Blog Post

Conversations with Gen Z: Old Ways, New Normals, and Shaping the Future of Work

Cornerstone Editors

Gen Z’s steady entry into the workforce has come with a wave of preparatory thinkpieces, advice columns and data breakdowns—rivalling even Millennial content. But there’s an important reason: as the first "digital natives," Gen Z brings transformational changes, industry-wide rethinking and reshaping the world of work—again.

Born after 1995, Gen Z is the most ethnically-diverse generation in the U.S. to date and among the most educated. They had their first smartphones in elementary school, and see themselves as content creators, not just consumers (56% say they use social media to express themselves creatively). With this comes a penchant for instant gratification—even in their careers. But that doesn’t mean they lack work ethic or discipline.

Still, most Gen Zers report feeling unprepared for the workforce. And in many ways, the workforce itself isn’t quite ready for them: companies are increasingly experiencing generational challenges due to mismatched experience and expectations. Even the digitally-inclined Millennials are likely to clash with Gen Z, according to some experts.

The best way to overcome this generational challenge is to give both Gen Z and their future managers the tools and training they need to work best together. In fact, 75% of the Gen Z workers in one study said that a boss or manager’s ability to coach and mentor them is of absolute importance. Millennial manager Casey Brecker, a team lead with Cornerstone’s Associate Client Executive (ACE) department, and Gen Z Associate Client Executive (ACE) Tina Phan, can attest to the importance of having these resources. Read on to hear about their experience working together.

Can you tell us a little bit about yourselves and your work relationship?

Brecker: I've been at Cornerstone for almost four years now. I lead our ACE team, and have been in this role for just about a year now. [Phan] was my backfill for the role, so I hired her in October of 2019.

Phan: I've been at Cornerstone for almost two years. I started on the Healthcare Corporate Account Development (CAD) team and then was promoted to the ACE team. Casey is my direct manager.

What was the learning curve like for you when it comes to entering the workforce—or, in your case, Casey, managing a Gen Z employee?

Phan: The soft skills I’ve developed through various jobs throughout high school and college helped prepare me as I entered the workforce. But I quickly realized how important it is to actively reskill and upskill in all areas as I progress in my career. To learn, I found myself modeling my work based on my peers who I admire. I connected with many of them to get a better sense of what they’ve done to make them successful in their role and that helped me understand what areas I could improve on, what I needed to do to be successful in my own role, and how I can make an overall impact at the organization.

Brecker: I've learned a lot in almost a year of management.Gen Z is making a really big shift in the corporate world. Everyone is reframing the way they retain them. A big part of it is managers being supportive, mentoring, letting them make mistakes—and also asking for Gen Z’s opinions to learn from them. Gen Z’s approach is fresh and reminds me to avoid getting caught up in the ways we usually do things.

Growing in the Workforce: Different Expectations and New Trajectories

The linear "corporate ladder" was already well on its way to being an outdated concept before Gen Z entered the workforce. Do you have a sense of there being a new bar for success or career progress now?

Brecker: What I've noticed in interviewing candidates is that Gen Zers are extremely motivated, really eager to advance and already thinking about their next role. In addition to covering Phan’s to-do list during our weekly check-ins, we make it a priority to regularly talk about her development, career growth and what we can do to get her there.

Phan: One of the things that attracted me to Cornerstone was seeing people in my department move linearly or laterally within the company, depending on what they want their career trajectory to look like. And that's one thing that Gen Zers really hope to do is drive their own career path.

There is a belief that Gen Z—having been so indoctrinated by the instant gratification of social media—expects more rapid and immediate movement in their career. Have either of you felt that?

Phan: I would say more importantly Gen Zers want to know that the company we work for is committed to investing in our development. We are eager to work and build on our skills, both technical skills and soft skills, as well as gain valuable career experience for our future. The job market is full of talent so at times we may feel expendable. But we also see companies as expendable if they don’t support our career advancement. We can easily find new opportunities through our social networks if the job we are in now isn’t right for us. That is why it’s so important that companies are in tune with the needs of their Gen Z employees.

Brecker:What's going to engage Gen Z coming into the workforce is that motivation to get to that next step and a culture of development and engagement. The freedom to face challenges on their own, but also having a mentor and a coach to help guide them along the way.

It certainly was an adjustment for me at first. I had to make more time in our check-ins to discuss development opportunities and slow down to thoughtfully coach. But after a few weeks, we got in a groove, and now Tina is one of our best team members in the department and is incredibly proactive and self-sufficient.

Cornerstone has launched several digital learning courses specifically geared toward the Gen Z audience. Have you taken those courses yet, and what did you think?

Phan: Yes, the courses were very digestible (5 minutes or less) and got information across effectively and efficiently. They provided great insight on how Gen Zers think, operate, and interact.

Brecker: The courses were extremely informative in distinguishing Gen Z myths versus realities. From the training it is clear that this generation is driven, has a hunger for personal development, and craves in-person interaction. As a manager, I learned in order to succeed as a team and retain your people it’s extremely important to set clear expectations, create a space to motivate and form authentic relationships. These are courses everyone should make time to take!

To find out more about Cornerstone’s Digital Native Advancement (DNA) Program and the newly-launched "Plan Z" initiative, click here.

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