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HERE THEY COME

Meet iGen: The new generation of workers that is almost everything millennials aren’t

Students take a picture of themselves before the the 14th Dalai Lama delivered the commencement speech to their 2017 graduating class at UC San Diego in San Diego
Reuters/ Mike Blake
Welcome to the workforce, iGen.
Published This article is more than 2 years old.

Just as managers got used to managing their millennial employees, there’s a new generation knocking on the doors of employers: iGen.

Born between 1995 and 2012, the first of iGen graduated from college last spring. (iGen is sometimes called “GenZ,” but with millennials no longer called “GenY,” “GenZ” is unlikely to stick.) Businesses and managers need to take note: The techniques that worked to recruit, retain, and manage millennials won’t always work for iGen.

First, the good news: In analyses for my new book, I found that iGen is more focused on work than millennials were at the same age. In a large national survey conducted every year, 55% of high school seniors in 2016 said they were willing to work overtime to do a good job—up from 44% of millennial teens in 2004. iGen’ers are also more likely to say that they would work even if they had plenty of money and to expect work to be a central part of their lives. Perhaps because they experienced the Great Recession as children and have witnessed growing income inequality, iGen realizes they are going to have to work hard to make it.

iGen’ers grew up more slowly as teens, taking longer to work, drive, and date than previous generations. Although there are many positives to those trends, more young people now arrive in the workplace with less experience with independent decision-making. Give them careful instructions for tasks, and expect they will need more guidance. Managers who learned to be cheerleaders for millennials will find they are more like therapists, life coaches, or parents for iGen’ers.

Another big difference: iGen is not as brash and confident as their millennial predecessors. In the large national surveys, iGen feels less optimistic about their career prospects and are lower in self-confidence than millennials were at the same age. Thus, they might be less likely than millennials were to expect to be CEO of the company within 5 years and less likely to express feelings of entitlement. As iGen begins to dominate the pool of entry-level talent, expect to see more young employees who are eager to do a good job but are scared of making mistakes. Whereas millennials demanded praise, iGen’ers want reassurance.

iGen is also very concerned with safety. They are safer drivers and are less likely to binge drink than teens just a few years ago, and are less likely to say they want to take risks. iGen is also concerned about what they call “emotional safety”—they want to be protected from offensive comments and emotional upset just as they want to be protected from physical harm. Expect to hear more young employees ask about how your company creates a safe environment, and take steps toward creating a more nurturing atmosphere while still educating iGen’ers about the realities of business.

This generation socializes differently, using their phones instead of getting together in person. The number of high school seniors who say it’s important to have a job where you can have “a chance to make friends” or that allows “contact with a lot of people” reached all-time lows with iGen. They are so focused on connecting via social media that the social aspects of work hold less appeal. Thus, don’t expect social outings and get-togethers to be much of a selling point for this generation. In addition, some iGen’ers may have more trouble with social skills, given that they have spent less time socializing in person than any previous generation.

Another piece of good news: Contrary to popular belief, managers needn’t worry that young iGen’ers will all be itching to be entrepreneurs instead. Likely due to their risk aversion, iGen is actually less likely to want to own their own business than previous generations: only 30% of high school seniors in 2016 believed that being self-employed was desirable, down from 48% in 1987. Instead, iGen wants stable jobs in enduring industries. This is a fantastic opportunity for managers at established companies, who can recruit a generation looking for steady work. Practical, career-focused, and cautious but with less experience with independence, iGen is willing to work hard for the managers who can understand them. Do so, and their potential is limitless.

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