Understanding Generation Z and building for the future

11 January 2023

What if the company made peace with Generation Z? The great mystery of our time, those born between 1997 and 2012 are the talk of the town. Criticized and mocked, these young people are above all misunderstood, often taken as scapegoats for a society in crisis. The company itself is the stage for this immense misunderstanding, where cautious managers
give free rein to their irritation
with young, inexperienced employees.

And yet, whether we like it or not, generations Z (and the Alpha generation after them) are the future of our companies. A future that’s extremely close at hand, since these young people have already taken their first steps in our organizations and are already shaking up our habits and beliefs. It’s high time we adapted to these young people. It’s up to companies to make the effort to understand their youngest employees.

Generation Z’s dream company

Often portrayed as extremely demanding, Generation Z is not asking for the moon. In the end, his demands don’t seem so far removed from the aspirations of every individual entering working life. We conducted a survey among young employees. When asked which criteria they consider essential in their choice of company, they all answer: well-being at work. This well-being depends on a relationship of trust and mutual respect with their manager, management and the rest of the team. They’re not asking for the company to become a huge amusement park, but rather for a healthy, friendly and caring atmosphere where everyone can be heard.

Immediately after quality of life at work, it’s the quality of the assignments on offer that is cited. Members of Generation Z want to work every day on a task they enjoy, in which they can grow, learn and develop. Above all, they need to understand what’s at stake in their work and how they’re part of a common mission. They want to be able to take pride in what they do, and know that the company recognizes their investment. They therefore need to perform rewarding tasks and be given responsibility.

This is where the delicate criterion of remuneration comes into play. For Gen Z, remuneration is important because it must be consistent with the task performed. As they like to say, they’ll give priority to an interesting assignment, even if the salary isn’t exactly stellar. On the other hand, they see remuneration as proof of consideration, and consider low pay as a lack of recognition.

Generation Z vs. boomers

A closer look reveals that the demands of Generation Z are not all that extravagant. So why do we feel so distant from them? Perhaps because, while the request is legitimate, the form isn’t always. Indeed, according to their elders, while they don’t ask for the moon, younger employees don’t always respect the company’s well-established rules. In particular, they are quick to make claims and always seem ready to shake things up – too quickly, sometimes too loudly, and even before they have proven themselves or gained experience.

This is what their elders in the company criticize them for: being too self-confident and arbitrary. “We can hear the questioning, but the form is often rather abrupt, direct, frank and sometimes binary. We need to find more elaborate, more thoughtful forms of work relations, which don’t exist today,” explained Robin Coulet, founder of the Conversationnel agency, at a round table organized by Les Stratèges.

These generations, who saw both their parents come home from work tired, who grew up between the France Télécom scandal and #Metoo, have integrated that the company is a jungle where the law of the strongest reigns. Some of them arrive with their heads full of preconceived ideas and knives between their teeth, ready to fight and determined not to accept what their elders have failed to identify as malfunctions. They take their first steps in the company with the idea that they’re going to have to change things, shake up codes and assert themselves if they don’t want to be “eaten up”. “All the young people I hire say to me, “And do you mind if I suggest improvements?” On the contrary, it’s crucial! But it means that as soon as they arrive, they have the idea that our future needs to be modified,” illustrates Sylvie Chenivesse, director of the Sup de Pub school.

Reactions that may be excessive in some cases, but which we need to understand. Because, let’s face it, they’re right to refuse to put up with unscrupulous practices. “They discovered a certain kind of truth earlier than we did. What used to be called ‘pressure’ is now considered moral harassment. I think they’re putting into words things that their elders may have experienced but perhaps didn’t have the idea or the courage to name,” analyzes Robin Coulet.

Understanding for better collaboration

Preconceived ideas are hard to dispel, but even some of those most concerned admit to having discovered a more caring and fulfilling corporate world than they had imagined. It’s up to companies to reassure their future young employees and adapt to their way of seeing work.

For Sylvie Chenivesse, above all, companies need to get young people on board and see them as the adults they are. “I don’t really like to say ‘giving meaning’, it’s just explaining to them what their work is for and where they fit in with the other employees. Embracing them also means telling them that their opinions and reactions are beneficial to the company. “To sum up, Generation Z young people need a defined framework within which they can enjoy their autonomy. A framework they are often the first to ask for.

Another major player in the integration of young people into the world of work is education, and in particular higher education establishments, which play a key role in the integration of Generation Z. “It’s a crazy job because it’s an entire ecosystem that needs to be transformed, starting with the people involved. You have to put the students at the center, they’re not just there to listen, they’re involved and responsible for their own progress. What we want to tell them is that it’s worth it to get involved, because in the end they’ll find their path, their passion. And after that, things happen naturally: if you’re passionate, you’re good at what you do, and you’re very attractive when it comes to hiring,” explains Sylvie Chenivesse.

To ease intergenerational relations, and enable Gen Z to express their full potential in the service of tomorrow’s company, it is therefore the duty of companies to question themselves and re-establish dialogue. Easier said than done, this questioning is nonetheless essential to understanding the future of work. And Sylvie Chenivesse concludes: “We take a swipe at young people, but this masks our own failings.”

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