Gen Z vs Millennials: How the Workplace is Changing to Accommodate the Newest Generation

Gen Z vs Millennials, two generations with two very different styles of working. Learn the differences between the two in the workplace, and how we can work together to succeed.

Gen Z vs Millennials, not so similar after all...

Gen Z vs Millennials is the generational clash that many business leaders still struggle to understand. There is a common misconception that Generation Z and Millennials (also known as Generation Y) are the same, and they are often placed under the same umbrella, labeled as the sensitive, social-media-addict generation.

However it will come as a surprise to many that some Millennials are closer to 40 than 14, and that Millennials and Generation Z are two separate generations with different values, goals and priorities, and it is important to treat them as such.

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In the not so distant future, Millennials and Generation Z will dominate the workplace, so HR leaders must understand the different work styles of these two different generations in order create an optimal work environment. In this article, we will discuss the 7 key differences between Millennials and Generation Z in the workplace that have an impact organizational structure, workplace communications and learning and development.

Who are Gen Z and Millennials?

There is much confusion as to who belongs to each generation due to the fact that the defining feature is birth date, rather than age. According to the Pew Research Center, millennials were born between 1981 and 1996 and anyone born between 1997 and the mid 2010s belongs to Generation Z. This being said, there is a considerable grey area for those born in the mid 1990s, with some people identifying with behaviors associated with both Generation Z and Millennials.

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Without further ado, lets get stuck in to the 7 key differences between Gen Z and Millenials.

1. Gen Z are pragmatic, Millennials are idealistic

Millennials were raised by optimistic Baby Boomers at a time of economic prosperity. Generation Z however, grew up during the Great Recession and are therefore more pragmatic about their situation.

A staggering 77% of Gen Z believe they will need to work harder compared to previous generations to have a satisfying and fulfilling professional life. They were set to inherit a strong economy with record-low levels of unemployment, but Covid-19 crisis has since transformed the world's social, political and economic landscape so their future is looking far more uncertain. Many Gen Zers are in survival mode and motivation has shifted from purpose to paycheck.

2. Millennials search for meaning in their work, whilst Gen Z prioritize job security and pay

Millennials want to find meaning in their professional life, and sought to use their careers to make the world a better place. Whilst many think that this is Gen Z's top priority, in fact they are more focused on their paycheck and job security. For Gen Z, it is all about salary benefits and how they can advance their career.

Whilst Gen Zers do also care about making a difference, they are far more motivated by money and ambition than older generations, so leaders looking to recruit members of Generation Z should consider promising job security and raises down the line.

3. Gen Z value independence, whereas Millennials thrive on collaborative working

Gen Zers want independence in the workplace and they generally like to work alone. They are resourceful, having grown up with 24/7 access to information on their smartphones and want to be judged on their own merits. They are more likely to be competitive with their peers than previous generations.

72% of Gen Z said they are competitive with those doing the same job.

Millennials have more of a collaborative mentality and are teamwork oriented, preferring to work together in open-plan office spaces, whereas Gen Z often choose to work independently, with 45% preferring to work in a private office than a shared workplace.

So what does this mean in terms of managing multi-generational teams? It is important to set Gen Z workers individual goals as well as team goals to motivate them to perform at their best. It is also a good idea to have 1-on-1 check ins with your younger staff to find out how they are getting on and offer them some individual coaching. Just because Gen Z are prefer independent working does not mean they will not excel in team situations, rather it is important to judge their performance based on their individual contributions to the overall business success.

4. Millennials were the digital pioneers, but Gen Z are digital natives

Whilst Millennials lived through the coming of the digital age, Gen Z were born into it. Highly connected and digitally literate from a very young age, Gen Z are highly accustomed to rapidly changing environments. Employers will need to maintain focus on technological innovation to keep new workers inspired.

91% of Generation Z said technological sophistication would impact their interest in working at a company

This will have an impact on organizational structure as the younger generations will lead the way in terms of incorporating technology into the workplace. The youngest generation will at times be an authority on an essential part of business, which challenges the typical corporate hierarchy that their predecessors grew up in.

To accommodate this challenge to the hierarchy it would be a good idea to enable a feedback culture within the organization, where all employees are encouraged to regularly give and receive feedback. Including a 'bottom-up' feedback mechanism (in the form of an engagement survey for example) will allow the younger generations to contribute their digital knowledge to overall business strategy.

5. Millennials want to pursue multiple job roles, but Gen Z want to pursue multiple career paths

Millennials became known as the 'job-hopping' generation, as they are the most likely generation to switch jobs. In contrast, 61% of Gen Z said they would stay at a company for more than 10 years, showing that they are more inclined to find an organization that aligns with their values and stick with it.

Another key difference between Generation Z and Millennials, is that Gen Z are willing to perform multiple roles within an organization. Gen Zers follow their peers closely on social media and want to ensure they remain as skilled as possible. It would make perfect sense to a Gen Zer to work on marketing projects for two days a week, and on product development for the remaining three for example.

Ideally, managers should figure out a way to expose their Gen Z employees to multiple roles within the organization, capitalizing on this generation of multitaskers and fostering a hyper-skilled workforce. What's more, allowing employees to pursue multiple career paths will combat career stagnation, and subsequently reduce voluntary turnover rates.

6. Gen Z prefers face to face communication, whereas Millennials rely on digital communication

Despite being dubbed 'digital-natives', Generation Zers actually show a preference for face to face communication, in a recent study 84% of Gen Z said face to face is their preferred mode of communication. In contrast, Millennials rely on digital communication tools and platforms.

One strategy for keeping Gen Z onboard is to facilitate regular face-to-face check-ins between managers and employees. Keeping them engaged throughout the year, not just when their annual review rolls around, will be key to employers' success.

7. Gen Z value socially conscious organizations more than Millennials

Gen Z value honesty and integrity above all when it comes to their employers, with organization's that are transparent, adaptable and personable scoring highest. There is a similarity here with Millennial employees, however Gen Z are more socially concious.

Gen Zers mobilize themselves for a variety of causes, from social to environmental issues. They don’t accept traditional gender roles, and they will eagerly fight against racial and sexual discrimination. They are also much more likely to seek out organizations that promote diversity and equality in the workplace.

To attract Gen Z, employers need to define and communicate who are they, their purpose and how they are different from their competitors. It is vital that the organization's core values are communicated across social media channels, as well as showing support for social movements.

gen z vs millennials key differences


Organizations with a firm understanding of the different expectations and preferences of the younger generations will be better equipped to attract and retain the next generation of talent. With voluntary employee turnover on the rise, understanding and engaging the newer generations is more important than ever.

Leaders should learn to accept that it is not about which generation is better or worse, or right or wrong. Instead, they should embrace how each generation is different and bridge the generational gap in order to capitalize on a diverse workforce.

To find out more about creating a culture of feedback, increasing employee engagment (for both Millenials and Gen Z) and running virtual 1-on-1 check ins, book a demo with PeopleGoal today.

Maddy O'Neil

Maddy O'Neil

Content Team

6 minute readPublished on November 13, 2020

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