The average age of a school administrator is 47, which places them squarely within the generation referred to as Gen X (those born between 1965 and 1980). In comparison, most teachers start their careers between the ages of 20 and 25, which puts them at the tail end of the Millennial generation (born between 1981 and 1996) or the early side of Gen Z (1997-2012).
But far more than a decade or two divides these age spans, according to social researchers and workplace experts. Generational divides are nothing new, but they seem more pronounced than ever today, these experts say. Social media is largely to blame for the hyped stereotypes associated with each of today’s generations. But rapid-fire technological advances and evolving family dynamics have also shaped the perspectives of people who belong to the generations most affected by them—in this case, Millennials and Gen Z. These differing perspectives are likely to spill over into the workplace, including schools.
Communication preferences are perhaps one of the most obvious, and important, generational differences with implications for the workplace. Administrators cannot be expected to change their own communication preferences, workplace experts say, but striving to understand and adapt to those of younger job candidates and employees can be good for both recruitment and retention. It’s all part of approaching employee diversity as an opportunity rather than a culture clash, explained Cindy Sims, the superintendent of Estancia Municipal, a 500-student school district outside Albuquerque, N. M.
Sims, speaking to a national audience of K-12 human resources administrators and other education leaders at the American Association of School Personnel’s 2023 conference here earlier this month, advised: “Ask others: What are their perspectives?”
Such generational perspectives tend to guide every aspect of employment: from how job seekers identify opportunities to how, once employed, they prefer to receive daily information. While not every person within a given generation shares the same communication preferences or, by extension, other traits typically linked to their age group, the following generalizations can serve as a guidepost of sorts for Gen X or baby boomer (born between 1946 and 1964) administrators aiming to attract, hire, and keep younger employees.
On recruiting: Meet Gen Z-ers online, where they are
Not surprisingly, tech-savvy Gen Z job candidates conduct job searches largely online. Indeed, LinkedIn and Google were the top three go-to preferences for job hunting identified by college students in a recent survey.
The majority of Gen Z-ers (74 percent) in a recent nationwide poll said they want to connect face to face. But that doesn’t necessarily mean in person. They said mobile-first video-interviewing technology with live and on-demand interviewing as their preferences.
The hiring process: Make it fast
With widespread shortages of teachers and other education professionals, job seekers tend to be in the proverbial driver’s seat. Additionally, Gen Z-ers tend to be accustomed to instant feedback; they’re also known for their very “portable” nature, meaning they’re quick to pivot from one job or location to the next, according to Chris Pash, the executive director of human resources at the Farmington Municipal schools in New Mexico. For these reasons, Pash advises employers who are interested in hiring a Gen Z candidate to act fast.
“Don’t say, ‘I’ll get back to you in three days,’” he said at the AASPA conference. “They expect to know right away.”
Day-to-day communication: Text and TikTok
While older generations generally prefer to receive general information via email, text is the preferred mode for younger employees, say workplace experts. If the communication involves more complex details, for instance, explaining a new employee policy, administrators may want to consider creating a TikTok video.
Although some school leaders may balk at this advice, consider this: Social media-savvy Gen Z’s and Millennials are routinely taking to Instagram or TikTok to create a quick lesson for their students on subjects as varied as the reasons behind the Civil War to long division. Given that younger teachers are increasingly imparting information to their students in this manner, it’s likely they would appreciate receiving it this way, too.