Understanding Generation Z
Indian Institute of Foreign Trade - Kolkata Campus, Kolkata, India
Purpose –Organizations have long recognized that focusing on the onboarding experience is vital to the
success of the employee and the organization. Organizations are confronted with inter-generational issues as
they prepare to accommodate Generation Z in the workplace. The purpose of this paper is to investigate the
expectations of Generation Z from the onboarding program so that the organizations are better equipped to
welcome the new cohort.
Design/methodology/approach –The study adopts the interpretive approach to understand the subjective
opinions, thoughts and conversations of the respondents. The study adopted an interpretive research approach
for two main reasons. First, in the absence of empirical evidence, such a type of approach is helpful when the
study aims to understand the subjective experience of individuals, and often can help in theory construction.
Second, the approach helps uncover unknown facts and relevant research questions for further research.
Findings –The results from the study can help organizations to fine-tune the onboarding program that meets
the needs of Generation Z. The study identified six essential variables that could be addressed in the
onboarding enabling the new hires to quickly onboard the organization.
Research limitations/implications –Data were collected from the students who are pursuing final year of
masters in business administration. Since the respondents are business students findings cannot be
generalized to the rest of the cohort as these respondents had a fair idea of what to expect from the
Practical implications –The study presents six important themes for designing and managing an effective
onboarding program for Generation Z. It is important to note that the inter-generational differences are natural,
and organizations have to live with it. HR professionals have to bear in mind that this is also an opportunity to
revisit, redesign and readjust their onboarding programs to suit the new employees.
Originality/value –The literature on Generation Z is at a nascent stage. Empirical studies on Generation Z
were conducted to understand their expectation, beliefs and attitude. However, studies related to their
expectations during the new hire orientation programs are absent. The present study could be one of the first
studies in helping both managers and the HR function in understanding the expectations of Generation Z.
Keywords Generation Z, Inter-generational issues, Onboarding, Interpretive research
Paper type Research paper
Millennials and the research on new millennials have taken center stage for quite some time.
The cohort “millennials”are described as young, educated, assertive and outgoing (Strauss
and Howe, 2003:Howe and Strauss, 2009). While the research on millennial continues, a new
cohort, “Generation Z,”has begun to draw the attention of various stakeholders –business
leaders, entrepreneurs, colleges, parents and the human resources practitioners in particular.
A joint study by a Network of Executive Women (NEW) and Deloitte (2019) predicts that
Generation Z surpasses the millennials with more than one-third of the population identifying
themselves as Generation Z, therefore, understanding the new cohort and devising strategies
to accommodate the new generation into the workplace assumes significance. Every cohort
distinguishes itself from the rest of the generations concerning expectations, experiences,
values, education, family, lifestyle and work ethics (Williams and Page, 2011;Grow and Yang,
2018), context, and behavior (Francis and Hoefel, 2018), significantly affecting the industry
and the organization. Therefore, understanding the differences in the cohort and what
differentiates Generation Z from the remaining cohort can help organizations successfully
onboard the new generation.
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available on Emerald Insight at:
Received 28 February 2020
Revised 4 May 2020
31 May 2020
Accepted 19 June 2020
Journal of Organizational Change
© Emerald Publishing Limited
Organizations have long recognized that focusing on the onboarding experience is vital to
the success of the employee and the organization. Prior research studies (Acevedo and
Yancey, 2011;Smart, 2012;Ellis et al., 2017) have established that the new hires leave the
organization early during the first three months of the employment, and thus the current
research focuses on creating effective onboarding strategies for Generation Z. The argument
was further supported by industry research report as Bersin, an HR consulting firm, in their
survey found out that 79% of the business leaders feel like effective onboarding is an urgent
and essential priority (Bersin, 2014). As Generation Z starts entering the workforce, they are
compared to the earlier cohorts in terms of their expectations, values, anticipations and how
they would disrupt the workforce. The literature on Generation Z has been limited to
understanding their attitudes, preferences and behaviors (Scholz, 2014;Turner, 2015;Bencsik
et al., 2016;Chillakuri and Mahanandia, 2018) with very little research on organization’s
readiness to accommodate the new cohort. Organizations are confronted with inter-
generational issues, as they start recruiting Generation Z in the workplace (Dwivedula et al.,
2019). Therefore, the study assumes importance as Generation Z presents unique challenges
for managers and organizations, and thus calls for a well-established onboarding program to
successfully onboard the new cohort.
The study makes several contributions to both theory and practice. First, the study
advances the understanding of the Generation cohort theory. Second, by studying the
expectation of Generation Z from the onboarding, the study adds to our knowledge, the
support Generation Z requires in the early days of their career. Third, the study investigates
the expectations of Generation Z with the extant literature, thereby fulfilling the criteria of
conformability (Lincoln and Guba, 1985). Finally, the study helps organizations understand
the differences in the generation, thus making them ready to accommodate Generation Z into
the workplace. Besides, the study contributes to the onboarding literature, thereby
establishing the need for effective onboarding.
Generation Z is the cohort group born after 1995 (Lanier, 2017;Chillakuri and Mahanandia,
2018) comprises 32% of the global population (Miller and Lu, 2019). Research on defining
characteristics of Generation Z is still at a nascent stage (Dwivedula et al., 2019) due to the
difference of opinions among the scholars. Several researchers have attempted to understand
the generational traits and studied generational differences among the cohorts (Laz
Bilan, 2017;Lanier, 2017;Grow and Yang, 2018). Hoxha and Zeqiraj (2019) argue that
developments and changes that occurred over the past few decades manifest in the
characteristics of a cohort. Thus, each generation is unique and has to be understood
differently. Generation Z stands out from other generations in at least one aspect that these
cohorts have never seen the world without the Internet. The absence of empirical studies
investigating the traits and characteristics and a lack of understanding adds more confusion.
For instance, Howe (2014) and Crunch (2015) argue that Generation Z is concerned more about
job security, while Bernier (2015) surveyed 50,000 members and opined that Generation Z is
worried about job fit that suits their skills than job security, thereby underlying the need for
further research in understanding Generation Z.
Despite the difference of opinions among the scholars, it is widely accepted that
Generation Z shares qualities of millennials (Wiedmer, 2015;Kebritchi and Sharifi, 2016;
Chillakuri and Mahanandia, 2018;Schroth, 2019) but also differs from them in many aspects.
Generation Z is considered to be early starters –prefer working while studying as they can
learn and earn simultaneously (Cameron and Pagnattaro, 2017); entrepreneurial and outcome
orientation (Lanier, 2017;Christensen et al., 2018); tech-savvy, being raised with the
smartphones and Internet from an early age (Opris and Cenusa, 2017;O’Boyle et al., 2017;
Francis and Hoefel, 2018); independent –they are confident and do not rely much on the
parents (Chillakuri and Mahanandia, 2018;Francis and Hoefel, 2018;Robertson, 2018;
Dwivedula et al., 2019); prefers autonomy at work (Wiedmer, 2015).
Extant literature on Generation Z focused on studying the inter-generational differences
(Lanier, 2017;Grow and Yang, 2018), values towards achieving goals (Bencsik et al., 2016;
Gutfreund, 2016;Christensen et al., 2018;Grow and Yang, 2018;Berge and Berge, 2019),
education and learning styles (Iorgulescu, 2016;Chicca and Shellenbarger, 2018;Pousson and
Myers, 2018;Berge and Berge, 2019), career expectations (Loveland, 2017;Grow and Yang,
a and Kirchmayer, 2018;Dwivedula et al., 2019;Berge and Berge, 2019), the
impact of social media on Generation Z (Turner, 2015;Wo
zniak, 2016;Duffett, 2017;
Dwivedula et al., 2019), use of technology (Bencsik et al., 2016;Chillakuri and Mahanandia,
2018;Sung and Choi, 2018;Dwivedula et al., 2019) and expectations at the workplace
a and Kirchmayer, 2018;Grow and Yang, 2018;Dwivedula et al.,
2019). At the same, studies were conducted to understand their buying behaviors (Gutfreund,
2016;Puiu, 2016;Priporas et al., 2017;Hoxha and Zeqiraj, 2019;Ismail et al., 2020). However,
studies related to their onboarding expectations were notably absent, and the present study
addresses this gap.
The literature on Generation Z is at an emerging phase. While there are studies on
understanding their values, learning styles, the impact of social media, technology adoption,
expectations at the workplace, studies relating to onboarding Generation Z, and the
organization’s readiness in managing the inter-generational differences are significantly
absent. The present study is an attempt to understand their expectations in the initial days of
Generation Z joining the workplace. Every new hire in the organization has a set of new
expectations that impact their attitudes, feelings, and behaviors, and Generation Z is no
exception (Sherman and Morley, 2015). The relationship between the employee and the
organization is bidirectional as organizations expect employees to work hard, develop new
skills, and follow organizational goals. In contrast, the employees expect the organization to
treat employees fairly, provide opportunities for training, development, promotion, provide
real-time feedback, and performance-based pay (Schroth, 2019). Against this background, the
study attempts to gain an understanding of Generation Z and their onboarding expectations,
thereby enabling organizations to address their expectations in the initial days of employees
joining the organization.
Recruiting talent is very critical for the success of any organization as the competition for
skilled employees is precipitous (Edwards, 2009). Employers invest a significant amount of
time, money, and energy on recruiting the best hires, and thus the organizations need to
design a top-grade onboarding program in a way that employees are up and functioning as
early as possible (Becker, 2010;Becker and Bish, 2019). The onboarding process varies from
organization to organization, differs in procedures, techniques, style, and often depends on
the size and level of the employees. Onboarding is a process of introducing new hires into the
new job, acquainting them with the organization’s goals, values, rules, responsibilities,
procedures, and socializing the employee into an organizational culture (Bauer et al., 2007;
Bauer, 2010;Watkins, 2016), thereby helping the new employees adjust to social and
performance aspects of the new job. Onboarding new hires is a critical activity that allows the
employee to integrate with the organization, culture, and access to information, helping them
to be effective in their day-to-day jobs (Becker and Bish, 2019). A well-designed onboarding
program can help the new hires reduce anxiety and uncertainty, and provide clarity and
understanding to their role (Schroth, 2019). Organizations treat the onboarding as a strategic
program as the impression that is created during the initial days of the new hires will have a
lasting effect on the careers of the individuals. As a result, the typical onboarding process
starts from the day an offer is made and continues up to six to twelve months upon the
individual joining the organization (Fyock, 2012). Whatever be the onboarding model and the
duration, the underlying fact is that faster a new hire is absorbed into the organization, sooner
the employee would be able to contribute to the organization. The design of the onboarding
program should include a definite focus on the importance of the new employee, transparent
and open communication, performance measurement, and aligning new hires to strategies
that support the mission and goals of the organization (Bauer, 2010;iCIMS, 2016).
Moreover, prior research studies (Allen et al., 2004;Harris et al., 2007;Bauer et al., 2007;
Meyer and Bartels, 2017) established that effective onboarding results in increased
performance, job satisfaction, and loyalty to an organization, and therefore the
organizations must provide the necessary input for the new hires to be successful. As part
of their work, employees might need to coordinate with different processes within the
organizations, and unfamiliarity with the procedures, and people could be daunting.
Organizations have realized the importance of the initial experience, and thus have well-
established onboarding programs serving mainly three purposes –increasing the confidence
of the new hires, helping employees become fully productive more quickly, and build a
mutually positive association with the organization and the employees (Guðmundsd
ottir, 2016). However, the expectation of the new hires seems to be different, and
thus, there is a wide gap between Generation Z’s expectations vs. what is delivered.
Generation Z wants to start working as soon as they are onboard, as they are career
ambitious, and prefer real-time feedback (Gale, 2015). Therefore, the present study focuses on
welcoming and integrating Generation Z into organizations equipping them with the
necessary information and skills to work effectively.
The term onboarding is recent, but the concept of new onboarding is not a new
phenomenon, as the HR practitioners referred to the process as orientation (Klein and Heuser,
2008;Daskalaki, 2012). Extant literature indicates several onboarding models. Van Maanen
and Schein (1979) argue that organizational socialization is the underpinning theory from
which onboarding emerged, and therefore the majority of the scholars derived their models
based on socialization theory. For instance, Van Maanen and Schein (1979) proposed six
tactical dimensions of onboarding based on socialization. Klein and Heuser (2008) developed
a model with 12 content areas contributing to adequate socialization. To support the model,
they later developed an Inform-Welcome-Guide (IWG) model to identify critical onboarding
areas. Bauer (2010) developed a 4Cs model comprising four levels (lowest to highest), namely
–compliance, clarification, culture and connection. Meyer and Bartels (2017) further
investigated the 4Cs model noted that all these levels are necessary and reported that new
hires who have received all the levels, including connections, reported higher perceived
organizational support, organizational commitment, and job satisfaction. All these models
highlight the importance of learning in all the onboarding process, establishing the need for
effective onboarding leading to organizational commitment, and job satisfaction.
Considering Generation Z as the new cohort joining the organization, their expectations
from the onboarding process have to be studied. These are a new generation that has not seen
the world without the Internet, considered as the first digital natives; they are very
comfortable in collecting the information and integrating virtual and offline experiences
(Francis and Hoefel, 2018). Besides, they expect to access information and use them before
they make a decision. Therefore, the onboarding experience has to start even before they
enter the organizations. In the age of digital disruption, if the onboarding process is still a
paper-based and begins on the joining day of the employees, they likely perceive the
organization lacks digital thinking (Deloitte, 2019). As a result, Generation Z might be
preferring competitive organizations that offer digital thinking and digital onboarding
experience. While a majority of the organizations provide a digital onboarding experience,
there are specific processes that are still paper-based; as a result, the onboarding process is
slow. Therefore, the present study understands their expectations, so that the HR
professional can redefine, and readjust their onboarding program to make it as effective as
The study adopts the interpretive research using qualitative methods on the lived experience
of the respondents. Interpretive research is an approach that embraces a voluntaristic view of
human experiences in a way that the individuals are not acted upon by the external world
instead of behaving proactively (Ozanne and Hudson, 1989). This approach is popular in
social sciences and information systems research (Klein and Myers, 1999;Livari, 2018);
however, it is applied in management discipline also. A wide range of studies has been
proposed in the literature. For example, Jansen (2018) used interpretive research to explore
how management accounting research can be practically applicable in shaping an
intervention. The interpretive approach is often used to explore studies related to
performance management (Cunha et al., 2018), leadership (Felix et al., 2019), organizational
work-life balance practices (Nwagbara, 2020), sustainable human resource management
(Podgorodnichenko et al., 2020). The study adopted an interpretive research approach for two
main reasons. First, in the absence of empirical evidence, such a type of approach is helpful
when the study aims to understand the subjective experience of individuals and often can
help in theory construction (Smith and Bowers-Brown, 2010). Second, the approach helps
uncover unknown facts and relevant research questions for further research (Lincoln and
Moreover, such an investigation is helpful in theory construction in areas of insufficient a
priori theory. Interpretive research involves using qualitative methods; a critical aspect in
interpretive research is seeking meaning in context, combining social, historical and cultural
contexts impacting the subject matter, which cannot be ignored (Klein and Myers, 1999;
Maroun, 2012). Hirschman and Holbrook (1986) argue that interpretive research does not
reject quantitative approaches; instead, view them as measures based on one aspect at one
point in time. An essential element of interpretive researchers is studying the phenomena
from the perspective of those participants involved with the phenomena rather than
participants as part of the physical world (Szmigin and Foxall, 2000). Qualitative and
interpretive research does not generalize the findings; however, it provides an insight into the
studied phenomenon (Maroun, 2012), and therefore our aim is not to generalize results to a
population but to understand the expectations of Generation Z as they prepare to enter the
workplace. Moreover, interpretive research offers the potential to interact with practical
implications. Opinions, thoughts, and suggestions by the respondents with certain
limitations may be incorporated by the organizations to ensure that Generation Z is
appropriately welcomed into the organization.
Sample and procedure
The most commonly used technique of data collection in interpretive research is interviews
that can be facilitated through face-to-face, telephonic, or focus group discussions (Lincoln
and Guba, 1985). Besides interviews, another technique that is followed is direct observation,
where the researcher can be either a passive external observer or an active participant
sharing their inputs about the phenomena being studied. Therefore, taking a cue from the
interpretive research, the study adopted interviewing and participant observation techniques
to elicit information from the respondents. The inclusion and exclusion criteria for selecting
the respondents were followed through a two-step process. First, the respondents should
belong to the Generation Z cohort, and hence, participants are chosen from three educational
institutions, who are pursuing final year master’s program (business students). As an
introduction, the participants were explained about the different cohorts, Generation Z, and
the objective of the study. A pilot study with one focused group was conducted to test and
organize the interview schedule. Initial conversations with the participants helped in
modifying the sample size, as few of the students did not belong to the Generation Z cohort.
The group consisted of participants who had prior work experience, and few of them did not
have any work experience. It was observed that the participants who had work experience
were sharing their expectations, while others were quiet. A key criterion to interpretive
research is that the participants should have first-hand knowledge about the phenomena
being studied (Gioia et al., 2013).
Therefore, in the subsequent discussions, we have selected participants only who had
completed a minimum of two summer internships. The second criterion was critical for this
study as the participants during the internships had the first-hand experience and knew what
to expect from their organization. During the internships, they are generally not exposed to all
the HR practices in the organizations. However, these participants understand organizational
functions and the way employee relations are handled. The interview ranged from 40–50 min,
with each discussion having 7–10 participants. We conducted 15 group discussions covering
136 participants (see Table 1 for details) with the following questions: First, what should be
the duration of the new hire orientation/onboarding? Second, what are the key topics new
hires are interested to know during the onboarding? Third, what are some of the specific
topics that must be covered in the onboarding?
The study adopted an inductive approach complemented with Gioia methodology (Gioia
et al., 2013) in analyzing the findings. Inductive reasoning is an approach that starts with
observations and searches for the development of patterns and theories. Such an approach is
appropriate when exploring participants’perceptions, perspectives and behaviors (Mueller
and Lovell, 2015). Before conducting the interviews, each of the participants was requested to
mention five key topics that they must know as they join the organization. Thus, the total
number of responses were 680 (136 35); the data was analyzed carefully and arrived at 18
key themes. Table 1 presents the first-order model with 18 concepts (n5136). The study
Group No. of participants Male Female
Group 1 7 4 3
Group 2 9 4 5
Group 3 9 5 4
Group 4 8 4 4
Group 5 7 5 2
Group 6 8 4 4
Group 7 8 5 3
Group 8 9 5 4
Group 9 10 6 4
Group 10 8 4 4
Group 11 10 5 5
Group 12 8 4 4
Group 13 9 5 4
Group 14 8 4 4
Group 15 9 5 4
followed Gioia et al. (2013) two-step process of first-order and second-order concepts for data
analysis. The Gioia methodology assesses participants as knowledgable agents, and the
researcher as a knowledgable person, who can link participant knowledge to the extant
literature. Following the Gioia methodology, the first step was to record all the conversations
with the participants. The conversations were decoded, and the team arrived at 18 emerging
topics, which we considered as first-order concepts. Subsequently, in the second step, the 18
emerging concepts were discussed again with the participants to identify the overlapping
themes. Since the study did not rely on any single group, measures were taken to record all the
conversations, and subsequently, the interviews were coded. Consistency of coding was
maintained throughout the interviews. In the third step, the researchers arrived at second-
order themes basing on the number of responses against each theme. Table 3 presents the
number of responses against each theme. The second-order themes were limited to six
categories as the difference between the sixth and seventh themes was large. Table 4 presents
the second-order categories.
Generation Z is a new cohort who have started joining the workforce recently. While
academic literature on Generation Z is still at a nascent stage, key findings of this study reveal
much more about their interests and their expectations from the workplace. Table 1 details
the number of focused group discussions and the number of participants in each group.
Table 2 provides insights into the duration of the onboarding program. Forty-one percent of
the respondents opined that a two-week onboarding program would address the majority of
the concerns associated with the new hires.
In comparison, 28% responded that a five-day onboarding program would be sufficient.
Table 3 lists the various topics they would like to know during the onboarding program. To
judge the rigor of interpretive research, Lincoln and Guba (1985) presents four-step criteria,
where dependability and conformability are very essential. Dependability refers to
authenticity, wherein different researchers assessing the same phenomenon arrive at the
same conclusions. Credibility refers to the inferences to be believable. The credibility of
interpretive research can be extended by providing evidence of earlier studies. Therefore, the
study, while interpreting the analysis, compared to the previous findings on Generation Z,
thereby fulfilling the conformability criteria (Lincoln and Guba, 1985). Results revealed that
the present findings resonate with the research earlier concerning Generation Z.
Bigger picture at work
Learning and development
No. of days No. of participants
2 Days 14
5 Days 38
2 Weeks 56
30 Days 28
Second order themes
One of the fundamentals of interpretive research is the ability of the researcher to have clarity
on the subject and write clearly. Besides, the researcher should be able to explore the
phenomena from different angles and make a meaningful contribution. Therefore, all
interviews with the participants are recorded and decoded. The conversations and the
recordings allowed to elicit respondent’s experiences, perceptions and narratives. The
conversations in the recording, which are relevant to the subject matter, are carefully
examined, and few of the excerpts are mentioned in the discussion section to strengthen our
arguments. The study followed the four-step criteria of dependability, credibility,
conformability and transferability (Lincoln and Guba, 1985) to establish authenticity and
rigor to the interpretive research. Transferability, the last step in the criteria, refers to the
extent to which the findings can be generalized. Such a study requires the researcher to
provide detailed descriptions and assumptions. The results in the form of six categories from
the focus group interviews are presented in the findings and discussion section.
Findings and discussion
Managing expectations of Generation Z is an uphill task for the organizations as they have an
idealistic picture that the work assigned to them is meaningful and exciting and that their
ideas will be implemented by their managers (Schroth, 2019). Employees often feel their job
boring, repetitive and mundane when the work does not energize them; as a result, their
contribution to the organization may decline. Therefore, it is the responsibility of the
managers to help employees understand the contribution and how their work is significant to
the success of the organization (Pradhan and Jena, 2019). Prior studies indicated that
meaningful interactions with colleagues, managers and clients have a positive effect on the
innovative behavior of the employees leading to innovative and creative work solutions
(Zhou and Shalley, 2003;Pradhan and Jena, 2019). As employees derive meaning from their
work, they feel connected to the mission and purpose of the organization. In today’s business
world, the work is less strictly defined. Hence, it becomes challenging for the organization to
discuss the work in the onboarding orientation program, as jobs in the organizations often
First order No. of responses
Meaningful work 114
Performance management 81
Work-life balance 78
Personal connect 76
Bigger picture at work 64
Learning and development 56
Rewards and recognition 29
Career development 28
Diversity and inclusion 26
Organizational culture 21
Internal mobility 18
Corporate social responsibility 16
HR policies 15
Core values 15
Supportive team 2
Office events 1
Total 680 (136 35)
undergo changes. Many, at times, the nature of the job depends on the client’s requirements
and business needs. Participants mentioned that when the purpose of the work is known,
their contribution goes beyond the financial gains. On the contrary, when their work is not
explained, they are not motivated to do, even though it is a small task:
As new hires, we may start with low-value tasks. If there is a way to automate the redundant tasks,
we would love to give a try. Just because we are new hires, we cannot be taken granted to get
unnecessary jobs done. We would like to know why a particular activity is executed and its impact
on the client and to the organization.
Generation Z wants to have a clear understanding of the organizations’values, vision and
strategic goals. Therefore, the initial onboarding has to set the stage in helping the new hires
understand the values and objectives of the organizations and need to reinforce the values, so
they are aligned to organization values. Unlike the previous cohorts, Generation Z values
ethics, practices and the social impact that the organization creates. In a survey by Network of
executive women (NEW) and Deloitte, 77% of Generation Z responded that they choose
organizations not based on their innovative products and resources but based on the
organizations’values and ethics that reflect their values. The survey also highlights that
Generation Z likes to have an understanding of the other social initiatives and opportunities
they get to participate apart from their daily routine. Therefore, to attract the right talent,
organizations need to highlight their efforts towards social activities, and the values have to
be manifested in the onboarding program. It is evident from the conversations that these
cohorts think differently from the previous generations, while they prefer job security,
financial security (Iorgulescu, 2016;Laz
anyi and Bilan, 2017;Lanier, 2017); they like to do
what energizes them and take up work that has a sense of purpose. A participant commented:
If the work is explained in detail, I will be much more motivated to complete the assignment. We are
more interested in creating an impact from an ethical perspective. For instance, I would like to work
for non-profit organization clients. While the nature of the work may be similar to commercial clients,
I feel more motivated working for non-profit or charitable organization clients.
The findings from the study are in line with Fratri
a and Kirchmayer (2018). In their
research on Generation Z’s motivation observed that uninteresting nature of work, work
overload, working with no sense of purpose are the barriers of motivation. Similarly, they
identified that career advancement, career growth, and continuous learning act as motivating
factors. The findings resonate with the thoughts of Bruce Tulgan (2013), the CEO of
Rainmaker Thinking, that the structured and defined responsibilities with a sense of meaning
enable Generation Z to work and succeed.
Generation Z is engaging and prefers instant feedback (Lanier, 2017;Chillakuri, 2018). In a
survey by Inc. (Jenkins, 2019), 60% of the respondents indicated that they would like to
receive feedback frequently. They are also described as a cohort that does not have patience
(Opris and Cenusa, 2017). As digital natives, they want to obtain real-time feedback and
prefer in-person feedback (Laz
anyi and Bilan, 2017;Lanier, 2017) rather than through
workplace communications. The present study also corroborates with the previous research,
wherein 66% of the respondents suggested to have instant and real-time feedback. Frequent
and meaningful conversations with the managers help Generation Z understand the priorities
and provide appropriate direction (Chillakuri, 2020). Moreover, they believe that timely
feedback about their performance is essential to learning so they can focus on the
improvement areas instead of waiting for the year-end review (Chillakuri, 2018). Participants,
while emphasizing the need for instant feedback, also underlined the need for candid
feedback. A participant mentioned:
We take up a job not just for salary but to contribute to the organization. We want managers to
appreciate the good things we do; similarly, we want them to give us candid feedback where we have
gone wrong. Instant feedback will help us to overcome mistakes and help us not to repeat in the
Organizations realized the importance of frequent discussions the employees have with their
managers. Therefore, multinational companies Accenture, Deloitte, KPMG, Microsoft, Adobe
scrapped the existing bell curve approach of performance management and moved to a new
system that is future-oriented than mere assessing the past performance (Chillakuri, 2018).
Generation Z would like to know where they stand in reaching their goals and what it takes to
reach the next level. As mentioned earlier, Generation Z values in-person, timely feedback, at
the same time, they are career ambitious and likes to know opportunities for career
advancement. A participant mentioned:
I would like to know more about the promotion process and what it takes to move to the next level, so
I can start preparing from day one. I feel tenure should not be the criteria for the promotion, and if a
two-year tenured professional is doing a job a manager, he or she should be promoted to manager. In
fact, it will be a big motivator for others to perform well.
The respondents opined that they would like to have a deeper understanding of the
performance management system in the organization so that they can develop their goals
aligning with the system. Generation Z takes shortcuts and leverages technology to achieve
these goals; however, in terms of performance and career progression, they want to make sure
that they complete all the requirements for the next level. They have grown up during the
recession and economic uncertainty. At the same time, they spend money on the bills, travel,
and other interests, they are equally cautious about building wealth for the future earlier and
thus expect to have high salaries (Deloitte, 2019). Unlike the previous generations, they are
career hungry, eager to learn, and questions the status quo as to “why does it take so many
years to move to a particular level”(Bencsik et al., 2016;Laz
anyi and Bilan, 2017;Lanier,
2017). Moreover, they often feel that they are ready for promotion within a few months.
Therefore, the organizations need to discuss performance management and outline the career
path during the initial days of Generation Z joining the organization.
As a generation, who had witnessed the great recession, they are more concerned about the
salary, perks, and job security (Iorgulescu, 2016;Laz
anyi and Bilan, 2017;Lanier, 2017);
however, they are equally vocal about work-life balance and flexibility in the workplace.
Work-life balance is incredibly important not just for Generation Z, but for all the employees,
and this generation values greater flexibility and work-life balance at the workplace (Opris
and Cenusa, 2017;Chillakuri and Mahanandia, 2018;Dwivedula et al., 2019;Berge and Berge,
2019). In fact, Generation Z believes that it is a mandate for the organizations to provide
flexibility as it only increases productivity and efficiency (Chillakuri and Mahanandia, 2018),
and such a flexible work arrangement should be open and unreserved for all levels of
employees. Frequent discussions with the managers build a strong foundation of trust,
enabling them to operate flexible working arrangements. Flexibility could include flexible
working ranging from the different start and finish times, staggered shifts and the denial of
flexible work arrangement could have the impression that their managers do not trust them.
Lanier (2017) defines Generation Z as more pragmatic, in a way that as long as work is not
getting affected, there should be no reason for rejecting flexibility. A participant responded,
stating that she would not like to spend her personal time for office work. In her words:
I want to work as much as I can in the office. But once I step out of the office, I just want to unplug
from the office work. I would straightaway say no if my manager asks me to work on a weekend. It is
important to balance both personal and professional lives. When I am in the office, I do not want to
think about home, and when I am at home, I do not like work bothering me.
Contrary to this, a report by Priceline work-life balance (Priceline, 2019) that surveyed 1,000
full-time employees reported that 24% of Generation Z feel guilty taking any time off work as
they fret that taking time off would provide an opportunity for others to judge their work.
They are also under pressure to check emails and notifications, even on holiday. As a result,
they like to avail of flexibility than taking a day-off as they end up doing some office work
during vacation. They want to be independent yet collaborative when required, and as digital
natives, they know how to connect with colleagues seamlessly (Ozkan and Solmaz, 2015).
They are ready to relocate to any region for a career of their choice; however, expect equal
flexibility on the part of the employers. There exists a difference of opinion among the
researchers; however, the present study shows that Generation Z wants flexible work
arrangements. People are productive at different times of the day, and therefore they
appreciate the opportunity to flex their schedule to meet their personal obligations. In the
words of a participant:
We understand that it is important to show up on time in office, but it is equally important to strike a
balance between professional and personal life. By providing flexibility, we are not shying away
from work. It is just that we are doing the work from a different place at a different time.
Our findings corroborate with the existing literature citing Generation Z values flexibility
and work-life balance. Further, Morahan (2019) surveyed 1,000 Irish graduates, in which
more than 60% reported that they place more value on work-life balance over career
progression. The study also highlighted the different scores across disciplines with the
medicine graduates (67%) rating work-life balance as a top priority. Therefore, the
organizations must provide flexibility and allow employees to balance professional and
In today’s business world, organizations change with the environment it operates.
Digitalization and collaboration tools made it easier for employees and managers to
connect from anywhere in the world. As a result, there is an increase in remote work (Felstead
and Henseke, 2017;Bathini and Kandathil, 2020) aimed to provide flexibility in terms of time,
space, and practice. It is beyond doubt that new ways of work allow an employee to strike a
balance between personal and professional targets. However, the participants emphasized
the need for personal connect with the managers and team members in the initial years of
their career; that way, they can be absorbed in the organization quickly. In fact, they need
human connections more and perform when they are engaged in intensive working
relationships (Tulgan, 2013). Technology often overshadows the personal experience that the
new hire can have through in-person discussions with the colleagues and the leaders. They
view that personal connect with colleagues, managers, and leaders are more valuable in
career advancement (Grow and Young, 2018). When inquired about why they prefer personal
connect, a participant responded:
I expect my peers, seniors, and managers to help me understand the organization, culture, and work.
I would like to have frequent connect with my reporting manager and preferably a face to face
conversation than a videoconference or a skype call. I want to go to the office every day in the initial
days until I believe I can do work from home. Personal connect with the team members will allow me
to settle comfortably in the job.
Drawing upon the discussions, it may be suggested that organizations can conduct a
department-wise new hire orientation session, during which the new hires get a chance to
interact with senior leadership of their respective practice. Expectations from the managers
are on the rise; they are expected to coach, guide the new hires, thereby helping Generation Z
to be successful in their jobs. Gen Z prefers collaborative learning than a “telling”approach,
and this would be successful only when the managers relate to employees in such a way that
maximizes their engagement, well-being, and performance (Schroth, 2019). A participant
I believe a personal connect with my manager will result in increased psychological and workplace
well-being. If my managers understand my personality, style of work, it will be easy for us as a team
to be more collaborative,
The discussions are in line with the previous studies on Generation Z. Laz
anyi and Bilan
(2017) studied the impact of earlier cohorts on the new entrants and identified that Generation
Z values in-person connect. Gupta (2018) suggests that lack of interpersonal relationships
could potentially lead to attrition; therefore, organizations should focus on establishing
interpersonal relationships. Although this cohort wants autonomy and values greater
flexibility, work-life balance, the organizations need to create opportunities to connect with
other cohorts in the workplace.
Understanding the bigger picture
It is but natural that the new hires in any organization are assigned tasks by their seniors and
managers. Most often than not, these tasks are small, redundant and low value-added tasks.
Unlike other cohorts, Generation Z is more tech-savvy, and feel that low-value work can be
automated, reducing the human errors besides guaranteeing the quality. Their dependence
on technology gives them first-hand experience, and involvement in the learning process
makes them active learners. A study by Barnes and Noble College (2018) surveyed 1,300
middle and high school students in the US reported that 89% of the respondents rated college
education as valuable.
Further, they do not like to sit in the class just for attendance or merely showing up in the
class; instead, they want to be fully engaged in the class and be part of the learning process.
The study also reported that 40% of Generation Z take up careers that suit their specific
interests, and one-third of them either have their own business or plan to have in the future
reflecting their entrepreneurial identities. Due to their entrepreneurial orientation (Singh
Ghura, 2017;Christensen et al., 2018), they prefer transparency and honesty over anything.
Participants shared their opinion:
Everyone in the organization is an employee, and I feel everyone works for the success of the
organizations. I do not see any merit in managers hiding important information from the juniors. The
more they hide, the excitement level increases. Knowing the bigger picture of the project would help
us to understand the subtle nuances.
Generation Z is a lot more ambitious than the other cohorts and generally do not settle for the
status quo (Bencsik et al., 2016;Chillakuri and Mahanandia, 2018). They like to take up
challenging work, as they are self-confident, self-directed, and reliant on self-learning
(Bencsik et al., 2016;PeopleMatters, 2019). Despite being self-confident and hard-working
generations, they experience more anxiety about work expectations. In a survey by SHRM
(Wilkie, 2019), 44% in Canada, 40% in the U.S., and the United Kingdom reported that their
anxiety is holding them back from job success. Therefore, the leaders need to set the stage
right during the onboarding program, the expectations and the details associated with their
day-to-day work. Another participant expressed that knowing about the job and the
necessary information is very critical for the success of the job.
Knowing the bigger picture of the work helps us to contribute better. We want to put into practice
what we have learned in our academics. During our internships, we were not exposed much,
probably because managers might have felt that we are there for only two months. Now that we are
ready to take up full-time jobs, we want to contribute to the organization, and that only happens
when we are equipped with the necessary information.
Based on the observations and the conversations, it can be inferred that Generation Z values
transparency, and therefore want their leaders to be transparent in their dealings. This
particular finding corroborates with Bencsik et al. (2016) studies, where the scholars defined
Generation Z as ambitious, detail-oriented, and therefore they would like to have all the
details before they start the work.
Learning and development
Generation Z is high on self-learning and prefers self-directed and independent learning,
leveraging technology. As part of their graduate studies, they undergo internships, showing
an appreciation for the need to bring practical skills as they begin their full-time careers.
Being the first digitally native generation, they learn the much-desired skills relevant to their
jobs and know that keeping up with technology requires ongoing learning. While they are
keen on acquiring additional skills, they also expect the new employer to equip them with the
necessary training, so they start contributing from day one. When asked about the type of
information, they would like to receive during the onboarding, a participant responded
I feel organizations should invest in our learning. It could be in the form of classroom training or
e-learning. The more we are equipped with the new tools, processes, and technologies, the more we
are prepared to take up any new task. Once we have the necessary information, we would not like to
depend on others; instead, we would like to work independently.
Soft skills such as communication, collaboration, time management, mentoring, coaching
should be honed, and therefore, they require extra support (Grow and Yang, 2018). They prefer
working in a collaborative group as they desire hands-on participation rather than listening to a
lecture (Seemiller and Grace, 2016;Adamson et al.,2018). To meet the learning styles of
Generation Z, organizations need to adapt to technology, provide hands-on experience, offer
self-learning courses, and be comfortable with this tech-savvy and on the go group. Besides,
they like to prefer virtual teamwork over the offline meeting and wish to engage in teamwork
only under compelling situations (Bencsik et al.,2016). Wiedmer (2015) highlights that
Generation Z values autonomy at work; they do not want to depend on colleagues or team
members, and therefore they like to have complete knowledge about the work. They are also
uncertain of the future requirements, and a participant was quick in sharing that they would
want to be associated with an organization that provides learning opportunities.
We want a stable job, and in this uncertain economy, we need to master skills that keep us going. We
were told that smaller organizations do not focus much on learning and development. I want to be
part of any organization that encourages learning and provides opportunities to learn skills apart
from what is required in my job.
The respondent’s conversations are in line with previous studies. In one of the first studies on
the work motivation of Generation Z employees, Fratri
a and Kirchmayer (2018) observed
that opportunities for learning and professional development are a motivating factor in the
workplace. Therefore, organizations need to focus on providing learning opportunities as
continuous learning is perceived as the essential skill for career advancement and growth.
The findings also corroborate with the studies of Iorgulescu (2016), wherein Generation Z,
have a low proclivity to work in a start-up or small organization; instead, they want to be
associated with stable organizations.
The findings of the study have implications for both academics and practitioners. First, the
study extended the understanding of cohort theory (Meredith and Schewe, 1994). The focus of
the study was not to compare the inter-generational differences, and so efforts were not made
in that direction; however, the study presented a detailed literature review and investigated
Generation Z and their traits and characteristics. Second, the study presents an
understanding of Generation Z’s expectation at the workplace, precisely from the
onboarding/new hire orientation programs. The study advances the previous research by
responding to understanding their expectations at the workplace (Schroth, 2019). Third, the
study contributes to the HRM literature by adopting a Generation Z lens, reconfirming that
onboarding is a very crucial aspect of human resource management function. In addition to
the HRM literature, the study also contributed to Generation Z literature. Fourth, the study
presents six important themes for designing and managing an effective onboarding program
for Generation Z. It is important to note that the inter-generational differences are natural, and
organizations have to live with it. HR professionals have to bear in mind that this is also an
opportunity to revisit, redesign, and readjust their onboarding programs to suit the new
New hires bring talent, experience, skills and newer perspectives to the job. Therefore,
investing in the new hires through effective onboarding programs ensures employees meet
their potential, thereby contributing to employer–employee success. It is essential for the
organizations to be ready in meeting the demands of the new hire, and designing a well-
structured onboarding program starting with understanding the new hires’expectations,
values, attitudes, thinking, behaviors, and why they behave as they do. The onboarding
solutions that the organizations’design has to be consistent, personalizing, and should
provide a positive new hire experience. Employees’experience of an organization starts from
the day they give the interview, and therefore managers need to provide a realistic view of
what job entails. In a survey by Glassdoor, 61% of the respondents indicated that the reality
of the job was different from the expectations set during the interview process (Mackay,
2018). Unlike other cohorts, Generation Z would not like to do a job for which they are not
hired. Such employees tend to leave the organization during the initial months of joining the
organization. There are certain expectations that both the organization and the employees
need to fulfill; therefore, they should engage in a psychological contract (Schroth, 2019), and
the violation of such an arrangement leads to poor performance and high turnover.
Organizations that know how to engage this group are bound to be successful.
Strategies mentioned in the study would be helpful for HR managers to integrate
generation Z into the workplace successfully. As outlined above, empirical studies on
Generation Z is still at an emerging phase. While the current research detailed the
expectations from organizations, there are certain limitations as the respondents were
primarily business students. Future research can look into a diversified set and see if the
expectations from the current study still hold good. Moreover, the study adopted interpretive
research, and as such, there might be a higher degree of subjectivity. Therefore, future
research can look at other methodologies to empirically establish objectivity.
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About the author
Bharat Chillakuri is an Assistant Professor at the Indian Institute of Foreign Trade (IIFT). Currently, he
teaches organizational behavior, human resource management to MBA graduates. Before joining, he has
spent 12 years in Industry in varied roles –Human Capital Consulting, Performance Management, Talent
Development, Client Account Management, and MarketResearch. He is also a visitingprofessor at various
business schools in India, teaching general management and change management. His research interests
include Strategic Human Resource Management, Sustainability Development, Corporate Social
Responsibility, and Sustainable Strategies. Bharat is a recipient of the Santander Doctoral Scholarship
for the year 2015; one of the 22 outstanding doctoral students across the world who were invited to
participate in the Santander International Summer School at the University of Heidelberg, Germany. He
has published research articles in Emerald, Sage, Inderscience, and Elsevier Journals. Bharat Chillakuri
can be contacted at: email@example.com
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