Much has been said about the way previous generations have altered the workplace. So what of Gen Z, the next wave of practitioners coming of age in an era of unprecedented connectivity and educational opportunity? Angela Tufvesson reports
Generation Z: digital natives born between 1995 and 2009 who know nothing other than a globally connected world. This is the generation of selfies, FOMO, Instagram and Insta-fame. They’re open-minded and inclusive, and accustomed to being a few clicks away from any piece of information.
The first crop of Gen Z university graduates have just begun work, and by 2025 Gen Z will make up 27 per cent of the Australian workforce. As employees, this cohort “find importance in work-life balance, team focus, empowerment, support, flexibility, involvement, creativity, innovation and a global working atmosphere”, says social researcher Ashley Fell from McCrindle.
So what does the emergence of Gen Z mean for dental practitioners? How will it change the way the industry operates and what do practice managers need to do to prepare for the arrival of this new generation?
Gen Z are digital integrators. Having used technology from the youngest age, it permeates all areas of their life, including the way they work, says Fell. “For the digital integrator, technology has blurred the lines of work and social, of study and entertainment. This means work and life are more integrated than they have been in the past.”
At work, Fell says their perpetual connectivity means Gen Z “expect greater connectivity to and authenticity from the leaders in their organisation, flexible working options and for their work to be aided by technology”.
Dr Esma Dogramaci, a senior lecturer in orthodontics at the University of Adelaide, says the influence of Gen Z is changing the way practitioners keep up with the profession. “Gen Z [are] proactively seeking online information rather than waiting periodically to attend a conference or course to update themselves,” she says.
“And although online continuing professional development (CPD) has been around for the best part of two decades, we will see Gen Z seeking online courses that incorporate virtual or augmented reality for upskilling.”
Thanks to social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram, Gen Z are influenced by and connected to an enormous network of people. Emma Turner, a final year dentistry student and former president of the Australian Dental Students’ Association, says broader adoption of social media may help practitioners build a stronger and more supportive professional network.
“Given the isolation that dentists can feel in the workplace, the knowledge that a second opinion is just a message or a phone call away is immensely reassuring,” she says.
But that’s not to say Gen Z prefer digital-only interactions. Dr Dogramaci says young practitioners seek mentorship from practice owners and senior colleagues. “They want to be able to discuss clinical matters such as diagnosis and patient management, but also be able observe their mentor at work and learn from them.”
Fell says this speaks to a broader focus on professional wellbeing among Gen Z workers. “What is important in terms of attracting and retaining this generation of emerging workers is having a workplace culture that is engaging and prioritises the wellbeing of staff,” she says. “While this can often lead people to think about offices with swings and office pets, it is actually much deeper than that. It’s about prioritising people and their professional and personal growth.”
Educated and mobile workers
Gen Z will be our most educated generation yet, with an estimated one in two young people predicted to obtain a university degree. Young practitioners are poised to be among the most well-educated, says Turner. “With the emergence of postgraduate dental courses in Perth, Melbourne and Sydney, more dentists will be graduating with broader skills sets than ever before,” she says. “This will create a more diversified dental workforce to the benefit of our patients.”
And then there’s their mobility. Gen Z move homes, jobs and careers faster than any previous generation, with today’s school leavers expected to live in 15 homes and have 18 jobs across six careers in their lifetime.
“Gen Z have more post education options than ever before—opportunities to travel, to work overseas or to retrain for yet another career,” says Fell. “It is also the era of the gig economy, contingent work, freelancing and entrepreneurism.
“A key strength this generation will bring to the workforce is an ability to apply their skills across multiple roles as they bring a range of transferrable skills to the workplace.”
Dr Dogramaci agrees: “Gen Z’s constant exposure to developments in dentistry means that they will not necessarily settle on traditional professional work conditions or career aspirations. Theirs will be malleable, changing with time.”
Gen Z take their cues from all over the world. Due to globalisation and the advent of technology, what they watch, read and listen to is just as likely to originate in India or Italy as it is in their local neighbourhood. And the same goes for work. “Gen Z have a global perspective in terms of where they can work, study and travel,” says Fell.
This global perspective breeds tolerance and a desire to work with people from diverse backgrounds, says Dr Dogramaci. “Gen Z are broad-minded, inclusive and have an international outlook,” she says.
It also shifts focus away from money as a motivator. “Gen Z seek to deliver good quality dental care,” says Dr Dogramaci. “They are not keen on working towards financial targets, and are likely to raise objections, internally or externally, if they feel pressured to do lower quality work or make patient management choices that might involve questionable ethics.”
Fell agrees that working for a purpose is important to Gen Z. “Measuring the impact of their work and celebrating this impact is key to not only attracting Gen Z, but retaining them,” she says.