Millennials represent the most significant demographic group in the workplace. Generation Z started to work recently but will soon follow the same path. While these two generations have similar visions of work, they each have their own characteristics.
Understanding the way of working and the expectations of Millennials and Gen Z in the workplace is crucial for all companies. Which aspects do they value the most when looking for a job? What type of management makes them thrive?
This article gives you a clear insight into what working with Gen Y and Gen Z is like and what they are known for. Gen Y has paved the way for Gen Z to make businesses review their working models and leadership styles.
For example, social justice is a key topic for employees born between 1981 and 2012. However, organizations have only started seriously considering DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) initiatives with the arrival of Gen Z in the world of work.
Let’s see what other aspects characterize these two groups of workers and how they influence the workplace.
The main characteristics of Millennials and Gen Z in the workplace
What are Millennials known for?
Millennials’ dates of birth
Millennials are people born in the ’80s and in the ’90s, between 1981 and 1996, to be exact. Also called Gen Y is between Gen X (1965–1980) and Gen Z. For companies, understanding this generation is fundamental as they are expected to represent 75% of the global workforce by 2025. So, what are Millennials known for? Here are the most essential characteristics to understand when working with this gen.
One thing is for sure, Millennials have a collaborative mindset. They understand and value the concept of being “stronger together.” In a hybrid work model, when Millennials come to the office, they prioritize teamwork and socializing. They enjoy working as a group, brainstorming ideas with their colleagues, and learning from each other. Moreover, they also appreciate building genuine connections at work.
According to a Gallup study, 87% of Millennials rate “professional or career growth and development opportunities” as important to them in a job. They are considered the most educated generation, and continuous learning is part of their identity. It is common to see Gen Y employees building new competencies on top of their job. They cherish the ability to reskill and upskill.
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Millennials are well known for being “job hoppers.” In other words, loyal isn’t their main strength, especially if their needs are unmet. They are not worried about leaving their position, sometimes even without finding a new role. This is one of the reasons why it is crucial to know this generation (and what characterizes each generation in your workforce) and their expectations. As an employer or a manager, it can drastically help you retain and attract talent.
Millennials quickly adapt to change and adjust. For example, it can be working with new team members or integrating a modern working method such as remote work. This generation is open-minded and, as we said, eager to try and learn new approaches. Gen Y can quickly implement new concepts as soon as you communicate clearly about the reasons for this shift and maintain a transparent relationship.
The three significant events that marked Millennials’ lives until now
The context in which we grow up plays a key role in who we are. So, what big events have influenced Millennials’ personalities until now? So far, there are three significant events that we can refer to:
There was the Great Recession that happened between 2007 and 2009.
The 9/11 terrorist attack was a dramatic event that marked everybody worldwide.
This generation has been profoundly shaped by the explosion of the Internet and technology.
Also called iGen and Zoomers, Gen Z is the youngest generation currently in the workplace. This demographic group represents people born between 1997 and 2012. They are between the Millennials and the Generation Alpha. Gen Z employees are very close to Gen Y in age and tend to have common characteristics and values. Yet, they differ in many aspects too.
Gen Z is the first generation born after the advent of the Internet. This particularity strongly influenced their characters’ traits, lifestyles, and ways of working. When they reach the age of using online technology, it becomes their best ally in their personal and professional lives (communication, shopping, learning support, etc...). The iGen is comfortable using digital tools and has no problem embracing modern workplace technology.
Self-directed and individualists
Although Gen Z enjoys being with people and requires in-person interactions more than Millennials, they prefer to work individually. They also believe in being responsible for their career and success. Therefore, they don’t count on others to help them reach their goals. This generation likes working autonomously and highly values a trust-based leadership style. Obviously, macro management and employee empowerment perfectly match this gen.
Most racially diverse generation in the U.S. until now
Another essential fact to know about Gen Z is that they are the most heterogeneous generation ever. In the U.S., 48% of people from this demographic group are non-Caucasians. From religion to cultural background or race, this generation represents diversity at its most.
Gen Z workers grew up with classmates, friends, parents, and family members from various communities. They expect to see the same when they enter the world of work. For businesses, not only does it mean they need to embrace diversity, but it also implies making DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) in the workplace a priority.
Social and environmental changemakers
Gen Z is socially and politically very active. These young people have strong values and are willing to fight hard to defend themselves. ESG (Environmental and Social Governance), DEI, and sustainability are key topics. Greta Thunberg’s “Friday for Future” movement is the perfect example. They expect to see similar initiatives in their professional environments. Therefore, they aspire to work for companies that promote social justice and sustainability in the office.
Significant events that influenced Gen Z’s personality until now
Despite their young age, some major events have already impacted Gen Z. The latest one has been Covid-19. Experts declare that the pandemic has hit this generation the hardest regarding mental health.
Gen Z is also the first demographic group to witness so many global change catastrophes in such a short period. Therefore, they are as eager to fight for social justice as they are to act for the planet.
Lastly, the war in Ukraine has continued to profoundly impact this generation's psychological and emotional health and their worries about the future.
Similarities and differences between Millennials vs. Gen Z
What do both Millennials and Generation Z expect to see in the workplace?
Working flexibly isn’t an option for these two generations
Work flexibility is very high on the Millennials' and Gen Z's requirements list. For any office job, these two generations expect to have the choice to work from home, on-site, or in a third workplace (coffee shop, hotel room, terrasse, etc.). They also aim to enjoy the benefits of flexitime to match their personal needs and create a better work-life balance. Working anywhere and anytime (which doesn't mean working less) is one of their top goals.
Skill development and career growth are common goals for both Millennials and Gen Z
Compared to previous generations, Gen Y and Gen Z won't stay in job position that doesn't allow them to grow professionally and personally. They want to continue widening their soft and hard skills. Consequently, giving them a chance to expand their abilities is fundamental. If these generations of employees experience boredom and the feeling of being stuck at a certain level, they won't hesitate to search for new career options. Providing them with learning resources and development opportunities keeps them engaged, productive, and loyal.
Reaching a better work-life balance is one of their main priorities
Having time for personal care, hobbies, friends, and families is crucial for Millennials. Still, it is often essential for Gen Z too. According to the Deloitte Global 2022 Gen Z and Millennials survey, work-life balance is at the top of their priorities when applying for a job. The Great Resignation and the Great Reshuffle have been their way of shaking the world of work. It has pushed businesses to focus more on meeting employees' expectations, including improving the balance between personal and professional lives.
Creating purpose is fundamental when working with Gen Y and Gen Z
The search for a meaningful career is also one reason why both generations switch jobs often. Millennials and Generation Z keep "job-hopping" until they find purpose in their professional lives and are aligned with their values. They either apply for other jobs or decide to create their own business. They are well known for having an entrepreneurial mindset. For them, building their company sometimes makes more sense than working for an organization that doesn't meet their expectations and visions.
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How do Gen Y and Gen Z differ in a work environment?
Millennials and Gen Z have different visions of collaboration
Although these two generations have many traits in common in their work, they also diverge in various aspects. Collaboration is one of them. Millennials enjoy working as a group, whereas Gen Z is looking for in-person interactions but prefers to do their tasks independently. This variation mainly comes from their experience with online technology and the different impact Covid-19 has had on both generations. The pandemic was a challenging period for all of us. Still, young staff members got particularly affected by isolation and the lack of socialization.
The influence of the digital world on their vision of privacy
Being exposed to the digital world since birth has made Gen Z more aware and concerned about privacy issues than Millennials. They tend to be more careful regarding what they say to their colleagues and avoid mixing personal and private lives. Online, the iGen is also stricter concerning personal data sharing. They want brands and businesses to only know some things about their habits and tastes. Compared to other generations, Gen Z picks the lowest data-sharing option more often.
Two distinct ways to perceive finance
As being unable to meet living costs is one of their main concerns, both generations aspire to earn a good salary. Retirement is also a crucial aspect creating stress and anxiety among young employees. Yet, they have a different approach to finance. Gen Z has learned from Millennials' mistakes and cares more about their money. For example, Gen Y has taken loans relying on their success to repay them. Gen Z would instead focus on thriving and making a decent income first.
Although Millennials understand how digital tools work quicker than previous generations, they are still less comfortable than Gen Z, born with it. These digital natives are used to accessing the online world anywhere and anytime. While Millennials tend to view technology as a helpful resource, iGen sees it as an extension of themselves. They consume tech in all aspects of their lives. For example, it is more common for Gen Z to develop their skills through virtual programs than Millennials, who are more likely to favor in-person learning courses.
A different understanding of professionalism
"Don't judge a book by its cover" is a perfect quote for Gen Z. This generation doesn't have the same understanding of professional behaviors. For Millennials, having tattoos and piercings could have hindered some job opportunities. Yet, it isn't a problem for the youngest employees. They believe their skills should be valued more than their look. Therefore, while Generation Z slowly enters the workplace, they tend to reshuffle the definition of professionalism. They start to shift the boundaries between what is considered acceptable or not.
4 ways how working with Gen Y and Gen Z influences the workplace
1. Quitting their job is a more common practice than for other generations
Millennials and Gen Z are the main actors of the Great Reshuffle. These two generations are less likely to hesitate before quitting their jobs because of their strong will for:
💡 Good to know: Quiet quitting is a new trend among young workers who can’t afford to leave a job that doesn’t meet their expectations. While waiting for a good opportunity to resign, they do the strict minimum required.
2. Meeting employees’ expectations is no longer an option
The determination of these two generations to have a job that matches their expectations forces companies to review their way of working. Moreover, the rise of hybrid work models increases the opportunities for employees to apply for jobs that meet their needs. It pushes businesses to take action to retain and attract the best talent.
3. Working with technology is a must
For Gen Z, working with technology is simply natural. But Millennials also understand the interest they have in using technology. Tools such as communication platforms, virtual learning resources, automation systems, and desk booking software are online technology Millennials and Gen Z expect to see in their work environment. Shifting from a private life highly supported by digital tech to a professional life where everything is still done manually or in person (timetables, communication, training, etc.) is impossible.
4. Being part of a company that promotes DEI practices is among their top priorities
Is your workforce reflecting society and including every minority? For Millennials and Gen Z, working for a company that values DEI initiatives becomes fundamental. They expect to see diversity in the workplace and fair and inclusive practices at each level of the organization. Being part of a business that discriminates against some communities and doesn't support people to succeed no matter their background is a no-go.
Managing Millennials and Gen Z in the workplace
Opting for a people-first management style is key
When looking at all the information above, it is clear that Millennials and Gen Z staff members expect a people-first leadership style from their managers. The optimal strategy is improving employee satisfaction, introducing well-being initiatives, and boosting the experience. Young generations are aware that workforces are the backbone of all organizations. They can make your business thrive or fail. Focusing on having an employee-centric approach is a win-win for everyone. In return, not only do you retain and attract the best talent, but you also collaborate with a team that remains engaged and motivated.
Promoting transparent communication fosters a healthy and trustworthy collaboration
Being commonly exposed to scams and unethical behaviors made Millennials and Gen Z people that highly value honesty and visibility. As far as Generation Z is concerned, they don't trust others easily and are very pragmatic. Don't try to fool them, and be clear about your expectations as a manager. Creating a relationship based on trust and transparency is the best approach to thriving your multigenerational workforce.
Applying a fair and inclusive leadership style is expected
Millennials and Gen Z want to see diversity in the workplace, but most importantly, they expect fair and inclusive practices. Hiring people from various backgrounds is a must, yet more is needed. All communities in your organization must be given the same chances to thrive and grow professionally. We highly recommend you read our article workplace equity vs. equality. Understanding why having an equal management style doesn't mean being fair and considering this distinction is fundamental to leading a young team successfully.
Working with a flexible schedule is considered a standard
As a manager, it is your role to understand your team members' needs and support them. Working with Gen Y and Gen Z means collaborating with people who can easily adapt to change. Yet, they also expect the same flexibility from your side. Since 2020, this includes allowing flexible work arrangements such as hybrid work and flexitime. This work flexibility is now considered a norm that isn't negotiable for the two youngest generations.
Millennials and Gen Z employees want their career to reflect their values, especially regarding ESG and DEI matters. They have high expectations and don't hesitate to do a job, hoping to find their perfect match. Yet, they are very engaged and hard workers for a company that meets their needs.
For more detailed information and statistics about Millennials and Gen Z in the workplace, we recommend you look at the Deloitte 2022 Millennials and Gen Z survey. Do you want to improve flexible work management and make it easy for you and your team?
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Paulyne is a hybrid work specialist, who writes about sustainability, flexible work models and employee experience.