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Why millennials will report to Gen Z

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“Do what you love, and the money will follow” is seductive advice, especially when wealth is scarce and jobs are few. The millennial generation has clung to this credo since the Great Recession, hoping the pursuit of passion would offer a roadmap to success in an uncertain economy. It helps explain why many juggle careers instead of vying for a corner office. After all, when your job is a moving target, it’s harder to downsize.

This line of thinking is why millennials may one day find themselves working for Generation Z. This is humbling to admit, because I am one of the former.

While my generation was busy making meaning, the parents of today’s teens were quietly raising a cohort more concerned with making money. The oldest among them will soon be entering adulthood, and new research from The Cassandra Report suggests they possess key traits that will help them thrive in the business world. I, for one, don’t plan to underestimate them. Here’s why:

Gen Z is resilient. Seventy-one percent of teens expect to experience a few failures in life before they succeed. They are unfazed largely because their parents, many of whom are pragmatic Gen Xers, allowed them to lose and own their mistakes. This was not generally the case for millennials, whose well-intentioned Baby Boomer parents championed the now-notorious idea that “everyone gets a trophy.” Zs have also benefitted from growing up during a period of economic hardship that saw many of their family and friends confronted by financial failure, which has shown them that overcoming obstacles takes extreme perseverance. This may be true of some millennials, of course, but many of them were raised in a time of economic prosperity that distorted their expectations for what to expect of out their lives and careers. Zs will likely use this resilience when confronted with the challenges of climbing the traditional workplace ladder, persevering where millennials grew disillusioned and sought solace in startup culture and perma-lancing.

Gen Z is independent. Eighty-three percent of teens would rather be smart than popular. This is again a reflection of their parents, but also of their times. Growing up with social media has helped them realize that standing out in a stream of updates requires a quality of uniqueness. This contrasts with the mindset of millennials, whose parents touted the merits of teamwork over individuality. Boomers knew that competition in schools and in the job market would be fierce among this massive generation of almost 90 million, so they equipped their children with a crucial tool for success: the ability thrive in groups. Millennials are indeed team players, but their proclivity for collaboration means they often prefer to lead from the middle rather than the top. Gen Z will be less burdened by this mentality, and thus reap the rewards that come with leading from the top.

Gen Z is fiscally focused. Fifty-one percent of teens consider “lots of money” as an indicator of success. This is not to say they’re Machiavellian. “Good friends” (72%) and “good relationships with family” (66%) ranked higher, but when we asked millennials a similar question, money was much less of an indicator. Zs want to pursue their passions more than they want a “fulfilling” career, suggesting they will choose jobs that allow them to achieve their desired lifestyle outside of work.

In other words, millennials “do what they love” hoping that the money will follow, but Gen Z will follow the money and learn to “love what they do.” If a Z loves to travel, he or she is more likely to pick a job that affords them the income and time to support their vacation habit rather than quit their job at age 24 to blog about backpacking through Thailand. Will it make them happy? Maybe. Will it make them more attractive candidates for leadership positions in the office? Almost definitely.

Employers should consider three things when preparing for this practical cohort:

  1. Offer clear paths for growth. Zs’ resilience means they won’t mind putting in their time at a company, but they will grow impatient if measureable steps for advancement are not provided.
  2. Let them lead. Zs’ independence means they won’t be afraid to lead from the top. Empower them to spearhead a project that lets them prove their value.
  3. Reward them with traditional totems of success. Zs’ focus on status means they will appreciate raises and title bumps more than Millennials, who settled for flexible hours and extra vacation time.

I could dissect the Z mindset further, but I’ll let my future boss, a 12-year-old from Ohio who we interviewed, do it for me. As she put it: “I don’t want to end up living in my parents’ basement. I want to build a good life for myself.”

Rachel Krautkremer is editorial director of The Cassandra Report at Deep Focus, a modern digital agency.