Understanding Generation-Z’s Presence In The Workplace (And Why It Matters)
By Ben Zimmerman, president at SmartMedia Technologies.
Are you feeling out of the loop on the latest slang? Maybe you’re an #adulting millennial who low-key lurks TikTok. Or you’re a once-hella-cool Gen-Xer who’s confused by their kids at the dinner table. Or you could be a groovy Boomer who doesn’t want to learn what you consider to be a different language.
You aren’t alone, regardless of where you sit on the elder generational spectrum. It’s okay to admit you just don’t understand the kids these days. It’s not a stretch to say that Generation-Z—generally defined as those born between 1997 and 2012—is poised to change workplace communication trends. And I think it has something to do with technology.
You’ve probably heard of the term “digital native,” which describes a generation of people who grew up surrounded by computers and the internet. This cohort considers technology second nature and recognizes it as an important, even necessary, part of their everyday existence. It also includes the upcoming group of teenagers or young adults who are entering—or are soon to enter—the workforce this year.
Digital natives may process and comprehend the world differently than those who are not exposed to modern technology. In fact, research suggests that “the Internet can produce both acute and sustained alterations” in cognition. For example, the digital world may influence social cognition, or how individuals process, remember and use information about other people or social situations. The report proposes that online social settings may have the ability to mimic or conjure up real-world social processes. So what does this mean in the business world?
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, “the number of people primarily working from home tripled between 2019 and 2021.” Unlike other generations who may have had to adjust to this newfound work-from-home lifestyle, Gen-Z workers—who people often affectionately refer to in a professional setting as “Zoomers”—are predisposed to a digital-first environment. As a chunk of the American workforce has moved fully (or partially) online, so have their conversations. Gone are the days of watercooler talk and in-person lunch breaks. Now, co-workers conduct much of their small talk in a text-driven environment. And when they’re not texting or instant messaging each other, they’re holding meetings via video. Rather than engaging in buttoned-up, stolid corporate-speak, the Zoomers I’ve worked with seem to be more comfortable bridging their personal communication habits with their work ones. Given that many Zoomers grew up texting and calling their friends, it’s no surprise that they prefer to send an informal Slack message to a colleague rather than a long-winded email. Sure, there’s an inherent lack of real-life human interaction (as we know it) in these communication tactics—but maybe Gen-Z doesn’t view this as a disconnect.
Building Connection—Online And Offline
Maybe the workforce can learn a thing or two from a generation that’s already used to building connection and fostering community online. Jonah Stillman, Gen-Z co-author of Gen Z @ Work: How the Next Generation Is Transforming the Workplace, says that his generation is used to every physical interaction having a digital counterpart. In fact, Stillman’s consulting firm found that 84% of Gen-Z prefers in-person communication over text or email. But most importantly, Stillman points out that Gen-Z equates Zoom and other video chats to face-to-face conversation. To flip the script on a famous quote from Marshall McLuhan: Maybe it’s the message, not the medium, that matters most.
Snap Inc. (via Bloomberg) projects that the number of Zoomers is projected to triple by 2030, which only means that their presence in the workforce will multiply. According to a report from Snap and Oxford Economics, that cadre is set to transform desired workplace skill sets, and “greater emphasis will be put on agility, creativity, curiosity, critical thinking and problem-solving skills.” Maybe it’s time to catch up and—as Millennials were once apt to say—get on their level. It may not be the time to retire email entirely, but perhaps other generations can take cues on introducing a little levity into the mix.
So to help you decode your next Slack interaction, here’s an admittedly non-exhaustive list of Zoomer slang terms. (Note: Many of these terms have their origins in Black or Brown culture; credit where credit is due.)
1. Bet: A term of affirmation, approval or agreement (see also: “I’m down”).
2. Cap: A lie (see also: “no cap”).
3. G.O.A.T.: An acronym for the “greatest of all time.”
4. Stan: An excessively devoted fan (or excessively devoted fandom).
5. Slaps: Used to describe something as impressive or excellent.
6. Slay: Used to describe an act of achievement or excellence (see also: “you killed it”).
7. Sus: An impression that something is dishonest or questionable.
8. Simp: A pejorative term used to describe one who admires another person (or provides an excessive amount of attention to them).
9. Vibes: An emotional or atmospheric state that others can feel.
10. (I’m) weak: Used to describe a hilarious situation (see also: “I’m dead”).