More than half of workers (52%) say their employers are failing to meet the needs of different generations in the workplace, according to new research commissioned by Ricoh. This is the first time in history that a fourth generation, Generation Z, will enter the workforce and they could be the undoing of many businesses that fail to adapt.
But what exactly does Generation Z (those currently aged 19 years and younger) want and expect? Do they deserve the crude label given by some as overly demanding screen-swipers (referring to swiping a smartphone screen) in search of instant gratification? A survey of over 3 300 people from all four generations, spanning 22 countries across Europe, the Middle East and Africa, says no.
The Generation Z population is unique. They have been strongly shaped by their individualistic Generation X parents, heard stories from their Baby Boomer grandparents and witnessed the errors and successes of Millennials. Combining this with their appetite for all things digital means they have a solid grounding to achieve and educate others in an ever-evolving and demanding business world.
The good news is that the majority of workers (88%) surveyed from all generations believe that having a workforce of different ages is an asset to a company. However, the survey unearthed a key challenge that managers must overcome. Over a third (35%) of older employees expect workplace tensions to increase with the arrival of Generation Z at their companies. With the next wave of imminent technology-led change sure to disrupt the workplace further, the need to establish environments that enable and encourage truly harmonious and productive working across the generations is paramount.
Jacques van Wyk, chief operating officer of Ricoh SA, says: “Generation Z demands constant work style innovation because they are growing up in an always-on, connected world without borders. They are accustomed to rapid innovation, digital everything, with a constant stream of new products and technologies to feed their demands, and that positions them, following workplace experience, to help businesses in vertical sectors penetrate global markets.”
The survey found that 65% of respondents agree there are fundamental differences in how employees from each generation work. The clearest contrasts emerged in their respective attitudes, expectations and styles of working. Face-to-face communication at work, while still the most preferred method across every group, is in generational decline. Preference for it drops from 77% of Baby Boomers to 58% of Generation Z. Meanwhile, 73% of Generation Z respondents believe their future employer will cater to their needs, opposed to only 48% of the other three generations.
“Generation Z forms the bulk of the population coming in to the workforce today,” says Van Wyk. “In a few years we can expect to see them in managerial positions. We cannot force them to use traditional tools and ways of working because they have grown up in an era of constant, rapid innovation. If people truly are the best asset of a company then our companies must adapt to their needs that help them conduct business. Therefore we must empower Generation Z and we must begin now so that we are prepared as they come on stream while not sidelining the other three generations who still constitute a large percentage of the workforce.”