Millennials vs. Gen Z: Key Similarities and Differences in the Workplace

Make better hiring decisions by understanding what makes each generation tick.

Download our infographic on Millennials vs. Gen Z for a visual side-by-side comparison of these two generations.

By now, most employers are aware that there’s a new generation entering the workforce. Millennials have aged out of starting positions and it’s the oldest members of Generation Z that are filling entry-level roles and internships. Despite these differences, these two generations are often lumped together and assumed to have similar traits and motivations. For employers trying to attract and retain talented candidates, failing to understand the nuances between Generation Z and Millennials can be a big disadvantage.

If you’ve been struggling to distinguish between these two generations, here are the biggest differentiating factors between Millennials and Generation Z.

Millennials Vs. Gen Z: When Were They Born?

One of the most important distinctions between these generations is the birth years of Millennials and Gen Z. Many hiring managers aren’t aware of the age distinction, still believing fresh college grads to be a part of the Millennials generation. This couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, many of the people doing the hiring are Millennials.

Millennials were born between 1981 and 1996. The tail-end of the Millennial generation graduated college within the past few years, while the oldest Millennials have years of work experience under their belt. One study found that 28% of Millennials hold managerial roles.

Gen Z’ers, on the other hand, were born between 1997 and 2012. Most Gen Z’ers are still in school, and the oldest members of this group are now starting to join the workforce. Employers can expect to hire Gen Z into entry-level roles for years to come, and should be prepared to help them grow into their careers.

The historical context of Millennial and Gen Z birth years helped shape the two generations into what they are today. Millennials were raised by Baby Boomers and grew up idealistic and hopeful, only to start their careers during a financial crisis. Generation Z was largely raised by Gen X and watched the financial crisis from a distance. They witnessed parents and older siblings struggle during a recession, resulting in a more cynical and pragmatic generation.

Both generations have been largely influenced by innovations in technology, but in different ways. Millennials witnessed the rise of the internet and shaped social media as we know it, while Generation Z never grew up without it. The technology Gen Z understands as the norm often didn’t come into existence until Millennials were already well into their teens or adulthood.

Many of the differences between Millennials and Gen Z in the workplace stem from the external factors that shaped their adolescence. With the majority of Gen Z’ers still growing up, their motivations and characteristics will likely change over time, but there are still clear differences between Millennials and Gen Z.

Millennials Vs. Gen Z: What Motivates Them?

Motivation is a huge concern for employers. How can you get your workers to care about their job? What incentives work best? When it comes to Millennials and Gen Z, both generations want work that fulfills them and they care about a company’s mission and values. But there are a few differentiating factors:

Millennials are highly motivated by work that does societal good – are you giving back to your employees and the world at large? Can you connect the work you’re doing to the “why” or the mission behind your brand? Work-life balance is also a major priority for Millennial employees – a study by Deloitte found it to be the No. 1 priority for Millennial workers. Collaborative workplaces and frequent feedback also help Millennials feel valued in the workplace.

Gen Z is motivated by opportunities for career advancement and job stability and is less likely to care about working for a big-name company. Gen Z employees also value companies with strong missions and commitment to social impact. With Gen Z employees, you should be concerned about helping them advance their skills and connecting their work to a larger mission.

Millennials and Gen Z are both motivated by financial incentives, although for potentially different reasons. Millennials went to college as a way to increase their career prospects but were met with a less than stellar job market and student loan debt to top it off. Gen Z saw how this affected their families and decided to go after careers that allowed them to be more financially secure.

Millennials Vs. Gen Z: How Do They Work?

Both of these generations grew up in the digital age, so they are comfortable handling technology in the workplace. Millennials witnessed the rise of technology and played a role in developing it while most Gen Z’ers had widespread access to technology from their early years. You can expect that both generations will be able to utilize technology effectively in the workplace.

However, while it may seem like both of these generations are buried in their smartphones, they are happy to collaborate with others in-person. Both Millennials and Generation Z prefer human element or face-to-face communication when it comes to teamwork. However, Gen Z is shown to have a higher preference for face-to-face communication, especially when it comes to exploring new job opportunities.

Millennial employees are known to ask questions, solicit feedback, and embrace teamwork. Early studies show that Gen Z employees are ambitious and entrepreneurial, but also value cross-team collaboration. However, many studies on how Gen Z’ers work need more time to develop in order to accurately compare the differences between how Gen Z and Millennial employees work.

Millennials Vs. Gen Z: What Challenges Could You Face in Managing Them?

One of the most challenging parts about working with Millennials are their engagement levels. According to a report by Gallup, only 29% of millennials are engaged in the workplace. As a manager of Millennials, it’s essential to ask if your workplace is measuring up. Are you giving Millennials the resources they need to perform their best? Does your workplace promote work-life balance? In a competitive labor market, retaining Millennial workers means keeping a pulse on engagement levels. It’s too soon to tell if Generation Z as a whole will face similar engagement issues that Millennials face, but similar issues could arise if competition for skilled workers remains as steep as current levels.

The most immediate challenge that comes with managing Generation Z is the generation gap that managers will now start to face as this generation enters the workforce. With the entrance of Gen Z, there are now five generations co-existing in the workforce. Managing a multi-generational office may be challenging, but all generations can learn something from each other.

Another management challenge employers will find with both Millennials and Gen Z is their tendency to question, “Why?” Millennials have been known to transform culture and break out of the mold of the status quo, and research shows that Gen Z is likely to challenge the status quo as well. Both generations question strict work requirements and advocate for their own advancement in the workplace. As long as you’re open to seeing workplace issues from a new perspective, working with Gen Z or millennials will not be an issue.

In Conclusion: Be Cognizant Of The Differences Between Millennials And Gen Z

While the differences between Millennials and Generation Z can seem slight and blurred, the small differences matter. From obvious distinctions like age to more subtle ones like motivations and expectations, understanding what makes each generation tick can lead to more informed hiring decisions and better management practices for all involved.

Want a cheat sheet to Generation Z? Download our infographic on “5 Fast Facts Every Employer Should Know About Generation Z” here and download our latest report, “Understanding the Gen Z Candidate Experience” to understand what today’s entry-level candidates experience and expect during the hiring process.


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