Gen Z vs. Millennials in the Workplace: What Are the Differences?

By Jennifer Herrity

Updated June 6, 2022 | Published September 10, 2020

Updated June 6, 2022

Published September 10, 2020

Jennifer Herrity is a seasoned career services professional with 12+ years of experience in career coaching, recruiting and leadership roles with the purpose of helping others to find their best-fit jobs. She helps people navigate the job search process through one-on-one career coaching, webinars, workshops, articles and career advice videos on Indeed's YouTube channel.

In today's multigenerational workplace, employees of different ages, aspirations and experience levels are creating new dynamics in business environments. While the characteristics often associated with each generational group may not apply to all, the challenges and innovations that millennials and Gen Z grew up with often shape their worldview and behavior. They are both younger generations that grew up with changing technology, but they have a few differences in how they view work and approach essential tasks.

In this article, we will explain the key characteristics of Gen Z and millennials, outline their major differences and explain how they can function together in the workplace.

Related: Your Guide to Generations in the Workplace

What is Gen Z?

Gen Z, also known as Generation Z, is a demographic term for people born between 1997 and 2015. Having grown up with access to both cell phones and the internet, it is generally the most diverse and tech-savvy generation to date.

Some of the defining characteristics of Gen Z include:

  • Never experienced a time without the internet and social media

  • Owned a smartphone as their first cell phone

  • Became aware of social, economic and environmental issues across the world

  • Watched shows on streaming services

  • Became highly independent

  • Integrates activism and social justice as part of their daily lives

Read more: 11 Generation Z Characteristics to Highlight

What is the millennial generation?

The demographic term "millennial" describes those born between 1981 and 1996. The oldest millennials are in their 40s and the youngest are in their mid-20s. Millennials are primarily known as the first generation that grew up around the internet and mobile devices and economic challenges from student loans and a recession. Millennials started to become more involved in racial and gender equality than previous generations like Generation X, Baby Boomers or the Silent Generation.

A few common characteristics of millennials include:

  • Saw many different technologies develop, become popular and then turn obsolete

  • Experienced pressure to attend college

  • Watched shows on television

  • Saw the creation of social media

  • Became highly collaborative

  • Became invested in activist causes in their free time

Related: 10 Common Characteristics of Millennial Generation Employees

12 differences between Gen Z and millennials

Here are some of the differences between Gen Z and millennials that can impact their workplace behavior and how they work together:

1. Outlook

When it comes to making decisions, millennials have a more optimistic mindset than risk-averse Gen Z. Gen Z witnessed the instability of the millennial generation and tends to be more cautious and focused on generating security through their choices. Millennials have a highly entrepreneurial and inventive mindset. Gen Z is more interested in tested and well-established channels for success.

2. Teamwork

Members of Gen Z are more independent and prefer to figure things out themselves while millennials tend to value teamwork and input from others more highly. They like to share their workspace, thrive in open office plans and be socially engaged with coworkers.

Millennials want to form strong connections with coworkers and integrate work into their lifestyles. Gen Z tends to be more competitive and focused on individual success, preferring to be in control of the end product.

3. Motivation

Because they are so invested in their team at work, millennials are motivated by working with an employer that serves a social good, shares their core values and gives them a good work-life balance.

Gen Z also values socially engaged companies, but marketable skills and career advancement tend to be bigger motivators. They like to make a direct impact instead of relying on their employer to support social causes, and they see equality and diversity as a requirement instead of just a benefit.

Related: A Guide to Millennials' Work Ethic

4. Privacy

Millennials grew up with wide access to the internet without fully understanding its privacy issues related to posting online. Gen Z is more focused on the impact of having a public life online, including security issues. As a result, millennials tend to be more open with others in the workplace and have less of a problem blending their personal and professional lives. Gen Z generally prefers to keep professional relationships restricted to the workplace and doesn't share as much of their private life with their boss and coworkers.

5. Longevity

Millennials have faced many challenging periods when it comes to the job market, adjusting to multiple employers and jobs instead of one steady career. Millennials who feel unsatisfied with their current job are likely to look for another position. Gen Z, on the other hand, tends to use their job as a starting point to learn about other roles within a company and try out different experiences to learn about how the organization operates as a whole.

6. Finances

Millennials and Gen Z are both financially motivated, but Gen Z sees wealth as a way to get ahead while millennials need to succeed financially to catch up. Millennials were encouraged to take out loans to go to college and then graduated into a poor job market that often made it hard to cover repayments. Many members of Gen Z delayed college or were more cautious about taking on debt after seeing the millennial generation struggle, allowing them to pursue financial success now and invest in their development later.

Related: Millennial vs. Gen Z Consumers: Key Comparisons

7. Spending habits

Millennials tend to be more thrifty with their money than Gen Z members. They look for deals, use coupons and shop around for affordable prices within their budget. Gen Z can be overall less interested in decreasing their expenses and more focused on increasing their income. Gen Z also tends to be more willing to forego experiences and products that are too expensive, yet millennials will look for ways to get their experience on a budget.

Related: 10 Useful Tips for Planning a Budget

8. Attention span

People within Gen Z may have shorter attention spans than millennials because of the consistent flow of distractions and information through technology. Younger millennials grew up with some of the same technology used by Gen Z, but it was much less pervasive.

Gen Z is used to being bombarded with information through advertisements, videos and search engines. The development of the infinite scroll in the mid-2000s, where social media users can continuously scroll down their content feed and see an endless stream of posts, encouraged Gen Z to spend less time on a single subject and more time processing as much information as possible.

Related: 10 Ways To Improve Your Focus and Concentration Skills

9. Workplace tools

Millennials and Gen Z often have different preferences when it comes to how they use tools in the workplace. While both groups are comfortable with tech tools like instant messaging and email, Gen Z is used to using applications with algorithms that direct them to the most important and relevant information.

10. Relationship with the internet

Millennials have adapted to a tech-driven lifestyle while Gen Z was raised in it. Gen Z is known as the first generation of "digital natives," meaning that they learned, made friendships and grew up online. They have an intuitive understanding of how to use and manipulate the internet to accomplish their goals and are well-prepared to keep adapting alongside technology.

Millennials may take longer to grasp new internet tools, but are still eager to learn and enjoy knowing how and why web features work. Gen Z's relationship with the internet also developed a global mindset due to the ease of witnessing and interacting with global events in real-time.

11. Professionalism

Many millennials grew up with the understanding that certain features such as tattoos, piercings and casual clothing would prevent them from finding a job. As workplace environments change to be more accepting and comfortable, Gen Z is expected to break more boundaries when it comes to what is considered professional. They believe that their skills and character are more important than how they present themselves, gravitating to more casual and open work cultures.

12. Education

While millennials grew up with the expectation of college as an essential part of starting a career, Gen Z looks for nontraditional alternatives to gain the knowledge and skills they want. They use tutorial videos, online classes and real-world experience to tailor their education towards their goals.

Benefits of a multigenerational workplace

As Gen Z grows up, many workplaces now employ several generations. The Silent Generation, baby boomers, Generation X, millennials and Gen Z all work and collaborate despite differences in their upbringing and life experience. Some of the benefits of having many generations in the workplace include:

Increased empathy

Interacting regularly with colleagues who are both older and younger than you exposes you to different perspectives, allowing you to become more empathetic and respond more appropriately to challenges.

Related: Empathic Skills: Definition and Examples

Reverse mentoring

Not only can more experienced colleagues provide mentorship to young people who are just starting their careers, but younger generations like millennials and Gen Z can also help educate older generations about how to adapt to the ways the world is changing.

Related: Creating a Workplace Mentoring Program: Key Steps and Tips

Diverse collaboration

Older and younger generations working together can create a strong combination of experience and innovation that leads to a successful, steadily evolving and improving workflow. The difference in their life experience adds diversity to the overall mindset of a work team.

Related: Xennials: Factors That Affect Their Career Success

Explore more articles