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Watch Out, Millennials: Here Comes Generation Z

The 2016 Staples Business Advantage Workplace Index is here, and it tells us there are now five generations in the workplace: The Silent Generation, Baby Boomers, Generation X, the Millennials and Generation Z.

Anyone born between 1994 and 2010 is a member of Generation Z. Gen Z will comprise 10% of the U.S. workforce by 2020, meaning we can expect 16 million young, new hires to enter the workforce over the next four years.

The oldest members of Generation Z are seniors in college this year. So it won't be long before they're wandering into the workplace -- if they haven't already been there as interns, that is. They think it's funny that you actually use Facebook, because only old people use Facebook. To them, a Facebook page is sort of like having a MySpace page, or maybe an AOL account.

I'm seeing it all up close as a Generation X parent to Generation Z. Just yesterday, I was asked: "Who is N Sync? Is it a band? From the 1980s, right?" Sure, it's just the breezy pop music category, but Gen Z's questions can make you feel really old sometimes.

Now the question is: How will our 30-year-old Millennial co-workers react in a few years when a new Gen Z hire turns to them and asks in all seriousness: "Who is Gwen Stefani?"

Um, No Doubt? Tragic Kingdom? Just a Girl? I loved that CD as a teenager. Are you kidding me?!

No, they're not kidding. It's scary and disconcerting somehow, but don't worry, Millennials: Suddenly feeling ancient as you explain your generation's pop culture references to a younger generation of confused co-workers is part of the workplace circle of life!

All too soon, Millennials, you will have to work through the realization that you are no longer the new kids in town. Like every previous workplace generation, you will morph into a bunch of "older" employees who listen to weird music all day, can't quite pull an all-nighter anymore, and are never up to date on the latest viral memes. (Thanks, Obama.)

All too soon, Millennials, you will find yourself explaining to your Gen Z co-worker why the entire company hasn't been thrown on an app yet. Generational change in the workplace is never easy for anyone. Just ask the Gen Xer who remembers asking a Millennial to explain something called Facebook.

Millennials vs. Generation Z
The Millennials and Generation Z share some similarities, yet there are some stark differences. Adecco recently surveyed more than 1,000 Millennials and Gen Zers for their thoughts on workplace and career. More than four in 10 Millennials (41%) surveyed were focused on finding a job with "opportunities for growth," compared to only three in 10 Gen Zers.

Gen Zers indicated they are less likely to turn to job boards when looking for work, choosing to focus instead on their personal connections, or those of their parents. In fact, the Adecco survey discovered that Gen Zers value their parents' career advice much more than the Millennials value their parents' career advice.

It's going to be fascinating to see how the Millennials react to the workplace arrival of Generation Z. In case you need it, here's a quick primer on Generation Z, from the trenches:

1. They think they're technology experts. Gen Zers have no fear of technology, but their tech savvy is mostly self-taught. In their world, there is an app for everything, but they think the vast majority of apps are completely useless. You may have to teach them a few computer basics on the job. Even if they tell you they've been using Excel for a few years, they may in reality know only a handful of functions.

2. They're already working online. School is their job, and Gen Zers do most of their homework assignments on the computer. They take many of their tests on a computer, and their textbooks are online, too. Google is second nature to them from a young age. I know 11-year-olds who can use software to create professional-looking brochures for class assignments.

3. They understand performance metrics. Thanks to educational apps such as Class Dojo, Generation Z is already acquainted with personalized performance metrics. They may receive weekly status reports from their teachers telling them -- in metric chart form! -- how well they did this week (they went from 66% to 89% in positive rating between Tuesday and Thursday for completing in-class assignments on time, etc.). Generation Z employees will expect instant, up-to-date performance metrics from their Millennial managers.

4. They don't use cursive. They may have had a school unit on the subject, but chances are they rarely, if ever, write in cursive. They may not be able to read it, either. Companies in the not-too-distant future will need to delete the need for employee signatures on basic employment forms. Use block lettering when writing future Post-It notes about cleaning the break room microwave.

5. They're the STEM generation. They might not know who Geoffrey Chaucer is, but they took calculus in 9th grade. Their lives have been highly scheduled, and downtime might feel like a foreign concept. Managers will need to encourage Gen Z employees to be more proactive. A Gen Z worker might do Steps A and B, then skip ahead to Step D because they couldn't figure out Step C and didn't ask for help. Make sure they know it's okay to ask "stupid" questions.

Bottom line: Generation Z will be coming to your workplace soon, Millennials! Please don't wince the first time you field a question that makes you feel old. It's going to happen, and far sooner than it used to happen because 30 is going to be the new 50 soon. Feel free to cry on Gen X's shoulder; we're here for you, and we understand. Good luck.


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