Get ready, here comes Generation Z! This generation, born between the late 1990s and the early 2010s, is the largest generation in American history. It’s also the most ethnically diverse and digitally savvy generation to date. Its oldest members are graduating from college and entering the workforce for the first time, and they’ll shape the American workforce for years to come. Keep reading to find out what you need to know about Generation Z, key ways they differ from millennials, and what they value most in the workplace.
Children of the Great Recession
Generations are not homogenous groups, and the dates they start and stop vary depending on the source. In general, researchers draw generational lines according to pivotal events certain groups share. For example, baby boomers were defined by the Vietnam War and 1960s counterculture movement. Generation Z witnessed the recession of 2008 and the slow recovery that has followed.
The oldest members of Generation Z were 11 when the housing market collapsed and the U.S. spiraled into the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. They watched their parents’ generation lose 45% of their net worth on average during the recession. Not surprisingly, Gen Z has their minds on their money. They’re more frugal than millennials, and they’re prepared to work hard to achieve financial stability.
In a national survey, 77% of Gen Z currently earns their own spending money through freelance work, a part-time job, or an earned allowance. More than half (60%) in a study said they have their own savings account, and 57% in another survey said they preferred to save money instead of spending it. In yet another study, 20% said they want to avoid debt at all costs.
Some researchers compare Gen Z to the Silent Generation, born between 1928 and 1945. Both groups tend to value family connections and be risk-averse, thrifty, and optimistic perhaps because they grew up during severe economic declines.
Generation Z is the first group born after the internet was created, and they became teenagers during the age of mobile devices. Digital tools have always been integrated into their lives, and their learning tools are available and on-demand. In a study, 51% of them said they learn best by doing. In another survey, the majority of Gen Zers (85%) said they had watched an online video during the past week to learn a new skill. Three-quarters of Gen Zers say there are ways other than college to get a good education. (Keep this in mind when recruiting a Gen Z-er—while they may not have a traditional degree, they may have invaluable real-world experience.)
Companies are eager to connect with Generation Z, who will make up 40 percent of American consumers by 2020. However, Gen Z isn’t as brand loyal as previous generations. Because they can easily research companies online and find customer reviews on nearly anything, they have access to more authentic information than previous generations. They rely on social media friends, instead of traditional advertising, to help them find products. Gen Z prefers open, unfiltered, two-way interactions with companies and saves their devotion for companies that are transparent and authentic.
Equality is Non-Negotiable
Many members of Generation Z grew up during the Obama years, and as such equality and diversity are important issues for them (just as they were during Obama’s presidency). In a study, 72% of Gen Z members said racial equality is the most important issue today, while 64% said gender equality and 48% said sexual orientation equality were the most important.
More than one third (36%) of Gen Z members in another survey said equality is the most important cause they want their employers to support. And 60% said they’d support companies that take a stand on human rights, race, and sexual orientation.
It may be tempting to lump Gen Z with millennials because they’re both diverse and digitally-savvy generations. But there are a few key ways in which millennials and Gen Z are very different.
First of all, most millennials were raised by baby boomers, while most Gen Zers are the children of Gen-X parents. Secondly, their coming of age experiences were drastically different. For millennials, childhood was defined by experiencing the terrorist attacks on the morning of September 11, 2001. More than half (55%) of millennials say they were emotionally impacted by the day. Some demographers theorize witnessing the tragic event made millennials more cautious, closer to their parents, and more likely to shelter their own children later. Even the oldest members of Gen Z are too young to remember September 11, 2001. Eventually, demographers may look back and see the Parkland High School shooting and “Me Too” as pivotal events for them as it has inspired organized marches and school walkouts among high school students across the country.
Relationships with technology vary a great deal between these two generations as well. Millennials were digital pioneers. They grew up with dial-up internet and landlines and later adapted to smartphones. Gen Zers are digital natives who’ve always had mobile devices and Wi-Fi. Both generations are tech savvy and comfortable multitasking on various devices. However, Gen Zers may have learned from mistakes made by older digital pioneers.
For instance, while a majority of millennials favor Facebook, Gen Z is increasingly using Snapchat and Instagram as their favorite social apps because it offers them more control over sharing. Snapchat and Instagram Stories allow users to share photos or messages with only a discrete group of friends for a short time before the data disappears forever.
Gen Z in the Workplace
Because they grew up during a recession, Gen Zers may be more motivated by financial stability and job security than previous generations. A number of studies and surveys show that members of all generations have similar values at work. For instance, workers universally appreciate good pay and benefits. However, Generation Z seems to put more value on mentorship than previous generations. In one survey, 33% of them said mentorship was the most important benefit a company could offer. Nearly one third (29%) said the factor that would keep them in a job for more than three years was an empowering work culture, while 28% most valued career growth opportunities.
Generation Z may be especially entrepreneurial. In a 2017 Gallup poll, 39% of students said they plan to start their own business someday, and 9% said they already own a business.
No matter where they decide to work, Generation Z seems particularly eager to succeed. In a Berkeley study, 53% of Generation Z members valued success as the most important thing in life, compared to 46% of millennials, 35% of Generation X, and 31% of baby boomers. In another survey, the majority of Gen Zers (88%) said they’d be willing to relocate for the right career opportunity.
Ironically, the generation who came of age during the era of texting may prefer face-to-face communication in the workplace. In a survey, 72% of Generation Zers said they prefer in-person communication to instant messaging or video conferencing.
Welcome, Generation Z!
Pew Research Center, a nonpartisan fact tank that conducts generational research, cautions against using generational research to oversimplify differences between groups. Instead, they say it’s best to view generations as “a lens through which to understand societal change.”
As we welcome Generation Z to the American workplace this year, we’ll continue to learn more about them. Early glimpses suggest this diverse and digitally savvy generation may bring big changes to the workplace in the coming years.