#170: 7 Surprising Things I learned from My Gen Z Students

Stand aside Millennials, the Gen Z’s are coming! This year’s college graduating class marks the beginning of the wave of Gen Z students entering the workforce that will continue for the next fifteen years.

Gen Z Class of 2016

Gen Z kids grew up post 9/11 and lived through a recession that saw a quarter of American kids living in poverty. At the same time, mobile technology continued to expand. These and other factors contribute to the Gen Z’s being different in many ways from their Millennial predecessors.

As a result, leaders will need to be prepared. Forewarned is forearmed!

7 Surprising Things I learned from my Gen Z Students

I was invited to teach a class in sales and sales management at a local university this spring. Three years and they keep asking me back! Go figure!

My class this year was composed of 21 students; about half juniors and the rest seniors. All Gen Z’s! While outwardly they look a lot like prior classes of Millennials, I found there are a number differences.

  • They are screen-obsessed. Millennials grew up with chips in their cribs and got used to using three screens. Gen Z’s are even more screen dependent using an average of five screens: smartphone, TV, laptop, desktop, and an i-Pad. A full 79% of Gen Z’s suffer distress when kept from their electronic devices!
  • They have the attention span of an excited puppy. Scratch that. Puppies have a longer attention span! Studies show the average attention span of a Gen Z is about 8 seconds!
  • They are socially aware and engaged. Gen Z’s are aware of social issues and even more focused than Millennials on having jobs that impact the world.
  • They expect their careers to span several companies. Like Millennials, Gen Z’s expect to work for an average of 4 companies over the course of their careers.
  • They have an entrepreneurial mindset. Nearly three-fourths of Gen Z’s want to own their businesses.
  • They like to self-educate. Ask a question and Gen Z’s will dive for their favorite device and Google the requested information in seconds. If they need to learn something they have no qualms about using internet resources to teach themselves.
  • They are aspirational but skeptical. They know they will have to work hard to succeed and about one-third would like to retire by the time they are 60-years old. But, less than 20% think that is achievable.

I saw and experienced all these characteristics play out in my class:

  • I think the average student carried two screen devices with them at all times. Their smartphone was the go-to device for convenience but they would break out the iPad or laptop for serious research.
  • I expected the short attention span issue because I saw it last semester. I tried to break up my three-hour class into shorter chunks that included a mix of lecture, role-plays, Q & A, quizzes with discussion, and a break. Even so, I could sense I was stretching their ability to focus. I thought about taking the class outside on the campus lawn, but figured I’d lose them even faster!
  • I noted that several of the students were already involved as volunteers in a variety of social causes. As I discussed potential companies for careers with several students it was clear they were most interested in companies who had a strong social responsibility presence.
  • The entrepreneurial versus the big company career question did not seem to cause a concern. Several of the students expressed an interest in working for a large company or two to learn certain skills and then strike out on their own. Whether as leaders in big companies or as owners of their own smaller businesses, it was clear these folks want to be in a position to influence others!
  • I split the class into small groups and asked questions for a case study that required internet research. Within minutes, these folks had divided up the task, visited a variety of relevant websites, gathered information, and synthesized it so that it could be reported back to the rest of the class.
  • The one somewhat somber point that arose during the semester with some students is the fact that they see themselves as having to work harder to be successful than their predecessors, with a low likelihood of being able to enjoy a long retirement.

Lessons for Leaders

Some of the lessons important for leading Gen Z’s are similar to those I noted last year for the Millennials:

  • Short attention spans mean leaders need to be careful to design work for Gen Z’s that will keep them engaged and productive.
  • Given Gen Z’s fondness for any electronic device with a screen, it makes sense to leverage this skill set for research and learning tasks.
  • Large companies need to offer a variety of career paths to keep the Gen Z’s happy. Convince them they can get all the experience they need right where they are or pretty soon you’ll be looking for their replacement.
  • Large companies also need to integrate social responsibility efforts where it makes sense and give their employees a chance to contribute as volunteers.

Join the Conversation

As always questions and comments are welcome. Which of these seven insights resonates with you? What advice do you have for leaders of Gen Z’s??

I’d love your help. This blog is read primarily because people like you share it with friends. Would you share it by pressing one of the share buttons below?

 

Category: Skills | Human Resource Development

 

 

 

 

 

 

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

2 thoughts on “#170: 7 Surprising Things I learned from My Gen Z Students

  1. I’m 64 y.o., a minister and I find many of these same traits in my life, especially screen-prone, short attention span, self-educate…

    Short attention span is the most troubling, but I can focus much longer than eight seconds. Praying for 30 minutes is very difficult, though, and it’s getting worse the more time I invest in front of a screen. During 30 minutes of prayer, I find I must allow myself to make notes to read later or I will fixate on a thought, a to-do item, etc., to distraction.

  2. Interesting list of qualities you identified in Generation Z. The screen addiction and reduced attention span don’t surprise me. But it’s encouraging that they have an entrepreneurial spirit and want to make a difference in the world. Thanks Ron!