Move Over, ‘Net Kids,’
Gen Z Has Arrived
Cultural change is coming to HR as the post-millennial generation enters the workforce. It’s time to welcome those new kids on the block: Generation Z.
By Bethany Tomasian
N

early two decades ago Workforce published the article, “Ready or Not, Here Come the Net Kids.” The story highlighted the entrepreneurial exploits of several youthful tech whiz kids including then-17-year-old Michael Furdyk, who had already co-founded and was about to sell his first dot-com, mydesktop.com, before starting up his second company, buybuddy.co.

Furdyk was one of many faces among this new breed of tech entrepreneur. He was also among those christened as the “Net Kids,” although that term didn’t stick long. They soon became widely known as Generation Y and today they’re the millennials, arguably the most researched generation ever.

They heralded a new generation entering the workforce, bringing their technical acumen and entrepreneurial spirit, and they developed a reputation — deserved or not — for craving attention and being team-oriented. They’ve since grown up (Furdyk is now 36) and like generations before them now own homes, have families and run companies. And like their predecessors, Generation X, the millennials are giving way to the next generation of “net kids.”

Also known as Digital Natives and the iGeneration, it’s time to welcome Generation Z to the workforce.

There are some 74 million so-called Digital Natives in the United States. Going by the Forbes definition of a Gen Zer as being born between 1995 and 2010, the oldest among them turns 24 this year and the development of their career paths is already underway. Leadership should be prepared to manage this new generation of young adults who, much like the millennials, are set to change the face of the workforce.

Move Over, ‘Net Kids,’
Gen Z Has Arrived
Cultural change is coming to HR as the post-millennial generation enters the workforce. It’s time to welcome those new kids on the block: Generation Z.
By Bethany Tomasian
N

early two decades ago Workforce published the article, “Ready or Not, Here Come the Net Kids.” The story highlighted the entrepreneurial exploits of several youthful tech whiz kids including then-17-year-old Michael Furdyk, who had already co-founded and was about to sell his first dot-com, mydesktop.com, before starting up his second company, buybuddy.co.

Furdyk was one of many faces among this new breed of tech entrepreneur. He was also among those christened as the “Net Kids,” although that term didn’t stick long. They soon became widely known as Generation Y and today they’re the millennials, arguably the most researched generation ever.

They heralded a new generation entering the workforce, bringing their technical acumen and entrepreneurial spirit, and they developed a reputation — deserved or not — for craving attention and being team-oriented. They’ve since grown up (Furdyk is now 36) and like generations before them now own homes, have families and run companies. And like their predecessors, Generation X, the millennials are giving way to the next generation of “net kids.”

Also known as Digital Natives and the iGeneration, it’s time to welcome Generation Z to the workforce.

There are some 74 million so-called Digital Natives in the United States. Going by the Forbes definition of a Gen Zer as being born between 1995 and 2010, the oldest among them turns 24 this year and the development of their career paths is already underway. Leadership should be prepared to manage this new generation of young adults who, much like the millennials, are set to change the face of the workforce.

Net Kids
Due to their proximity to the age of the internet, some of the characteristics of millennials and Gen Z can blend into one another. However, one of the aspects that makes them most similar is also one of their key differences. Millennials had to acclimate to a new technological landscape as the World Wide Web took root in the early 1990s, while Gen Z was born into advancements like the internet, Wi-Fi, search engines and social media already at their fingertips.

Vina Leite, chief people officer of online advertising company The Trade Desk, described Gen Z as “digital-first.” Leite has two decades of experience with HR leadership at tech-based companies including Cyclance Inc. and QLogic, and was managing employees as millennials entered the workforce. Leite foresees that more tenured, traditional companies and HR teams will have to undergo a huge transformation in order to attract, retain and engage this new generation.

“HR teams need to think beyond the traditional definition of HR,” Leite said. “That means doing everything from changing training, onboarding and communication programs, to constantly evaluating social media policies to reflect rules that give Gen Z the autonomy to post but give them a lot more guidance.”

When it comes to social media, Gen Z has proven to be expert. Millennials might have ushered in the age of the “influencer” as they pushed their digital skills toward entrepreneurial efforts via social media platforms like Instagram and YouTube, but Gen Z has taken that foundation set by millennials and built upon it.

Leite said that The Trade Desk has already begun incorporating tech into more traditional areas of the business, such as training. Now, training includes making podcasts and YouTube videos.

Pros and Cons of Always Being On
Besides being highly autonomous and digitally skilled, Barbara Fisher, chief operating and people officer of Aduro, sees that Gen Z is interested in work/life balance and what it means to them. Before joining the employee wellness company, Fisher had 20 years of experience as vice president and CHRO of talent management with tech giant Intel. Fisher said that Gen Z approaches work/life balance a bit differently than previous generations. She said that Gens X and Y had a clearer balance between the workplace and home life, but technology has muddied that boundary for Gen Z. With the abundance of technology at their fingertips 24/7, they’re always on and plugged in.

“They’re always connected. We talked about it with the millennials and it’s dialed up for [Gen Z]. They just grew up with it,” Fisher added.

Gen z will be a highly independent, purpose-driven workforce that seeks to be challenged in the workplace.
Being plugged into the internet and fast-tracked communication with social media isn’t all bad. Fisher described a generation that is more sensitive to current events and more globally aware. The plus side of this is that Gen Z will offer up a larger understanding of different populations and geographies, which is a breeding ground for diverse ideas.

“But they also get to see some not-so-good things, too,” Fisher said. “How does that affect them and how does that weigh on them?”

Gen Zers might feel as if they carry the weight of the world in their pocket through their smartphones, which will weigh them down when they come to work stressed and anxious. Fisher said that being constantly plugged into technology will be a challenge to overcome in order to achieve workplace wellness.

“One of the things that I focus a lot on is trying to help [Gen Z] find that more balanced ground of almost: Disconnect and go back to you, and focus on making yourself the best ‘you’ you can be,” Fisher said.

Finances will also be a source of anxiety for the young generation. The American Psychology Association rates money as one of the leading causes of stress among these individuals. Their financial worries are going to affect the way that they approach higher education, banking and future career paths. Fisher said that offering both financial and career stability is going to be key in attracting and retaining Gen Z.

“That doesn’t mean that they are money hungry or that money is the only thing that matters,” Fisher said. With rising costs of higher education, Gen Z is graduating with massive college debt into a highly competitive workforce. Compared to Gen Z, Fisher said millennials were more concerned about their purpose within a company and corporate giveback to the environment. What will be most valuable to Gen Z is a clearly defined career path that offers them financial security and stability to alleviate the stress of paying off their loans.

Fisher and Leite emphasized that Gen Z will be a highly independent, purpose-driven workforce that seeks to be challenged in the workplace. They are curious, hungry learners who will offer companies new and different ideas.

More importantly, “They want to have a voice and they want to be heard,” Fisher said. Not only does this mean allowing these young adults to express their thoughts and ideas, it also means offering them transparency throughout the decision-making process. That’s not to say that leadership ought to involve them in every decision. Rather, Fisher said that leadership should be aware that Gen Z craves strong, transparent communication.

“They definitely want that partnership, communication and collaboration as decisions are rolling out,” Fisher said.

The Net Kid: Then and Now
Since his days co-founding internet start-up companies, Furdyk has appeared on the “Oprah Winfrey Show,” presented at TED Talks, and in 2000 was named one of Teen People’s “Twenty Teens that will Change the World.” Today he serves as director of technology at TakingITGlobal alongside co-founder and Executive Director Jennifer Corriero and is a member of several nonprofit boards such as Pollution Probe, Better the World and Reinventing Schools Coalition.

Workforce caught up with Furdyk to muse upon the new generation and how they compare to the expectations of his generation when they were entering the workforce.

Furdyk appreciated how times have changed for young entrepreneurs. He thought back on the challenges that he and mydesktop.com co-founder Michael Hayman faced. “The challenge continued to be access to capital [and] being 17, in high school, getting an investor to take us seriously,” he said. “Now, that’s not such a crazy idea.”

Furdyk noted that the change in attitude comes from people like Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg, among others, who started some of the world’s largest online businesses while in their late teens and early 20s.

“Things are quite different now with a lot of the young people that are starting to do major enterprises,” Furdyk said. For one, access to capital has been revolutionized for young entrepreneurs through crowdfunding forums like KickStarter, Patreon and GoFundMe. Nowadays, anyone can gather thousands of investors for business ventures.

Furdyk expects for Gen Z to carry their highly ambitious and challenge-hungry spirit to the workplace, which people managers can turn to their organization’s advantage.

“One of the things that I have seen, from an employer point of view, is creating opportunities for them to bring an idea to life. Be entrepreneurial within the scope of an idea or a task,” Furdyk advised.

For a workforce as independent and autonomous as Gen Z, offering opportunities for them to take the reins means making room for their voice and ideas. Furdyk said that this is something Gen Z will be challenging their employers to do. Creating an atmosphere of shared ownership in the workplace will motivate Gen Z to seek out a purpose-driven experience within their organizations.

Feeding With Feedback
Furdyk said that constant feedback will be another motivational factor for Gen Z. It makes sense if you think about a generation that thrives in social media and offers instant satisfaction through likes. The Trade Desk’s Leite, Aduro’s Fisher and Furdyk all agree that feedback will be key to a healthy working relationship with this generation, and that means offering it more frequently as opposed to the traditional quarterly or annual basis.

Furdyk also expects Generation Z will want to use their voices in the workplace, especially in the decision-making process. He proposed that these opportunities can even be offered in small and inexpensive ways, but ultimately, they are creating space for Gen Z to speak up and out.

“I think that will create a more motivating environment,” Furdyk said. When it comes to making those decisions, he said that Gen Z will want to look at the data before making a move. They will want to collect and analyze data that will better inform the decision-making process which can be done with smart tools at any organization.

Leadership will need to be flexible as Gen Z enters the workplace. As always, challenges lie ahead, but challenges also offer room for growth. Gen Z appears willing to adapt and grow within an organization, according to Furdyk. They are creative, confident, intellectually curious and ready to be engaged.

To them, Furdyk said, “Keep pushing [and] keep experimenting.”


Bethany Tomasian is a Workforce editorial associate. To comment, email editors@workforce.com.