Preparing for Generation Z

April 14, 2020


Generational cohort theory suggests that, about every 20 to 30 years, groups emerge that are distinguishable by the times in which they were raised and the experiences that they shared.  The theory produces broad generalizations that do not apply to every member of a cohort.  But it’s widely accepted that major events, especially those that occur during one’s formative years, can have consequential impacts that persist over a lifetime. 

You already know about:

  • Baby Boomers, who are unwilling or unable to retire;
  • Gen X, who is now firmly ensconced in management; and
  • Millennials, who everyone dubbed a bunch of slackers 20 years ago, but who have largely turned into hard workers and extreme savers, especially those who started work during the Great Recession.

Gen Z has entered law schools and workplaces everywhere.  Here’s what you need to know:


Who they are:

  • Born between 1995 and 2012
  • Huge generational cohort comprised of approximately 90 million individuals (in comparison, the Baby Boomer generation was about 75 million strong, Gen X about 50 million, and Millennials about 75 million)
  • Most diverse generation in U.S. history
  • From a general-outlook perspective, while Milennials viewed the world in much the same way as the Baby Boomer generation, Gen Z’s view of the world closely parallels that of their Gen X predecessors


What key events have affected this generation and impacted their views and beliefs:

  • The war on terror that started post-9/11
  • The Great Recession - many members of Gen Z saw parents lose jobs, friends lose homes, grandparents return to work out of necessity
  • Technology - many were given iPhones or androids as pacifiers, which may have contributed to their short (eight seconds long) attention spans
  • Growing wealth gap
  • Rising nondiscretionary expenses, especially rent/mortgage, utilities, and health insurance
  • Huge amounts of student debt


What should you know about Gen Z at work:

They consider themselves the “hardest working generation ever,” and they won’t tolerate being forced to work when they don’t want to.

Consider this example.  I recently shared the following scenario with a group of new associates:  An associate said that he lives in a permanent state of anger.  When a colleague inquires, “What’s up,” the associate responded, “Every Friday, around 3:00 p.m., I’m on the receiving end of an email dump—three or four partners suddenly decide that they have some emergency that requires my immediate attention.  It happens so regularly that I can almost set a clock by it.”  I asked the group, “Instead of living in a state of anger, what should this associate do?”  One group suggested this response:  Tell the partners that these emergencies seem to be repetitive.  Perhaps the firm could shift the associate’s work schedule so that he spends the weekend addressing client emergencies and then takes off on Monday and Tuesday.  As a proud member of the Boomer generation, I was a bit stunned.

If you were in the workplace when the Millennial generation joined, you’ll recall that most managers complained about an absence of loyalty among their newest workers.  Fascinated with the tech industry’s start-up and early-stage company models, many pre-Recession Millennials looked at jobs with an attitude of “I’ll stay here 18 months at most, get what I can out of this job, and then move on.”  Gen Z enters the workforce knowing that they need to develop a series of diverse skills.  They express an interest in “entrepreneurial opportunities within the safety of a stable and secure job.”

While Gen Z is the ultimate digital generation, be aware of the following:

  • Three out of four prefer face-to-face interactions, especially when it comes to feedback;
  • One out of three prefer communicating with team members face to face; and
  • Ninety percent want some human element woven into their interactions with others.


Work-life balance continues to be an issue:

  • Thirty-eight percent of Gen Z describe work-life balance as a top priority (compared to 47 percent of Millennials who identified it as a top priority when that generation entered the workforce);
  • About one in three want some say over their work schedule; and
  • Slightly fewer than one in three refuse to work back-to-back schedules.

With regards to these statistics, permit me to share one observation:  Having witnessed multiple generations enter the workforce, I’ve noted that beliefs like these often adjust rapidly once a generation starts to do things like buy homes and obtain mortgages.


Be prepared to see some anxiety

  • The American Psychological Association notes that 77 percent of Gen Z adults report being stressed about work compared to 65 percent of adults overall;
  • Gen Z appears to be particularly anxious about work expectations and achieving success;
  • Thirty-four percent of Gen Z say their anxiety holds them back;
  • Sixty percent of Gen Z workers want multiple check-ins from supervisors weekly; and
  • Gen Z values measurability at work, i.e., they want to know how they can track their performance and the milestones that they should reach at specific stages in their careers.


In case you wish to build a file on Gen Z for your internal clients, much of the data listed above comes from the following three reports:

Welcome to Generation Z (Deloitte)

Meet Gen Z, The next generation is here: Hopeful, anxious, hardworking, and searching for inspiration (Workforce Institute)

Move Over, Millennials: Gen Z is About to Enter the Workforce (Monster)



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