THE pioneer generation has shaped the workforce culture for decades, but now, a new demographic is coming of age, bringing new strength and expectations.

Researchers call them Generation Z, or Gen Z - people 19 and younger, with most still studying.

Mr David Thomas, senior vice-president of human resources at financial services group Manulife Asia, discusses how managers and leaders can prepare for Singapore's fourth generation.

  • How is Gen Z different from its Generation Y predecessors, or even their parents' generation - Generation X?

Gen Z is willing to work for organisations which are positive. In one survey, only 28 per cent of Gen Z said that money is a motivation for them to work harder or stay with their employer, as opposed to 42 per cent of Gen Y.

During the time that Gen Z people have been in their formative years, there have been so many scandals involving companies and banks, the global financial crisis and so on.

It's suggested in the research that these things have influenced their thinking as well.

  • Gen Y was big on the finance sector. Are there any particular industries that Gen Z tends to prefer?

What I'm seeing is that whatever the industry is, they're far less likely to be influenced by the official company brochure and more by what people are saying on the Internet, like employer review site GlassDoor and other career-related sites.

Gen Z has also been referred to as tech-savvy "digital natives". How can organisations tap this strength?

Gen Z people spend 10 hours a day using all sorts of social media; that's the way they're wired. If people are used to collaborating through social media, give better access to that.

A lot of organisations have restrictions on certain sites and things. We will need to be more open to the kind of collaboration tools that Gen Z people are looking for, while making sure they also have the right kind of data security.

  • On the flip side, has Gen Z exhibited certain traits that managers may not like?

Gen Z tends to have less developed social skills at work than Gen Y. But it's not a big concern, because Gen Z is also more used to being social collaborators across international borders, and that's something that we need a lot more of.

I see it with my own children - they're much more comfortable with connecting internationally and online. People are much less confined by culture or nationality in most countries.

  • What other challenges does Gen Z present for human resource policy?

Research has shown that Gen Z does not see the value of being in one organisation for a long time. In terms of employment agreements, if we offer long-term benefits like pensions or stock schemes which become a real benefit only after a long service, we may need to think those through again.

Because if this stuff is true - if Gen Z people will indeed work for 17 different organisations in their lifetimes - that's hugely expensive for organisations, especially if you're in a relationship-managing role and you need people to trust you. If I sell you a pension product, do you want me to be gone in two years?

  • But is their job-hoppingalso a result of underemployment in a tough job market?

About 33 per cent of Gen Y hold graduate degrees. For Gen Z, it's 50 per cent. So, that competitive labour market that already exists is going to intensify.

According to research, this is the first generation that actually has lower expectations than previous generations around what it will achieve.

  • Does that worry you, and can it be addressed?

If people come into the workplace with a degree of cynicism because of what they've seen in the financial crises, because they've seen their parents and older siblings have difficult times at the workplace, we need to inspire them.

We need to create a kind of working environment where people are going to be stimulated. They need to feel that they're working for something bigger, so they don't think, "OK, I'll do this for a few months and then go do something else."

And as an organisation, we must be able to show that we care about you as a person, that we're invested in you.

  • What advice would you give to a Gen Z person entering the workforce?

Similar to what we would say to Gen Y: Distinguish yourself. If you've had experiences with leadership activity, show that you are contributing to society in a broader way.

If they play to their strengths, it's that ability to connect with different cultures, to work with people from different backgrounds.

A lot of employers are looking for people who come into the workplace well developed, with social skills.