What We Can Learn From the “Snowflakes”

Gen Z soft skills STEERus

By Loralyn & Amrit

Are you discounting Gen Z as a generation too steeped in wokism with “no idea” of how the real-world works, dismissing them as “snowflakes” who melt with a little bit of heat and flake out whenever you ask them to do something? In a word – don’t! You may need to re-examine your line of thinking because, as a generation, however lame you think that they are, they’re equally awesome. And they can teach the rest of us a thing or two about balance, priorities, being okay with not being okay, and the art of the possible. Plus we should really stop labeling people in general, but we should definitely stop tagging this as the “snowflake generation.” 

Do you know that by 2025 Gen Z workers will make up 27% of the workforce? Given how fast time is flying by (since most of us have been caving for over two years now), that’s basically next year or so. If you have been ignoring this group of people up till now or brushing them aside for being too childish or lofty, you will be surprised to know the dynamics of their thinking and the depth of their awareness. Hell, you may even come to marvel at the power and potential of Gen Z.

People born between 1997 and 2012 are considered as members of Gen Z (source); essentially, anyone aged mid-teens to late 20’s are part of Gen Z. More interestingly, a big chunk of Gen Z has already entered adulthood and is probably already working alongside you in your office (or in your adjacent zoom square). In fact, 24% of the workforce already comes from Gen Z.

There are misconceptions. There are generational gaps. Different people have evolved their philosophies and attitudes within the contextual reference of significantly different circumstances. But aren’t such generationally-defining attributes par for the course? Doesn’t everyone need to upskill? Every employee needs to learn life skills (aka soft skills) and acquire social emotional learning (SEL), especially in a professional environment.

The challenge is that most schools stop teaching SEL by middle-school and that’s a huge problem. Sure, today’s high school and post-secondary curricula are “stuffed with STEM” but at the expense of the creative arts. Life skills like cooking and home or car maintenance, and other such basics, which are fundamental to daily living, have been dropped altogether. But people need to learn these skills. Unless, of course, you’re a trust fund baby and have “people” to outsource all these tasks to …

Gen Z is a generation of true “digital natives.” They haven’t seen the world without the Internet. If they have a question, they “Google it.” Some of them haven’t seen a world without smart phones, and, when tasked to use a rotary phone, they fail miserably and hilariously. NOTE: the corollary to that is most older adults fail miserably and hilariously trying to use a new smart phone so we’re all on equal ground here! People know what they know.

Gen Z is communicating constantly. By default, they are pre-wired for networking. They are also well informed and comparatively more aware of current events. However, self-awareness could do with a little polishing and upskilling.

Since they are well informed, they have a wider range of options and they switch jobs easily compared to previous generations. Many organizations who want to retain them are taking proactive steps to create an environment where they feel productive, valued, and engaged. The key word here is valued: nobody wants to be part of your company’s churn & burn cycle.

Some of the common misconceptions about Gen Z are:

  1. They only communicate online: True, they text a lot versus make phone calls with a clear preference to connect via DM or Facetime among friends, but professionally, 84% prefer to talk face to face so that they can learn and be mentored.
  2. They don’t recognize the importance of soft skills: as the founder of a soft skills training company, we see this in spades! Although a majority of the Gen Z members believe that hard skills are more important than soft skills, research has found that a portion of the cohort also understands the importance of extra training to develop their soft skills. They acknowledge that aside from knowing the core skills such as coding or number crunching, they also need to know how to function in an office environment and how to share information, take feedback, and communicate with co-workers. So they go on YouTube or reddit to get this training but it’s typically inadequate.
  3. They are self-entitled and averse to working hard: ouch! This one stings. But it’s an age-old problem faced by every new generation. The previous generation thinks that the new one is spoiled, more privileged, and doesn’t have to work as hard to get ahead. It is a perception problem versus an absolute truth. Of course, there are some exceptional circumstances that previous generations have faced from the Great Depression, World Wars, the flu pandemic of a century ago, etc. Most of the Gen Z members believe that they need to work harder compared to the previous generation to make a mark in their professional life. Being more aware and accepting, they are also eager to walk an extra mile in the form of getting training and more willing to try new things.
  4. The Gen Z members easily switch jobs: Truth! Gen Z members switch their jobs more frequently compared to people of previous generations but that’s not because they are fickle, and they indulge in job hopping just for the heck of it. Research has shown that they will stay for a few years provided their work is appreciated and growth avenues are made available to them. They switch jobs easily because they can – they are more connected, and they have access to alternative opportunities. The current tenure is about a year and a half.

Gen Z has been hit hard by 2-3 years of the Covid-19 pandemic. Jobs have been lost. And so have loved ones. Many have had to move back in with their parents. Even those who didn’t lose jobs had to stay home for long durations. Not just professionals; even those Gen Z members who were in schools and colleges were confined indoors, considerably curtailing their social activities and forcing them into isolation. Many lost their loved ones and got lifelong ailments. Hundreds of thousands are working from home and consequently, devoid of regular communication with their colleagues.

How do you get noticed and get ahead when you’re working at your first job behind a screen located in your childhood bedroom or parents’ basement?

These things have taken their toll. According to a McKinsey consumer survey on Gen Z reports the least positive outlook ever recorded despite being one of the most talented generations of our time. It shows lower levels of emotional and social well-being than older generations. Political uncertainties, the horrible revival of racism, war, and climate change are some factors that underscore Gen Z’s serious concerns and are filling them up with frustration and fear. No wonder their levels of self-harm, anxiety, and depression are skyrocketing.

Soft skills training can help – but they’re only part of the solution. The good thing is that Gen Z doesn’t just understand the importance of soft skills but is also eager to get professional help when they need it. They collectively accept that “it’s okay to not be okay.” The shame and stigma around asking for help is refreshingly disappearing based on the willingness of Gen Z to share their vulnerabilities.

This demographic isn’t just “super smart.” They are focused, driven, and hard-working. As a cohort, they long to make an impact and do things with purpose – or they’d rather do nothing at all. They’ve collectively eschewed the materialism that has driven generations before them: why push for that big house that you can’t safely leave to travel the world? Why buy that expensive car to sit in traffic?

They are ready to rise and shine. It’s their time. Gen Z is going to remain an integral part of the workforce for decades to come. Hence, it is important for you to find ways to recruit, nurture, and retain them.

Need help? We have our own solutions plus solutions from our HRtech partners. Gen Z – we’ve got you! Employers of Gen Z – we’ve got you, too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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