Guest Column: What you need to know about Generation Z

Published 10:45 pm Friday, July 21, 2017

Guest Column by Dean Swanson

“Dean, you do a great job with topics about small businesses and their clients, but what about this new generation as employees? Give us some insights.” Isn’t that a super email from a reader?

Here is another case where I will turn to some SCORE colleagues and business partners to seek some help. One such partner is Rieva Lesonsky, from whom I have sought information in the past. Rieva is CEO of GrowBiz Media, a content and consulting company specializing in covering small businesses and entrepreneurship and She did a piece on the SCORE website last week, and I share her information with you.

Dean Swanson

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Move over, millennials: A new generation is coming of age and starting to enter the work force.

How much do you know about Generation Z? Generational expert David Stillman knows quite a lot about them. Coauthor of Gen Z at Work, Stillman defines Generation Z as born in 1995 and later. (I put them at 2001 and later; however, people born between 1995-2001 may have characteristics of both millennials and Generation Z).

Much as Generation X didn’t get the same attention Baby Boomers did, Stillman believes the current focus on millennials could leave Generation Z feeling ignored and misunderstood. What do you need to understand about them to get the most from them as employees? Stillman says the main thing to know about Gen Z is that they’re not like the millennials.

Here are some more of Stillman’s tips on Gen Z:

• They want frequent feedback. As you might expect from a generation that constantly checks their phones, Generation Z expects frequent feedback. However, it doesn’t need to be a lengthy annual review or even a weekly one-on-one. Quick check-ins can be plenty for Gen Z workers.

• They seek security. Having seen their parents go through tough economic times, Generation Z looks for security and stability in a job — not necessarily “meaning.” They’re also more willing than millennials to start at the bottom and work their way up, as long as they can expect job security in return.

• They’re very competitive. Raised by Gen X parents who had to compete in a tough economy, this generation is highly competitive and independent. While millennials are known for their collaborative, “group project” work styles, Generation Z employees are more likely to prefer working on their own.

• They want to personalize their jobs. Catered to since birth by companies that allow them to personalize everything from soft drinks to tennis shoes, Generation Z expects no less from their jobs. (More than half of those Stillman surveyed want to write their own job descriptions.) The more flexibility and customization your company can offer these workers, the better.

• They may be entrepreneurs as well as employees. The ease of starting a side business today appeals to Gen Z’s desire for financial security, and Stillman says you should expect your Generation Z employees to have a “side hustle.” You’ll need to work out for yourself where you will draw the line. For example, if one of your Gen Z workers starts a business that competes with yours, what will you do? Try harnessing Gen Z’s entrepreneurial spirit to create new ideas, products or divisions for your business, and rewarding them for it financially. 

• They suffer from FOMO. Constantly scanning social media to see what everyone else is doing, Generation Z is suffused with “fear of missing out,” always worried there’s something better going on somewhere else. They will apply the same to their jobs, according to Stillman. Rather than focusing on one career track or specialization, Gen Z may prefer trying out many different jobs or moving laterally to gain new skills. This can give a small business where everyone gets to do a little bit of everything a big advantage when competing for Gen Z employees.

• They’re “phigital.” Generation Z came of age never knowing a world without cellphones. Even more than millennials, they expect your business to have the latest technology (just like they do in their personal lives). If you’re at all behind technologically, they’re not likely to want to work for you.

Want to learn how to attract and retain any generation of employee? SCORE mentors can help.

Dean Swanson is past chairperson of Southeast Minnesota SCORE.