Generation Z

Generation Z and the world of work: It’s different than you think

Generation Z is starting to join the work force and bring ideals and expectations that confront employers with considerable challenges. Prof. Dr. Susanne Böhlich from IUBH University of Applied Sciences is investigating what distinguishes 15-25-year-olds from their predecessors and how companies can respond to them.


The sociological classification of a generation is determined in the context of “generational experiences” (Karl Mannheim): shared events in childhood and youth influence the development of the entire “generation”. “At first glance, the external conditions that shaped generations Y and Z appear comparable,” says Prof. Dr. Susanne Böhlich. For example, both generations experienced the distinct upbringing style of helicopter parents, i.e. parents who tirelessly look after their children. In addition, both generations grew up with new technologies. As “digital natives” they are permanently online and use social networks.

Generation Z has landed on the hard ground of reality

For the researcher it is all the more interesting that the fact that the two generations differ fundamentally in their preferences for working life: Generation Y strives for individuality, generation Z, on the other hand, wants security and to be part of a community. “The young generation has witnessed that the dreams of their predecessors with regard to meaningfulness, variety and self-realization in work life have not been fulfilled. They have landed on the hard ground of reality.” Their expectations of employers are correspondingly different:

  1. Job security vs self-realisation: Generation Z, who experienced insecurity in their youth as a result of terrorism, global warming and economic crises, attaches great importance to job security. Professions that were rejected by Generation Y as boring or uninspiring are therefore regaining importance.
  2. Work-life separation vs. Work-life blending: While Generation Y stands out above all for its “self-fulfilment ” expectations with regard to further training and flexibility, Generation Z attaches great importance to a clear work-life separation – as well as to regular working hours and having their own desk.
  3. Structure vs. exciting challenges: Generation Z likes clear structures – this is what they already know from their educational training. Therefore, they contradict authorities less and avoid direct confrontations. Instead of discussing problems directly, they prefer to post their views on the Internet. Generation Y, on the other hand, wants interesting tasks and rapid advancement.

Contradictory behaviour and new expectations in the workplace

Despite comparable circumstances, Generation Z has adapted to its environment completely differently than its previous generation. They often do not fit into any particular category and are contradictory. They want to be self-reliant and independent, but at the same time secure and at no risk. “For personnel managers, this means understanding the different generations. It is not a question of blindly following the demands – companies must consider which demands they can and want to follow in order to manage the different expectations of their employees. This also gives them new opportunities and – properly managed – stable and realistic team members.”


Prof. Dr. Susanne Böhlich is head of the masters programme International Management at IUBH University of Applied Sciences and teaches Human Resources Management and Corporate Governance. Previously, she was Director of HR Marketing at Deutsche Post DHL, where she was responsible for worldwide personnel marketing.

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