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Generation Z – Perspectives from the Professor in the Lecture Hall and the Mentor in the Workplace

As someone who has recently been involved in training and working with young people in my own business, I find Gen Z to be more valuable than blameworthy. In today’s era, we, as adults, tend to label them with too many negative stereotypes.

After 15 years of working, running my own business, and nearly 10 years of training successive generations of students, I have a relatively different perspective compared to other teachers or business owners. As someone who has recently been involved in training and working with young people in my own business, I find Gen Z to be more valuable than blameworthy. In today’s era, we, as adults, tend to label them with too many negative stereotypes.

Gen Z is often associated with traits such as excessive self-centeredness, lack of focus, lack of cohesion, lack of direction, and impatience. However, I have come to realize that there is actually no significant difference between generations; it is simply an evolution governed by the passage of time.

In my opinion, human nature never changes; only the era changes. Therefore, we are merely products of our time. Humans are caught in a continuous cycle where the previous generation shapes the era, and the subsequent era contributes to the next generation. So, when we praise or complain about the next generation, how is it any different from praising or criticizing ourselves? If that is the case, does it have any meaningful impact? If we only stop at observing and complaining instead of delving into the root of the problem, is there anything better?

Therefore, with this article, I want to start explaining the stereotypes and the reality of Gen Z. This article largely reflects my personal observations, so I truly hope to receive more contributions and feedback to improve the content.

3 key weaknesses of Gen Z

#1: Gen Z is a generation with a strong sense of self

I don’t deny the fact that today’s Gen Z youth are less obedient and traditional compared to previous generations. This may partly be true when associating them with a larger sense of self. However, I also question why these perceptions have formed within them.

Do you agree with me that compared to the grandparents’ generation of Gen Z (i.e., our parents), we as parents or educators of Gen Z have become more open-minded, opinionated, and in some ways, more self-centered than our own parents’ generation? This consequence is natural. In terms of social aspects, I see that in recent years, Vietnam has imported concepts that are not yet suitable and conveyed them to the younger generation in a somewhat empty manner, “Believe in yourself.” Don’t we still tell ourselves this, our company employees, and young people all the time? So why should we blame Gen Z when our demands encounter these same barriers? Isn’t Gen Z also just “following” the teachings of the previous generation—the teachings that emphasize self-importance?

On the economic aspect, I’m not saying that entrepreneurship is bad, but there are many lessons in entrepreneurship that cannot be universally applied in the economy. Yet, they are widely propagated within the education community, leading to erroneous judgments.

“Entrepreneurship is the only path to success.”

“If you want wealth, the only way is to start your own business.”

“Have confidence in your own path, even if the whole world opposes you.”

In reality, I see more entrepreneurial failures than successes. The issue is that, according to the law of probability, after a series of failures, there will eventually be successful entrepreneurial ventures. It’s not solely because they are skilled but partly due to fortunate probability. The promotion of entrepreneurship as a new economic model inadvertently inflates the self-importance of the younger generation.

With this perspective, I still believe that they are more victims than culprits.

#2: Gen Z lacks long-term goals and focus

In today’s digital age, with the advent of the Internet, the amount of information that Generation Z can access is virtually limitless. This leads to an obvious consequence that when faced with a long menu with too many options, anyone would feel overwhelmed and unsure of what to choose. Understanding this psychology, beverage companies like Highlands have created a simplified menu to help customers make decisions easily and optimize their shopping time.

Therefore, when confronted with too many choices, it is natural for individuals to struggle in setting long-term goals, and their ability to focus becomes limited.

#3: Gen Z lacks social skills and effective communication abilities

Firstly, let’s establish that we all have the same amount of time in a day, which we divide relatively evenly among daily activities such as eating, sleeping, studying, working, and, of course, communication. I believe that the time humans spend on communication is relatively similar, and this naturally results in individuals having comparable communication abilities since training time is consistent. So why do we perceive Gen Z as having poorer communication skills compared to previous generations? My answer lies in the disparity in communication methods, rather than their actual communication abilities.

In the past, online platforms were scarce, so we, as the parents and educators of Gen Z, spent more time engaging in direct face-to-face communication. Therefore, I can only say that our direct communication skills might be slightly superior to those of Gen Z. However, they excel in “innovating” efficient communication methods online and have turned this aspect into a competitive advantage. There are certainly situations where I, as a member of Gen X or Gen Y, feel somewhat awkward in online communication.

Hence, I believe that communication skills are similar; it’s just the medium of communication that differs. Just as some people prefer speaking over writing, or some excel in poetry rather than prose. I hope you agree with this perspective.

3 key strengths of Gen Z

Before delving into their strengths, I want to highlight a characteristic of this generation: they are a generation of strong polarization. This polarization is an inevitable consequence of development, wouldn’t you agree? I have had the opportunity to assist struggling students who lacked interest in learning and whose thinking was not particularly sharp. However, I have also come across exceptionally talented individuals within the same generation—students who are highly intelligent, possess excellent learning and synthesizing abilities, and demonstrate remarkable reasoning skills. Moreover, these individuals are determined and know what they want.

Therefore, I conclude that the social and economic circumstances of the past generated relatively homogenous generations, partly due to the limited information available to us compared to today’s Gen Z. Nowadays, if individuals desire a comfortable life, they have numerous options to enjoy. Conversely, if they aspire to progress in society, they possess abundant resources, tools, and talents to accomplish their goals more effectively than previous generations.

These are the aspects of Gen Z that resonate with me the most.

#1: The ability to learn quickly

It’s evident that with the vast and continuous influx of information every day, Gen Z rarely has to learn something completely new from scratch. The content being conveyed may already be known to them. This is advantageous for the process of querying and greatly accelerates the speed of information absorption.

The downside of learning quickly and thinking fast is the lack of depth. Deep thinking has its own value, like driving slowly on a road, allowing us to take in the scenery on both sides and realize that we may have missed out on many things and could have learned something new. To effectively harness Gen Z’s strength in fast learning, in addition to their quick thinking, let’s also guide them in developing the necessary skill of slow thinking.

#2: Strong adaptability

This is a consequence of the above. I realized this when constantly changing the requirements of my assignments in a short period, and it seems that my students always find a way to meet them. Indeed, when we can learn quickly, nothing is impossible.

The flip side of adapting too quickly is the lack of roots. Those who adapt too quickly are like a butterfly constantly hopping from one branch to another, changing their color accordingly. Even a butterfly should stop and ask itself, “What is my true color?” If Gen Z develops too quickly and adapts too much, they may forget the core traditional values. As the previous generations, we must always remind them of these things.

#3: Creativity

This point has probably been mentioned the most. As a professor teaching creativity in an academic environment, I must definitely support this perspective. In reality, my Gen Z students, especially in recent years, have shown surprising levels of creativity. This is understandable because creativity is a process that anyone can master if they grasp the formula, and the difference lies in the input data. For a generation like Gen Z, who “absorbs” input data daily through the digital communication environment, they are inherently creative vessels. With proper education, we can tap into this gold mine.

However, the downside of creativity is the lack of consistency. Nature has given us two different hemispheres of the brain to perform two contrasting tasks: logical thinking and creative thinking. Therefore, I rarely see individuals who can develop both skill sets evenly. Similarly, we as humans tend to favor one hand, whether it’s left or right. So, if you want Gen Z to fully unleash their creativity, equip them with the ability to think logically to connect creative ideas, even if occasionally they may feel unrelated to each other.

3 core principles for better engagement with Gen Z

#1: Changing Expectations

I firmly believe that if I were born in the era of Gen Z, I would possess the same characteristics as them, and vice versa. Therefore, I often say that it is not people who change, but rather the times that change. In both my roles as a teacher and a mentor in the workplace, the key is not to cling to personal views and expectations but to let them “grow younger” by a few years. Gen Z, on the other hand, should do the opposite and “age” their perspectives by a few years to bridge the gap between the two generations.

Nowadays, I have come to accept that students will stare at their laptops during my lectures. I cannot prohibit them from doing so. It has become their means of learning. The only thing I can do is improve the interactivity in my lectures to capture the attention of these young minds away from their laptop screens.

I no longer consider loyalty as the criterion for evaluating young employees. For me, loyalty is a consequence, and what businesses need to manage is personal development. Today’s Gen Z workforce is knowledgeable and has more opportunities than us. Therefore, business owners cannot expect loyalty to their “small ponds” if they don’t see any opportunities for learning and further growth there. So, don’t focus on loyalty anymore; focus more on developing the business. When development opportunities exist, loyalty will follow.

Business owners cannot expect Gen Z to be loyal to their “small ponds” if they don’t see any opportunities for learning and further growth there.

#2: Changing Business Structure

I recognize that I share more similarities with Gen Y or even Gen Z. In my company, Gen Y employees are currently playing the role of mid-level managers, connecting Gen Z to the operational machinery of the business. In my opinion, a three-tier structure is more suitable and healthier to prevent generations too far apart from having excessive interaction with Gen Z if they haven’t embraced open-mindedness and the right mindset.

Furthermore, businesses need to clearly define the roles of suitable job positions. Gone are the days when all employees were full-time and had to be present in the office for a certain number of days per week. The new business model is a blend of different types of employment, including full-time, part-time, project-based, freelancers, and outsourced personnel. Gen Z, being young and fond of diversity, seems more suited to these new collaborative approaches.

The new business model is a blend of different types of employment, including full-time, part-time, project-based, freelancers, and outsourced personnel.

#3: Creating a Playground

I place great importance on the harmony between living, playing, and working. The concept of work-life balance is outdated for me. I believe that the concept of work-life integration is more appropriate, creating an environment where “work feels like play, and play feels like work.”

Playing can inspire many creative ideas. It’s all about carrying a burden, but in the gym, we call it exercise, while outside the workplace, it becomes work. The only difference here is our mindset towards the activity. When we perceive something as fun and play, it doesn’t drain our energy. But when we consider it as work, everything suddenly becomes exhausting.

The concept of work-life integration is more suitable for the present, creating an environment where “work feels like play, and play feels like work.”

Conclusion

As a professor, I prioritize learning and personal development. I believe this is essential for fostering long-term engagement with the Gen Z generation. Naturally, they will have better options, but to the best of my ability, I strive to provide excellent training for the generation that will shape the future economy of our country, and I hope many businesses share this mindset.

Lastly, I strongly believe that Gen Z will have a profound impact on various aspects such as society, economy, and politics. However, whether these influences will be positive or negative remains unclear. Regardless of the outcome, we, the previous generations, bear a significant responsibility because directly or indirectly, we contribute to shaping Gen Z.

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