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Gen Z: On track to disrupt the very nature of work

Earlier this year, the New York Times published an article asking members of Gen Z to name themselves. The #1 answer across respondents

was Generation Delta. Delta is a Greek letter ( Δ ) for “change” in mathematics. This is apropos because change is this cohort’s hallmark -- from terror attacks, to the Great Recession, to constant technology innovations -- they’ve seen more of it at their young age than Elizabeth Taylor had husbands. Their reaction has been to become agents of transformation themselves and it’s been forceful: Parkland student activists -- hello.

As I see it, a result of their experiences will be to disrupt the following:

  • They will demand seamless anytime, anywhere, know-me experiences from any provider they do business with – from whom they bank with to who they buy shoes from. They will be perfectly comfortable breaking all conventional rules to engage how they want, hence the Amazonian effect. I have written about this extensively.

  • They will introduce a new era of creative innovation, which will require organizations to keep faster pace with bleeding-edge technology. Think: current Fortnite craziness is just the beginning.

  • And they will transform the way work gets done.

According to some studies, this cohort cares about workplace flexibility more than even healthcare benefits, which means gone are the days of assigned offices/cubes and fixed 9-5 days. In its place are collaborative work spaces that don’t just open early but perhaps don’t close at all. Video conference, virtual whiteboards, AI, and the host of other collaboration tools that haven’t been invented yet will have to be standard operating fare. In many ways, here is now. A survey done by Regus Office Space last year found 77% of Millennials report that flexible work spaces make them more productive, 27% of workers regard their commute as a waste of time, and 54% of global respondents say they work remotely 2.5 days a week today. And according to Harvard Business Review, a staggering 55mm people (35% of the population) already freelance, a number that's expected to rise to 43% by 2020. It's clear companies will have to rethink talent management if they want to attract workers.

Blue chips will also need to address team member tools. It's a dirty little secret that a lot still use mainframes to manage process. Can you imagine a kid who grew up gaming wanting to work on a one-dimensional green screen all day? And, unfortunately, in large companies where capital investments are tightly managed, internal applications often take a backseat to client-facing enhancements, so what I see is incumbents getting farther and farther behind here.

But most challenging, I suspect, will be adjusting to the psychological demands of this cohort. As social media addicts, they expect to post about their day, all day. Legal and compliance personnel everywhere are cringing at the potential privacy breaches inherent with this statement, not to mention the lack of productivity. They also need constant real-time feedback. Picture the oldest ‘old school’ executive you can think of having to tell Stewart three times a day he’s doing a good job. Talk about a culture clash! Both sides will have to adapt of course – it’s not as if humans haven’t had to for centuries -- but it won’t be without pain or compromise.

What's at stake? CNBC says 61mm Gen Z’ers are poised to enter the U.S. workforce. The biggest risk I see with this entrepreneurial-minded, easily-bored crowd is that they opt-out of corporate America entirely. And at a whopping 26% of the population, with Boomer’s exiting stage right in droves, Gen X solidly middle-aged, and Gen Y right behind us, if you don’t have employees, well, you can't serve customers, which means eventually you have none.