“Entrepreneurship is in their DNA” declared a report by the marketing firm Sparks & Honey about the new generation of teens and young adults, known as iGen or Generation Z. (Although there are no hard-and-fast generational cutoffs, consensus is settling around 1995-2012 for iGen, the post-Millennial generation). A recent Bentley University survey found that 66 percent of young people want to start their own business.
Unfortunately, that’s one of those ubiquitous generational statistics that means very little, because there’s no comparison group. Perhaps many GenXers and Boomers also wanted to own their own business just as much, or even more, when they were young.
As it turns out, they did. In a nationally representative survey of half a million high school seniors with data back to the 1980s, 46 percent of GenX high school students in 1985 said being self-employed would be desirable, compared to 31 percent of students in 2015 (in analyses presented in a scientific journal this month). In another nationally representative survey of nine million entering college students, 51 percent of GenX students in 1984 said “becoming successful in a business of my own” was important, compared to 40 percent of iGen students in 2015.
So if they are not as attracted to entrepreneurship, what do iGen and young Millennials want out of work? My colleagues and I found that young people are increasingly interested in stable industries such as police departments, social services, and the military. iGen’s work attitudes are also more practical than (especially) the early Millennials – iGen is more likely to say they are willing to work overtime and slightly less likely to focus on the job’s allotment of vacation time. They are also less likely than GenXers and Millennials were to focus on the social aspects of a job like making friends. With their upbringing during the Great Recession, iGen is less entitled and more down-to-earth than the Millennials before them.
These work preferences fit iGen’s larger psychological profile as well: They are cautious, risk-averse, and focused on outcomes. (Just ask any university professor, who constantly hears students asking, “Will this be on the exam?” and mediates discussions of “safe spaces” on campus). iGen might like the idea of a side hustle to hedge their bets, but they would rather have a nice, stable job that pays them enough to make a dent in their student loans. They desperately want to be safe and financially secure.
This is actually a good thing for business: In a time with low unemployment and increasing competition for talent, many of the smartest iGen college graduates won’t be striking out of their own – they will be sending their resumes to your organization.
How can you best recruit them? Emphasize stability – both in the job and in the company. Discuss career paths, and make sure those career paths move quickly. (Many companies are now promoting employees every six months instead of every two years; for a generation raised on Snapchat, two years is an eternity). Tell them you want them to be successful and that is why you are giving them feedback, and don’t be sparing with praise (after all, they are used to getting Instagram likes). Don’t be afraid to mentor them closely: Their parents have carefully looked after them, so they enjoy rather than resent having an older person watching out for them.
If you’re a manager, count yourself lucky: With iGen showing up at your door over the next few years, you’ll be getting a generation eager to succeed and more willing to work hard. There are good times, and good employees, ahead.
Campbell, S. M., Campbell, W. K., & Twenge, J. M. (2017). Fuzzy but useful constructs: Making sense of the differences between generations. Work, Aging, and Retirement, 3, 130-139.
Twenge, J. M. (2010). A review of the empirical evidence on generational differences in work attitudes. Journal of Business and Psychology, 25, 201-210.
Twenge, J. M., Campbell, S. M., Hoffman, B. R., & Lance, C. E. (2010). Generational differences in work values: Leisure and extrinsic values increasing, social and intrinsic values decreasing. Journal of Management, 36, 1117-1142.
Twenge, J. M. (2014). Generation Me: Why Today’s Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled--and More Miserable Than Ever Before. Second edition. New York: Atria Books.