Gen Z are in the workforce


For the first time ever, five generations may be working side by side, largely because people are living longer and retiring later.  The working Big 5 are: Veterans (pre-World War II); Baby Boomers (1940s - 1960s); Generation X (mid-60s - late 70s); Millennials or Gen Y (1979 - 1994); and the newcomers Gen Z, born after 1995.


Why is this relevant?

Well, if you run a small business, you will be employing Gen Z’ers – how do you best motivate and manage them? - you will also be selling your products and services to them, (46% of the SA population are Gen Z). You need to know what makes them tick and how to engage meaningfully with them.

If you are a Gen Z’er, you may be looking at the dismal unemployment stats and wondering what space there is for you in the business world... Entrepreneurship or having a side hustle is a very real option for you. Your opportunity lies in what you can bring that is different, that is second nature to you, but not to the older generations - technology and innovation.


So, what makes a Gen Z tick?

Naturally, these traits are generalisations, but they can be helpful in developing employee retention strategies and in trying to connect to the ever-growing youth market.

  • They are not just tech-savvy like millennials; they are true digital natives. They have never known a world without the internet and cell phones. They expect constant connectivity and access to information and entertainment at the touch of a button.
  • They have experienced the Great Recession and the Covid-19 pandemic which has informed their worldview. They are wary of incurring debt through formal, expensive educational institutions and are self-motivated to gain knowledge and skills online as and when they need it.
  • Gen Z’ers are completely comfortable in the virtual world. They will use crowdsourcing and the power of social media to explore and test ideas online. They adopt and use different technology or social media platforms with ease, and they prefer customer referrals to marketing-speak.
  • They are known as the “8 second attention span” They have been constantly and digitally entertained since birth. If it isn’t bite-sized, they probably won’t bite. Information, training, and experiences need to be presented in such a way that holds their attention.
  • They are free-thinking and do not relate well to hierarchy or red tape. They can access information and ideas from around the globe and they are not afraid to be heard.
  • Gen Z and the Baby Boomers are likely to get on better than the millennials. The Boomers recognise their technical prowess and Gen Z respect the experience of the Boomers. Mutual mentoring is becoming increasingly accepted.
  • Work must matter. This is an extremely aware, empathetic generation who look critically at the impact of business on the environment, and they take fair trade principles seriously. One in four Gen Z’ers volunteer in their spare time. Social entrepreneurship is a growth area for them.
  • They seek connection on the human as well as the tech level. Businesses and their leaders will be expected to connect with them one-on-one as well as via social media platforms. Emails do not count.
  • They are not afraid to talk about money and seek financial security in the wake of the 2008 Crash and the pandemic.
  • They do not ‘get’ workaholics. What they do must be meaningful, rewarding, interesting and exciting. They want a real balance between work and the rest of life.
  • Their combination of digital expertise and innate creativity makes them innovative and adaptable. Two extremely valuable characteristics for the future.


As an employer, you want to attract and keep good employees. This is often a challenge for small business owners who don’t have deep pockets and corporate benefits to attract people. Salaries do count, but the question to ask yourself is what else can you offer these high-energy, innovative people? Flexible working hours, greater autonomy, and opportunities to test new ideas are perhaps the carrots that you can dangle… and when it comes to adapting marketing strategies or developing new products, who better to help you understand and connect with the Gen Z market, than Gen Z’ers themselves?

Covid-19 has reshaped the world, but today’s youth will likely continue that process at a dizzying rate of change. The savvy entrepreneur will embrace Z’ers in their businesses and most especially as customers.

Is your business ready for the Z factor?


By Janet Askew


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