Does Generation Z Have an Image Problem?

They’re 61 million-plus strong. They’re starting to enter the workplace. And, judging by some recent surveys, lots of other people resent them. “They” are Generation Z, people born between 1994 and 2010. Derided by some members of the older generations as entitled snowflakes, Gen Zers nevertheless came of age during a time of great economic upheaval (the Great Recession) that’s conditioned many of them to view the world with caution.

David Stillman, a researcher and author of the recently published Gen Z @ Work: How the Next Generation is Transforming the Workplace, says their experience make members of this generation more likely to value financial stability in a career than other age cohorts. For my recent story on choosier job candidates, Jenn Prevoznik, SAP’s head of college recruiting, told me that Gen Zers’ desire for security (as well as their heavy college-debt burden) is leading the software maker to consider offering a student-loan-forgiveness benefit. Other observers say members of this generation are more entrepreneurial and work-focused than previous generations.

Even so, Gen Z appears be saddled with an image problem that seemingly requires the services of a top-flight PR agency. A survey of nearly 4,000 jobseekers by recruitment firm Nexxt finds that 40 percent of those who are parents of Gen Zers warn that their children are lazier than millennials (Lazier than millennials? Impossible!). The survey finds that baby boomers (no strangers to derision themselves) have the lowest opinion of Gen Z, with 40 percent saying the youngest generation will have a negative effect on the workplace. And, while 71 percent of the Gen Zers surveyed say their presence in the workforce will make it better, only 32 percent of the parents of Gen Zers agree with that.

Millennial managers, in particular, seem to have a rather negative opinion of Gen Z, with one-third of them saying members of that generation will be more difficult to manage compared to older workers and 28 percent saying they’ll be more difficult to train, according to a national survey of managers by APPrise Mobile.

Although there’s that old saying that stereotypes are grounded in at least a little bit of truth, HR and talent acquisition leaders should keep an open mind, of course. Consider that although Gen Z is also referred to (by a few, anyway) as “iGeneration” for their attachment to mobile devices, Stillman’s survey of Gen Zers found that 84 percent nonetheless say face-to-face is their favored mode of communication. His survey also found that 61 percent say they would consider staying at one company for — get this — more than 10 years.

Andrew R. McIlvaine
Andrew R. McIlvaine is former senior editor with Human Resource Executive®.