Since the mid-1990s, I’ve had a front-row seat on the front-lines and behind the scenes in organizations of all shapes and sizes. Based on two decades of research, I can report that today’s newest new young workers are increasingly likely to have significant notable weaknesses in one or several key soft skills – such as professionalism and interpersonal communication.
Why is that?
Of course, part of the answer is that new young employees are, by definition, always less experienced and, therefore, lacking in the corresponding maturity and patience. As they step into the adult world with youthful energy and enthusiasm, young workers often clash with their older colleagues.
That’s always part of the story. But there is something much bigger going on here.
Generation Z (born 1990-1999) is the second wave of the great Millennial cohort. They represent a tipping point in the post-Boomer generational shift transforming the workforce. With older (first-wave) Boomers now retiring in droves, they are taking with them the last vestiges of the old-fashioned work ethic. By 2020, more than 80% of the workforce will be post-Boomer — dominated in numbers, norms and values by Generation X (born 1965-78), Gen Y (the first wave of the Millennials, born 1978-89), and now Gen Z. In 2020, Generation Z will be greater than 20% of the North American and European workforces (and a much greater percentage in younger parts of the world).
Today’s second wave Millennials are shaped by a confluence of epic historical forces:
Millennials are the first truly global generation — connecting and traveling to work across borders in every direction and combination. Unlike any other generation in history, Gen Z can look forward to a lifetime of interdependency and competition with a rising global youth-tide from every corner of this ever-flattening world.
The pace of technological advance today is unprecedented. Information. Computing. Communication. Transportation. Communication. Commerce. Entertainment. Food. Medicine. War. In every aspect of life, anything can become obsolete any time — possibilities appear and disappear swiftly, radically and often without warning.
Institutions in every domain have been forced into a constant state of flux just in order to survive and succeed in this constantly changing world. Gen Zers know enough to know that they can’t rely on institutions to be the anchors of their success and security.
The information environment.
Second wave Millennials are the first true ‘digital natives.’ They learned how to think, learn and communicate in a never-ending ocean of information. Theirs is an information environment defined by wireless internet ubiquity, wholesale technology integration, infinite content, and immediacy. From a dangerously young age, their infinite access to information and ideas and perspectives —unlimited words, images, and sounds— is completely without precedent.
Millennials will be the most diverse workforce in history in terms of geographical point of origin, ethnic heritage, ability/disability, age, language, lifestyle preference, sexual orientation, color, size, and every other way of categorizing people. Equally important, Gen Zers look at every single individual, with his/her own combination of background, traits and characteristics, is his or her own unique diversity story. They value difference, uniqueness, and customization, most of all their own.
Helicopter-parenting on steroids.
Millennials have been insulated and scheduled and supervised and supported to a degree that no children or young adults have ever have been before. Gen Zers have grown accustomed to being treated almost as customers/users of services and products provided by authority figures in institutions —both in schools and in extracurricular activities, not to mention in their not infrequent experiences as actual customers. As a result, they expect authority figures to be always in their corner, to set them up for success, and to be of service. They are often startled when authority figures see it otherwise.
Millennials are always totally plugged in to an endless stream of content and in continuous dialogue —through social media based chatting and sharing and gaming— with peers (and practical strangers) however far away (or near) they might be. They are forever mixing and matching and manipulating from an infinite array of sources to create and then project back out into the world their own ever-changing personal montage of information, knowledge, meaning, and selfhood. Gen Zers are perfectly accustomed to feeling worldly and ambitious and successful by engaging virtually in an incredibly malleable reality.
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