a musician hired to perform at various venues and a sales associate in a department store.

I worked these jobs against a backdrop of the 1980s—excess, big hair, rock music, freedom and security.

This contrasts drastically with the Zs in today’s working world. They have tattoos and beards, hip-hop and pop music, social media, post-modernism and a destabilizing amount of fear. They carry the fear of a financial crisis, a country in a perpetual state of war, and random acts of terrorism.

Their world as young people is a world that in no way resembles the carefree days of the 1980s. We have so much in common in our work ethic and desire for purpose—and yet, we are so far apart.

I can’t imagine growing up with the daily headlines of mass shootings and a lack of civility. I can’t imagine growing up with the United States in significant conflict and war around the globe.

I can imagine working three jobs while in school. I can imagine having endless energy, optimism, and hope in tomorrow. Finding that common ground makes us able to communicate despite our generational barriers.

I’m certain our Z is going to change the world—just like we did—one minute, one day, one task, one idea at a time. I hope I will get to watch his journey as he makes his mark on the world. Will you join me? Have you hired a Z yet?

Susan Spears, President & CEO of Fredericksburg Regional Chamber of Commerce

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