Generation Z first entered the workforce in 2015. Having completed their first year, GenZers are already beginning to change the corporate culture in many companies. This upcoming year--2017--will lead to a further increase of Gen Z presence in the office, an with it will come new changes.
This article will look at just three ways Gen Z will impact the workplace, specifically telecommuting (aka work from home, remote work), communication, and gender dynamics.
More remote working, and less 9-5.
As of 2016, about 3.8 million workers telecommute at least 50% of the time, and the rate is increasing by 5.8% a year. Many companies are beginning to adopt work-from-home (WFH) policies, if they haven't already.A 2016 study found that 80-90% of the entire workforce expresses the desire to work partially from somewhere other than the office. The same study also found that in Fortune 1000 companies, 50-60% of employees tend to work away from their desks.
Relatively new to corporate America, I've noticed that there's definitely a stigma around employees working remotely. The gist is that if you're not in the office, you're not working productively, even if you might be watching YouTube videos in the office, and contributing thousands of lines of code from home. Telecommuters, as a result, can experience unnecessary stigma from managers due to fear of loss of managerial control. In fact, a 2008 study found that an increase in telecommuting by an employee, led to a decrease in perception of productivity by management.
This is disheartening to hear, but the stigma around remote working is drastically decreasing, thanks in part to Millennials. While they did not create telecommuting, Millennials have played a pivotal role in normalizing telecommuting, as a result of wanting more work-life balance. But Gen Z doesn't want the millennial work-life balance-- Gen Z wants work-life integration.
At this point, companies that care about their talent should already have telecommuting available to their employees. Progressive companies looking to recruit Gen Z talent will most likely adopt robust and even more flexible remote working policies.
Taking into consideration the amount of in-person work that is part of someone's job responsibility, Gen Z may not find themselves in the office more than 1-2 a week, especially if the work they need to get done is mostly remote. Or it may be the case that they don't need to physically be in the office more than a few hours a day, based on their type of work. At this point, you might be asking, "when do they work, and how do they remain full time if they're only in the office for a few hours a day?".
Remember your college days, and how you could only study or work on homework at certain times in the day? I do, and for me, it's weird how that carries into my professional career. Just to give you a sense, I am most productive between 6-9am, 3-5pm, and 10pm-1am, but as you can see, only 25% of my prime productivity hours (PPH) falls between the standard 9-5 business hours. In other words, I'm 75% useless.
I see the same thing with my Gen Z co-workers. We have different PPHs, yet we complete the same amount of work with the same level of quality by the same deadline. 9-5 does not cut it for us, and it doesn't cut it for many employees. Of course, as a result of a larger remote workforce, a new skill we may see on job descriptions will be "the ability to manage remote workers effectively". After all, managing remote employees differs greatly from managing in-office employees.
As Gen Z enters the workforce, work will increasingly become more remote for the reasons of work-life integration, and productivity. California's "alternative workweek" may aid companies in changing the structure of the workweek to take into account the issue of overtime, and help workers earn a more flexible workweek.
Goodbye Email, and Slack-- Hello Face-to-Face Communication.
GenZ is extremely tech savvy, but this does not mean that they want to use technology for everything, including for communication. Surveys by Pew, MTV, and other groups have found that Generation Z craves face-to-face connection and are not as reliant on text messaging, or messaging systems for communication.
Tired of being isolated through social media, lacking communications, and how things can become misconstrued over text messages (e.g. how periods at the end of a thought can come off as insincere or passive-aggressive), GenZers prefers calling, video chatting, or communicating in-person with their team and manager. This is a strong reversal of how Millennials communicate.
I've worked in workplaces with a dominant Millennial presence, as well as one with a small GenZ presence, and the atmospheres were vastly different. While I found that a Millennial workplace was more efficient-- if I sent a Slack to my Millennial manager, I would get a response within 2 minutes--a GenZ workplace was more personable.
In the GenZ workplace, team members and I would just walk to each other's desks to ask questions, or talk across the aisle that separated us in our open workspace setup. No need to schedule a meeting, email, or even Slack. As a positive consequence, there was also just a lively talking environment -- we'd share memes, discuss after work plans, or talk about current events. One can say that this is unproductive and it is to a certain extent, but the tradeoff for inefficiency is a personable, lively work atmosphere, which can make people feel like they belong to a community rather than a company, and that in effect can have a huge impact on retaining Generation Z employees.
Truly Gender-Inclusive Workplaces.
Millennials are praised as socially progressive on many issues, including LGBTQ and gender equality. Granted, Millennials loosened the grip of gender norms on society, they're still not as accepting of those off the gender binary. This is where Gen Z differs.
Generation Z is truly disruptive when it comes to diversity and social acceptance. Talking specifically about gender and sexual orientation, more than 1/3 of GenZers identifies as bisexual, ~60% know people who identity with gender neutral pronouns, and 75% are more accepting of non-binary people.
So notable is the issue of gender that National Geographic is releasing their "Gender Revolution" article in January 2017 (below). It very may well become of the key defining features of Gen Z.
Now, this has huge implications in the world of work.
The rise of gender inclusive bathrooms: as we begin to accept more genders into the workplace, having gender-specific bathrooms like a "men" and "women" bathroom will no longer be inclusive, or cost efficient. Gender inclusive bathrooms save costs ( e.g. no need to build two bathrooms, and to have as many diaper changing stations), and promote inclusiveness in the workplace.
More lenient, casual dress codes: Gen X brought us "work casual" dress codes. Millennials bring us "casual" dress codes. Gen Z will bring us "wear something" dress codes.
With gender and gender expression heavily reliant on clothing, makeup, and overall appearance, dress codes can play a pivotal role in influencing a worker's productivity, happiness, and retention over time. Take a look at the professional attire below-- you'll notice how gendered the clothing is.
What would happen if a "man" walked into the office wearing a skirt, or heels? A "woman" walked in with facial hair? Chances are, those individuals would be stigmatized against, ridiculed, or called unprofessional. Gen Z's notions of gender are accepting of those who don't fit neatly into the gender of "man" or "woman", and they are most likely bringing their acceptance with them into the workplace.
Gender-centric benefits: As a benefit for its employees, companies may begin to offer financial assistance for their transitioning (transgender) employees. Granted, there are companies that are already doing this, but expect to see more. Expect to see better paid, and longer parental leave policies for employees.
These are just three ways Gen Z will begin to change the workforce with this coming year. What I anticipate will be challenging for companies is being able to balance the GenZ need for telecommuting with their need for face-to-face communication. In addition to all of this, it will be interesting to see how GenZ will challenge gender in the workplace, and how companies will react to it.
What are your thoughts? How do you think Gen Z will change the workplace in 2017, if at all?
Kunal has volunteered at an elephant and rhino orphanage in Kenya, was a nationally ranked video game player, and has taught a university accredited class on Mean Girls. Currently, he is the founder of a research based non-profit, and a student at UC Berkeley double majoring in rhetoric and psychology. He enjoys writing about the intersection of people, business, and psychology. You can follow him on Twitter (@KunalKerai) or send him any wonderful insights you may have to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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