Insight May 24, 2024 Colin Gillespie

The Anatomy of Today’s Worker: Understanding the Differences Between Millennials and Gen Z’s in the Workplace

Working with Millennials and Gen Z

Some of the most polarizing conversations that come up repeatedly in the modern workplace relate to the generational differences that impact a company’s culture and outputs. This is natural when you consider that most organizations have a wide range of ages in their ranks, and each generation has a unique perspective, outlook, and way of doing things.

Companies who want to nurture a healthy working culture need to understand these differences and be able to knit them together in a way that leads to cohesion and harmony between team members.

In this article, we’ll examine the two newest generations on the block – the millennials (who form 35% of the US workforce) and the Gen Zs (27% of the US workforce). These form the majority of new entrants and are the bedrock of the next decade or two in terms of company building. Understanding these workers is a key component of adapting and evolving in the modern business landscape.

Where you draw the lines in terms of different generations can be a hotly contested debate, but for the most part, it is agreed that millennials are those born between 1981 and 1995, and Gen Zs are those born between 1995 and 2012.

This means that as we write this (in 2024), the millennials are approximately 29-43 years old, and the Gen Z’s are 12-29 years old. In other words, the millennials are now well into their careers and many have ascended to senior positions of influence, whereas the Gen Z’s are still making their way into the workforce proper and are in a period of high-paced learning and experience acquisition.

The different life experiences of these two generations create unique dynamics that set them apart, not just in age but in terms of norms and expectations. But before we get to the key differences, it’s worth noting some of the key similarities.

It’s worthwhile to ruminate on the similarities first because these are the things that can be used to unify people and bridge the gap between the two generations. Let’s work through some of the key ones that we see:

Both generations rely heavily on technology

They were both born squarely in the information age and can’t imagine a world without technology. They have a natural affinity for smartphones, social media, and digital services – and that impacts how they see the world and their place in it.

Both generations want to contribute to the greater good

Despite some stereotypes around entitlement, it is relatively clear that both generations are more concerned about the greater good than those that came before them. There is a greater social consciousness and a more holistic worldview that balks against profit-only motives. These workers want to be at a company that shares their mission and values so that they can make an impact and reap the social benefits that come with it.

Collaboration in the Workplace

Both generations seek instant recognition of their achievements

Millennials and Gen Zs are prone to instant gratification and always seek immediate recognition for their efforts. Often, they seek validation, and if they don’t receive it soon enough, they can lose interest and status as a result. That makes it very important for companies to enhance how they reward performance so as to cater to this psychology and ensure that their top talent feels valued and appreciated in the workplace.

Both generations want consistent and open communication

Modern companies need to err on the side of too much communication rather than too little because of these generations’ propensity for wanting to be in the loop. Getting this right internally requires intentional effort to create the right feedback loops and consistently share progress on key objectives to keep people engaged.

Both generations seek learning and development opportunities

The modern worker is not content to sit in the same position for many years and they are always seeking to grow and evolve. To enable this, they seek opportunities to learn new skills, develop core competencies, and increase the scope of their responsibilities. Companies need robust growth plans and structured promotion pathways to ensure that their staff can grow and scale with the organization.

Both generations value diverse and inclusive workplaces

Perhaps the most visceral calling card for these two generations is their social consciousness. Diversity and inclusion are critically important in word and deed – so that the company can reflect the broader society that it is serving. They feel that this needs to be a core part of the company culture. For many in these two generations, a welcoming culture to all backgrounds is becoming a non-negotiable,

These are just some of the ways that millennials and Gen Zs are similar, and if understood, they can be leveraged to nurture better unity and cohesion within your company.

Millennials and Gen Z Meeting

Now, let’s look at some of the key differences between the two generations in question. It’s important to note here that these are generalizations, so you need to take them with a pinch of salt, but there are nuggets of truth here that can be very useful to understand and apply within your own employee base.

Millennials focus more on work-life balance, while Gen Zs are more career-driven

Millennials seem to be the first generation that has pushed back on work, invading personal boundaries, especially in the context of always-on communication technology. They want to maintain a strong work-life balance and so are much more likely to reduce the scope of their own work to achieve the flexibility and time that they want to spend with their friends and family. Gen Zs tend to be more focused on career advancement and are more single-minded in this regard. Much of this difference comes down to age, of course, with Gen Zs not having the range of family responsibilities yet, which might necessitate more balance in their lives.

Millennials seek job flexibility, while Gen Zs seek job stability

The millennial generation is notorious for job hopping, and they don’t have strong company loyalty in terms of their career. They much prefer to change jobs every few years to maintain novelty, enhance personal development, and find unique paths that can lead to career enhancement. Gen Zs, on the other hand, came into a very different job market and economic situation, so they are much more likely to look for a stable job that can fund their lifestyle. This might change as the economy recovers, but there remains a stark difference between the two.

Millennials tend to respond better to tactful and sensitive feedback, while Gen Zs prefer a more direct and upfront approach

When you’re communicating with millennials about their performance or things that they can improve, you need to be a bit more strategic in how you deliver that messaging, ensuring that you don’t come across as too harsh. However, Gen Zs don’t like you to beat around the bush. They would much rather that you are direct and straightforward about what you’re thinking so that they know where you stand.

Millennials prefer written or visual communication, whereas Gen Zs prefer videos

This is a by-product of the social media landscape that each generation has inherited, but, for the most part, millennials are going to respond better to text and images, whereas Gen Zs are most associated with video content. Understanding this should help you craft both your internal and external communication with a range of mediums so that you can appeal to all kinds of people and get your message across as effectively as possible.

As you can see, many of these differences can be quite subtle, and covering all of our bases requires a varied approach to operations, human resources, and communication

However, understanding these nuances is the first step, and that’s why it can be so useful to take stock of how many of each generation you have in your workplace so that you can make smart strategic decisions about how to get the most out of them.

Millennials and Gen Z Job Interview

Most of the article so far has been about how to manage these two different generations once they’re in your company, but it would be remiss of us not to talk about the hiring process that gets them there in the first place because that’s what we do here at The Renaissance Network (TRN).

Briefly, here are some key principles to focus on when you’re looking to hire the young workers of today:

Clearly communicate your mission and vision

Today’s workers want to buy into a company vision that they believe in. Thus, by communicating this widely and expansively, you will attract the kinds of candidates who want to be a part of what you’re building.

Embrace social media

It is no secret that millennials and Gen Zs spend a lot of their time on social media, and so your brand needs to be visible there. Craft a meaningful strategy for this, and use these platforms to connect and engage with your potential candidates long before you have a vacancy.

Focus on referrals

Often, your existing staff can be a gold mine for potential new employees, so don’t hesitate to ask for referrals when needed. This is specifically true for Gen Zs, where 60% of them prefer and rely upon referrals from people within their network. You might just get the warm introduction to an A-player that you would never have had if you simply relied on outbound marketing and inbound inquiries.

Create a great candidate experience

With so much competition for talent, one of the key differentiators is the candidate experience you offer throughout the job hunting process. Spend some time crafting an efficient, inspiring, and meaningful experience for candidates working their way through the process, and you can put yourself ahead of the rest.

TRN: Building World-Class Teams to Impact Education and Communities

Here at The Renaissance Network, we are passionate about unearthing talent from all generations to help you accomplish your growth and impact plans. If you need assistance finding top permanent or flexible talent, be sure to get in touch, and let’s help you get those A-players on board to take your organization to the next level.

Avatar photo

Colin Homer Gillespie is a strategic and purpose-driven GM with significant global experience and a record of product innovation and business transformation.

Find Top Talent

Hire Top Education & Technology Executives and Team Members

Leadership Icon

Find Your Role

Help me find my next role with the #1 Education & Technology Job Site

Find Your Role Icon