Generation Z―those born somewhere between the mid-1990s and early 2000’s―are about to enter the workforce in a big way. They will be bringing a worldview that might seem alien to those of us of a certain age who will be doing the hiring. The Soviet Union did not exist during a Gen Z’s lifetime, and home Internet access always did. Calvin and Hobbes ended its run before they were born, and terrorism was only getting started, first with Oklahoma City and later reaching its full, terrible stride in New York and Washington. Generation Z doesn’t live in the “post-9/11 world.” For them, it’s always simply been the world.
Those differences have given them a worldview unfamiliar to their immediate predecessors, but as they enter the workforce, baccalaureates and DD-214s in hand, they face something very familiar to every generation of young workers: Managers who have no idea what to expect, and little inclination to understand a new, youthful perspective. It’s a familiar story, says Lisa Quast, a certified career coach and author of Secrets of a Hiring Manager Turned Career Coach. “Every single generation, you’re always going to have people who say the latest generation caught them off guard,” she tells ClearanceJobs. “Gosh, goes the refrain, they’re so different from what we were.”
WHAT MAKES A GOOD MENTOR
Two things are imperative if managers want to ease the transition to this new generation of workers: good mentorship and good communication. The techniques required to be a good mentor are universal and timeless, and have nothing to do with the generation to which the mentee belongs. A good mentor will try to learn in addition to teach, and mentoring should never be one-way. The goals of the mentoring relationship should be established early on, and mutual expectations should be defined. All of this involves asking a lot of questions and doing a lot of listening. In other words, being patient and trying to understand the needs of the new hire.
“I’m working with a fresh-out-of-college 22-year-old,” says Quast. “She’s new into the workforce. What is it she’s struggling with? What are her obstacles? How does she like to work, and in what styles and with what technology tools? Timing can be different. Workers 60 and above like to work very set hours and disconnect after certain times in the evening. Younger generations grew up around technology that’s connected 24/7. They think nothing, for example, of continuing conversations in email or text messaging. Style differences can take effect in different generations.” But to know those style differences, a mentor must listen.
Moreover, a good mentor has solid career experience and a willingness to share it honestly. Sharing mistakes are as important as sharing successes. Teaching mentees the solution to a problem is oftentimes less important than teaching them how to approach and work through a problem. As Quast explains, “A good mentor can ask questions and listen and can give advice in way that is not telling, but helping a mentee explore a situation and talk about options and come up with best solution, and why—without giving them the answer. It can take a lot of patience. It’s not human nature. A good mentor, for me, is someone who teaches how to fish versus simply giving them the fish.”
THE CORPORATE APPROACH TO MENTORSHIP
The way companies approach mentorship has changed significantly since the Gen X and Millennial transitions. Companies are more proactive in establishing mentor relationships. Moreover, the older workforce is now much more open to learning from the young.
“Mentoring used to be a lot less formal,” says Quast. “When I was young there weren’t mentoring programs. If you wanted a mentor you had to find them yourself. I had to find them, ask them, establish that relationship on my own. Now companies are working through their human resources departments to set up formal mentoring―to look for high potential young people and connect them with mentors. It’s become more formalized as people realize how great are the benefits of a mentor-mentee arrangement.”
Reciprocity is also encouraged, as it can pay dividends. Seeking out and understanding what young people are experiencing, and seeing the world through their eyes, can provide the sorts of insights that help a company succeed and grow in the future. Gen Z, after all, are going to be the big purchasers in the economy in the coming years. It’s very important to understand how they experience their careers and lives.
WHAT TO EXPECT FROM GEN Z
For her part, Quast has noticed some small but significant differences between Millennials and Generation Z. “What I’m seeing now is that the new generation is a lot more conservative,” she says. “They’re immediately saving more money. They realize, ‘I can’t be a director my first two years out of college; I will have to work entry level jobs for a few years until I can get my foot in the door.’ I must be self-driven. It’s an interesting shift in goals and also in behavior. Millennials had their expectations already set. ‘By a certain age, I’ll be a VP.’ This new group is more conservative, saying it’s going to take a lot of work and I know it, and I’m going to get through it.”
On the big picture issues, some things never change, says Michael Haberman, co-founder of Omega HR Solutions. “I like to say that I was a Millennial in the 70s,” he tells ClearanceJobs. “Everyone talked about how Millennials wanted recognition, wanted to have an identity, wanted to work for a company that has a vision, a purpose. But I remember looking for the very same things when I was that age. I wanted to be recognized, make money, work for company doing good. And when those things didn’t occur, I changed jobs just like Millennials are accused of doing, and just as Millennials will soon be accusing Generation Z of doing.”
Managers should understand that every generation has its own set of tools and unique ways of communicating, and that’s OK! “Different” doesn’t mean bad or lazy; it means different, and that’s how progress happens. “The lesson we’ve got learn from the transition to Millennials is that the overblown stereotype of a Millennial was not, in fact, reality,” says Haberman.
With a proper mentoring program in place and well-qualified mentors providing guidance, the transition from Millennials to Generation Z might involve a good deal less anxiety than that from Generation X to Millennials. By sticking with the basics of mentorship and by listening as much as talking, managers will find that the set of skills that Generation Z brings to the table might in some ways be better than the old, and that like all of us, they simply want to do good work in exchange for respectful treatment.