Although millennials have been the leading generation of conversation for the past few years, looking to the future, it is time to start talking about Generation Z—the post-millennials. Generation Z (or Gen Z) is defined as those born between 1997 and 2012. The youngest members of this generation are in elementary school, with the oldest just graduating from college. By 2020, Gen Z will comprise 20 percent of the American workforce. Understanding their background, expectations and motivations will be essential for staffing fitness facilities.
Prior Work Experience
Members of Gen Z are entering adulthood with less experience in the labor market than prior generations. According to the Pew Research Center, roughly one in five 15- to 17-year-olds in 2018 reported having worked at all during the prior calendar year, compared with 30 percent of millennial 15- to 17-year-olds in 2002. This trend continues on into early adulthood as the oldest of Gen Z are less likely than their predecessors to be in the labor force. Only 58 percent of today’s 18- to 21-year-olds worked in the prior calendar year; this compares with 72 percent of millennial 18- to 21-year-olds in 2002.
This decline in teenage and young adult employment may be attributed to a combination of factors:
- Members of Gen Z are growing up in households with higher median incomes than older generations, reducing the need for them to find employment in their teenage years.
- 18- to 20-year-old Gen Z members are also more likely to be enrolled in college than comparable millennials in 2002.
- The underemployment of millennials resulted in entry-level positions being taken by overqualified individuals, leaving limited options for Gen Z employment.
The impact of this trend will be interesting to observe over the next decade. Part-time gigs and summer jobs have historically given teenagers the ability to experience the workplace before fully jumping in, but now we will see an influx of full-time employees with no prior work experience. What does this mean for facilities during the hiring process? First, expecting prior work experience may limit the applicant pool greatly. Hiring decisions will need to be based on an individual’s technical skills, cognitive abilities and social awareness rather than prior experience. Second, the onboarding and training processes will need to become more holistic to compensate for this lack of experience.
Having watched older generations struggle through the Great Recession, Generation Z is highly motivated by stability and security. They will accept less compensation for less risk, and when it comes to benefits, healthcare is the number one priority. But this doesn’t mean those in Generation Z don’t have career expectations. According to Robert Half research, members of Generation Z expect to make an average of $47,000 in their first year post-college, 32 percent of them expect to be managing employees within five years, and they expect to work for four organizations throughout their career.
So what does this mean for managers?
- Work with your young employees to chart a career path. This will provide them with a sense of stability and a clear path for growth.
- Provide clear guidance on how they will be evaluated, and provide feedback often. Gone are the days of formal annual reviews. Employees want more immediate feedback so they can grow more quickly.
- Members of Gen Z plan to stick around. With only four organizations expected during their career, that is 10 years at each organization. Helping them navigate a path of growth within the organization will help keep them there even longer.
In a shift from millennials, members of the Gen Z workforce are more independent. They are less interested in working in teams and more interested in small-group and independent work where the individual contribution can be clearly noticed. They also prefer face-to-face communication and working in an office setting rather than virtually. These shifts in behavior may be difficult for their millennial managers, but a welcome change for their Gen X leadership.
How this will ultimately play out in fitness facilities will be interesting to observe. Will millennials adapt to the styles of Gen Z as they expected Gen X to adapt to theirs? Will we see an increase in mentorship from Gen X to Gen Z as these two generations find their workstyles more compatible? While we wait to see the long-term impact of this different style of work, facility managers can do a few things to provide a more Gen Z-friendly workplace.
- Find ways to acknowledge individual contributions of employees through employee recognition programs and incentive-based compensation plans.
- For those employees not out on the floor, look to provide more private workspaces so Gen Z employees can be physically present but with limited distractions to get their work done.
- Keep an open-door policy—literally. Keep office doors open and make it easy for Gen Z employees to get the face-to-face communication they need.
It may feel like we just figured out how to manage millennials—or we’re still trying to—but it’s already time to think about Gen Z employees and what that will mean for hiring, managing and retaining talent over the course of the next decade.