People & Human Resources

Generation Z: What you need to know about Australia’s youngest workers

Emma Koehn /

It’s Year 12 results season, and while Australian school leavers start planning their next steps, businesses are being urged not to fall into stereotyping workers and instead focus on the potential benefits of hiring the country’s youngest workers.

A NAB Rethinking Success survey, released this week, asked 2019 Australians aged 16-70 about their major interests and worries about the world of work. It found those aged 16-21 are people-focused, hardworking and place passion at the centre of their decision making when it comes to their careers.

Across the Western business world there have been a number of studies this year that suggest the business world isn’t even quite ready for the inventiveness of this age group, known as Generation Z. This month researchers Jose Estaves at IE Business School and Guillermo de Haro at University Rey Juan Carlos wrote in Harvard Business Review about tracking some of the youngest company founders in the world, finding that while many had a sense of humour and strong work ethic, those who start companies in their teen years face business environments that don’t even let them borrow money or register a business name before they’re 18.

Read more: This entrepreneur’s mum bought him a trademark when he was a teen to launch Loose Kid Industries

In Australia, the NAB survey highlights how those under 21 have grown up watching the success of tech entrepreneurs and local startup founders. This ensures that many are motivated, global citizens ready for action. So what will you be getting from young employees?

They think hard work is a given

Generation Z members surveyed by NAB identified working hard as the number one thing needed to be a successful person. This age group also identifies continuous learning on the job as a key priority when selecting a career; 73% said it was important to have a position where they were always learning, compared with 66% of the other age groups surveyed.

They are worried – and focused – on the future

The older members of Generation Z are just turning 21, and they have spent their early schooling hearing about global and economic uncertainty, and youth unemployment and housing affordability concerns close to home. The group told NAB they are focused on employment that makes a difference; 37% want a job where they are having an impact, compared with 18% of the general population. These workers are also aware of instability and have indicated they know the world of work is fast-changing; more than half of them are worried about not having the skills needed for future jobs, while 66% state job security as a major concern.

They’re mobile

Not only are these workers plugged in to just how quickly workplaces can change, they’re also eager to get out into the world and make connections. One in five Gen Z members surveyed are considering working overseas in future, and as a group they are aware of the different opportunities and work cultures available globally. Less that half of those surveyed believe Australia is a great place to start a business. They are, however, driven to get to the top wherever they end up working; 77% note that success is very important, compared with 62% of all the other generations surveyed.

Should age dynamics matter in your workplace?

Employers don’t need to be “super freaked out” about understanding what drives younger workers, says Ashley Fell at social research firm McCrindle, but they can think about how to make their workplaces appealing to younger workers who want more out of their workplace experiences.

“For Gen Z, they are looking for multiple needs being met at work, in addition to achieving the financial rewards,” Fell says.

“They want that work-life balance, they want to travel, they want creativity.”

As natives of the digital world, and in particular social media, younger workers have a lot to offer businesses. But they also can learn a lot from more experienced workers, and managers should understand they want a voice as well as the chance to learn, Fell says.

“They want a workplace culture that’s really about their community—they’re so peer-oriented,” Fell says.

“They have been in this world of collaboration—they want to come in and have a voice.”

As for what management can do to attract the best talent, it’s more a matter of considering candidates at the start of their working lives in the context of the broader working environment, says Fell.

“And giving affirmation and encouragement, remembering names of staff, and making sure the environment safe and friendly,” Fell says.

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Emma Koehn

Emma Koehn is SmartCompany's senior journalist.

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