By: Cherise V. Stewart, MS, SPHR

In the final scene of the famous 1980’s teenage angst movie, The Breakfast Club, Brian Johnson, the “brain” of the group, writes an essay on behalf of the five students in detention. He gives the completed assignment to Mr. Vernon, their crotchety, out of touch, baby boomer teacher who refuses to understand the younger, future generation.

Fast forward, 39 years, Dr. Michael Brenner, Founder and CEO of Right Chord Leadership, presented the session titled “Unlocking the Genius of Gen Z: 7 Facts (and 3 Myths) You Need to Know.” at this year’s Philadelphia SHRM Symposium.  The session aimed to challenge common misconceptions about Gen Z and shed light on their unique characteristics and values. Generation Z is defined as those born between 1997 and 2012. Gen Z’s predecessors are Millennials born 1981 to 1996, Gen X born 1965 to 1980, and Baby Boomers born 1946 to 1964. As of September 2023 approximately 17.3 million Gen Z will have entered the US workforce.   And with every new generation comes generalizations and stereotypes. Dr. Brenner shared and debunked three common myths about Gen Z:

  1. Myth 1: Gen Z is lazy, lacks discipline, and doesn’t want to work.
  2. Myth 2: Gen Z is selfish, entitled, and arrogant.
  3. Myth 3: Gen Z is addicted to and obsessed with technology.

The session included interviews of three Gen Z’ers who provided an open and honest dialogue of what they felt was important to them when considering a career.  Some common themes that they shared were the importance of work/life balance, being heard, and having their work be meaningful.  To my surprise these were much of the same values that employees of all ages want.  But instead of focusing on negative stereotypes, Dr. Brenner highlighted seven facts about Gen Z that we should consider:

  1. Fact 1: Gen Z places a huge premium on flexibility, autonomy, and work/life balance.
  2. Fact 2: Gen Z has a huge interest in diversity, equity, and inclusion.
  3. Fact 3: Gen Z values work with a purpose.
  4. Fact 4: Gen Z desires growth and development opportunities.
  5. Fact 5: Gen Z wants truthful, respectful, and caring leaders.
  6. Fact 6: Gen Z wants to be heard, valued, and respected.
  7. Fact 7: Gen Z prioritizes mental and emotional health and well-being.

Dr. Brenner’s session offered a nuanced understanding of Gen Z’s values and aspirations, highlighting their potential to reshape the workforce of the future. By acknowledging their unique perspectives and needs, organizations can create more inclusive and productive work environments that attract and retain Gen Z talent.

Shifting back to the last scene of the movie, The Breakfast Club, Brian’s essay stated, “You see us as you want to see us – in the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions.  But what we found out is that each one of us is a brain, and an athlete, and a basket case, a princess, and a criminal.  Does that answer your question?

Unlike a Hollywood movie, employers have the opportunity to narrow the divide amongst generational differences and welcome the newest generation – generation Z to the workforce to ensure that they are equipped to further the goals, values, and culture of the organizations they represent.


About the Author

Cherise V. Stewart, MS, SPHR is the Vice President of Human Resources at Valley Youth House, a non-profit organization providing valuable services to children and youth.   She holds her Master’s in Human Resource Development from Villanova University and is a certified Senior Professional in Human Resources with over 15 years of experience working in various industries and roles.  Cherise also serves as an executive team member of the IBB investment group dedicated to the education of investing and economic empowerment in the African American community.  She is an active member of Toastmasters, a member of Philly SHRM’s Thought Leadership Team, and is an avid traveler having visited 27 states, 23 countries, and 5 continents thus far.

Editor: Dennis Paris

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