Here Come the Second-Wavers, the Next Generation at Work

The workplace is shifting below our feet. Do you feel the rumble? 30 million Baby Boomers will retire (that is almost 10% of the U.S. population) in the next five years. Like a herd of cattle dashing toward their pension fund trough, they’ll be leaving the next generations to fend for themselves.

Fortunately, we have the wily and ever-capable Generation X stepping into the C-suite. Their “Just Do It” attitude will guide us through any crisis like a champ. It won’t be pretty, but it never is with Xers.

Then, we have the Millennials. We’ve come around to realizing they are, in fact, not lazy and entitled, but driven to excel and purposeful in their work, as long as you provide them with a roadmap of clear expectations. Millennials will be surging into middle management like a Tweetstorm, commanding their younger peers and changing the way business is done forever.

So who will these Millennials be managing? Who is next on the front line? It depends on who you ask, but some are calling them, GenZ, Gen Alpha, Homelanders, Second-Wavers. Whatever. These are young people that are in high school up to age 23 or 24.

Front Line Second-Wavers

I’m calling this cohort Second-Wave Millennials, or Second-Wavers because they still embody many of the same characteristics as their older Millennial peers—collaborative, bonded to their parents, connected to their friends, community-oriented. They are risk-averse, yet still high achievers. Second-Wavers are the younger brothers and sisters—they are all part of a larger generation, but very different than their GenX and Boomers parents were when they were young.

Traits of Second-Wavers

Second-wavers are growing up more slowly their First-Wave counterparts. Fascinating, yet widely unrecognized is that according to the Lancet Medical Journal (2018) the official age of adolescence has been extended from 19 to 24. They’re staying in their parents’ basements longer, delaying getting a drivers license, and putting off financial independence. They are also a stressed-out generation. According to a recent APA report, literally carrying around more cortisol, the stress hormone.

Managing Second-Wavers

So, how are they going to be as employees and how do we manage them? Early indications show that although they have mastered the hard skills, they are lagging on the soft skills. I’ve heard horror stories from managers about their new employees hiding at their desk with their headphones on, not interacting with their boss, and then quitting after 3-months on the job.

This is a syllabus generation. They have been accustomed to tight cycles of feedback in a highly managed and structured environment. If you are seeing a lack of soft skills like active listening, professional communication in a work environment, and interpersonal skills, it is because that was not is the syllabus or in the training manual they got in school or at home. The good news is, with the right “training manual”, these soft skills can be developed. And, they are exceptional students—they want to gain skills to do better in their job, you just need to provide the tools to do that.

One important thing to realize about Second-Wavers is that they are smarter and more capable than you think. They are earnest and principled. They also have been schooled in the fine art of social and emotional learning—understanding empathy and taking seriously every person’s perspective.

Step up leaders—now it’s time to for you understand their perspective and grow this next generation of workers.

Warren Wright