Why Gen Z is Redefining ‘Failure’

While the word “failure” hasn’t traditionally been associated with a positive work experience, that may be about to change.

A new survey by EY of Generation Zers–generally defined as those born after 1999–found that the incoming generation of workers appears to be eager to learn from mistakes, and places a high priority on a can-do attitude.

In fact, 80 percent of survey respondents said that embracing failure at work can help them be more innovative. Additionally, about one-quarter said they would be excited to get out of their comfort zone and work on a new challenge, while 70 percent think a curious and open mindset is more important to workplace success than a particular skillset.

The results were part of a study of 1,400 Gen Zers conducted by EY during its annual International Intern Leadership Conference this summer.

“With the next generation of our workforce not afraid to fail in order to grow and innovate,” says Natasha Stough, EY Americas campus recruiting leader, “organizations should create an environment that allows them to bring their ideas forward, fail fast and then learn from that failure.”

In keeping with that idea, the study also suggested the importance of continuous feedback, a trend that many companies are already embracing. A full 97 percent of survey participants said they were receptive to feedback on an ongoing basis or after a large project, and 63 percent want timely, constructive feedback throughout the year.

Collaboration is also top of mind for Gen Z workers. When facing a work challenge, 73 percent of female respondents said their first instinct would be to enlist the help of peers, slightly higher than the 63 percent of males who agreed. Also, women were more likely than men to say they want to work with co-workers who challenge them and from whom they can learn. Interestingly, a majority (77 percent) of Gen Z respondents said they prefer a millennial manager, while 68 percent of women and 67 percent of men would want be managed by someone of the same sex.

However, respondents recognized the value of diversity in teamwork. About 63 percent said it’s important to have people of different educational backgrounds and skills working together, while 20 percent said cultural diversity is the most important factor for team success.

Being attuned to the priorities and strengths of Generation Z workers is key, as this demographic will comprise one-third of the global population by next year and 20 percent of the workforce by 2020.

“By supporting a collaborative, team-friendly environment,” Stough says, “organizations can successfully leverage this generation’s skills to manage and propel these forward-thinking individuals to solve the problems of the future.”

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Jen Colletta
Jen Colletta is managing editor at HRE. She earned bachelor's and master's degrees in writing from La Salle University in Philadelphia and spent 10 years as a newspaper reporter and editor before joining HRE. She can be reached at hreletters@lrp.com.