Digital natives, anxious, money-conscious. Private, diversity-oriented, crisis-aware.
These are all words that could describe Generation Z, also known as Gen Z, iGen or Homelanders, born after 1997, according to the Pew Research Center.
While much of this blog is dedicated to Generation Y, aka Millennials, (born between 1981-96), the conversation in work culture, Human Resources and Management circles has become increasingly about Gen Z as well. Which makes sense when you consider that members of this generational cohort are entering the job market, bringing with them their own distinct values, traits, preferences and fears.
But beyond a fresh presence to consider in the educational and professional context, who are Gen Z, really?
One answer for those of us who are parents, teachers, recruiters and managers, is that Gen Z are today’s teens, students and young adults. In other words… individuals preparing for, or beginning the journey of life beyond the boundaries of school, and navigating the countdown or entry into adult life. Unlike Millennials, Gen Z do not remember a world without the internet and are dependent on their smart devices to be able to feel safe and capable of navigating their world.
The longer answer, according to veteran youth mentor and author Tim Elmore, is that they are young people whose characteristics include:
- Chronic sleeplessness
- Raised anxiety and depression
- Poorer memories
- Diminished attention spans
- Increased impulsive behaviour
And who could blame them? They have been born into a world facing a multitude of escalating global crises, from climate change to international acts of terrorism, all while the relentless 24/7 cycle of social media distracts, confuses and undermines their mental health and self-esteem.
They’ve also watched Millennials struggle with debt and unemployment and are far less willing to take on student loans – even if it means bypassing university studies, and unlike Gen Y, Gen Z are hiding, not sharing information, in the form of short-lived Snapchat posts and carefully curated, fake Instagram or ‘finsta’ accounts.
Gen Z are also more individualistic and guarded than their team-loving, collaboration-friendly Millennial predecessors. The open-plan Gen Y offices don’t suit Gen Z – they want their own, clearly delineated work areas with effective boundaries for privacy.
But similar to Millennials, their ease with technology means they are at home multitasking on several devices at once (although their person-to-person communication skills are definitely in need of a boost).
Nevertheless, like the optimistically disruptive Gen Y, Generation Z are also entrepreneurial and want to play a role in tackling the problems threatening to overwhelm the planet (environmental activist Greta Thunberg is a member of Gen Z). And they’re hungry for mentoring and supportive leadership from adults – whether at school, college (if they take the financial decision to attend) or in the workplace.
Keeping Gen Z engaged, motivated and on track as parents, educators and employers is therefore a considerable puzzle and challenge… but one definitely worth tackling as these talented young people step into the picture.
Ultimately, on their young shoulders rests the fate of our species, and our survival in a future where much is changing rapidly and is unknown.
I will continue to explore Gen Z’s unique traits and perspective in future posts, but for now, I firmly believe it is our duty to support and not obstruct this generation in expressing their highest potential, and join with them to face the global challenges that have marked their coming of age.
Learn more about my teen mentoring services here.