Not only are Millennials the largest generation, over 80 million strong, but they have a large voice. What I mean is, we have large social networks that we are not afraid to leverage. We’re connected through social media and know how to use it to be heard.
This online public attention Millennials are so adept at grabbing has certainly been known to bite back. It’s easy to laugh and shake your head when you see headlines like “10 people who learned social media can get you fired.” Anyone surprised that the majority of the 10 listed are Millennials? I didn’t think so.
Online profiles make it easy for employers to check someone out before making a hire, and it may even affect Millennials’ ability to qualify for loans. With all this in mind, it seems that the comfort level Gen Y has for sharing may be hurting them more than anyone else.
But this isn’t just about Gen Y; it’s about you too. If Gen Y is talking to you or about you, it can have a lot of influence over how your company or brand is perceived–and how you respond is important.
Millennials are online interacting with your company, possibly looking for customer support. If they aren’t getting support, they’re talking about it. Still, social brands ignore 70% of customer complaints. Your company is online whether you’re participating in the conversation or not. If you want to have any control over that conversation, you need to be online and responsive. If Millennials have a problem, they know how to be heard publicly and can affect the reputation of your brand.
It’s not all bad news. Companies and brands can capitalize on the connectivity of the Millennials and use it to their advantage too.
I recently joined a group of Millennials for the Theoroi Arts Ambassador program which is a project of The Schubert Club, a nonprofit arts organization that supports the art of music through performance and education. The young arts ambassadors attend cultural events as a group and are asked to talk about them on their social networks with each other and anyone else. The purpose of the program is to get younger audiences interested in the arts, attending events and supporting arts in the community. There are only 25 members of the group, but if each member has even 100 people in their social media network (and most probably have many more) the small group of ambassadors can easily reach 2500 people who trust their opinions; and that’s just online.
Whether it’s getting people fired or sending a viral message, social media is a powerful tool that Millennials are comfortable using to share their ideas with the world. Social media savviness combined with being the largest generation in history gives Gen Y a lot of power; it also gives your company a lot of opportunities to reach and connect with the next generation.
In many ways, it’s symbolic that Generation Z is named after the last letter in the alphabet because their arrival marks the end of clearly defined roles, traditions, and experiences. After all, Gen Z is coming of age on the heels of what has been referred to as the most disruptive decade of the last century. America has become an increasingly changing and complex place.
Members of this generation have undoubtedly been shaped by crisis and disruption. This generation will largely be responsible for confronting the aftermath of the Great Recession, high youth unemployment, the effects of climate change, terrorism, energy sustainability, and more. These dark events have undoubtedly made this generation more cautious and pragmatic, but they have also provided this generation with the inspiration to change the world – and their grit will likely allow them to do it.
Coming of age during disruption means that most Zs will be comfortable being the disruptors. While Millennials tend to be collaborative and innovative, this generation tends to be sincere, reflective, thick-skinned, and self-directed, and will likely approach work in much the same way.
In the era following World War II, Boomers (1946-1964) were born and eventually became the wealthiest, most prosperous generation in history. Raised to aspire for the American Dream, this very large generation moved into positions of power and influence, and served as the workforce majority for 34 years.
With the American Dream alive and well, Boomers had no reason to teach their children, mostly Millennials, about competition. Instead, they taught them to focus on academic achievement and to be team players because if everyone works hard, everyone can win.
Enter Generation X (1965-1981). In contrast Boomers, Xers came of age during a time when change and economic and political uncertainty began to take root. They have lived through four recessions, struggled with debt and economic decline most of their lives, and watched the best educated and accomplished generation of all time (Millennials) graduate during the Great Recession and become the most debt-ridden generation in history.
Gen Xers can be defined by their independence and anti-status quo approach to life, and they have taught their Gen Z children to be competitive, believing only the best can win. They have encouraged their children to be realists, finding something they are good at and aggressively pursuing it.
Xers have raised their Zs with an intense focus on competitiveness -- in academics, sports, and other activities. This approach to parenting has many implications, but one stands out in terms of business: Gen Z is likely to lead.
Millennials in the workplace created and aggressively advocated for collaborative work environments. In fact, their aversion to leadership has been so strong, some Millennials sought out companies that boasted boss-free or team-managed workplaces.
In contrast, Zs have been raised with an individualistic, realistic, and competitive nature. They have been taught the skills to successfully defy the norm. This means we’re going to see the pendulum shift away from collaborative workplaces towards a widespread demand for, and pursuit of, leadership development.
While Millennials have been criticized for their “delayed adulthood”, Gen Z is showing signs of “early adulthood”. Educators and parents often describe this generation as being more serious and contemplative about the world. Zs are thinking about their career paths and exposing themselves to career training at an earlier age than Millennials. It’s probable that some of this early onset of adulthood is caused by parents, who are pressuring their children to be competitive and successful and to avoid the debt that plagued both the Gen Xers and Millennials.
The numbers from our global research found 46% of Gen Z said they know what career to pursue and 51% have taken a class at school focused on their career interests. Forty percent joined an extracurricular program (team, club) based on their career interests.
Zs have been shaped by the aftermath of the Great Recession. They watched Millennials become debt-ridden and are concerned about falling into the same trap. XYZ University’s survey results show 66% of Zs said financial stability is more important than doing work they enjoy, which is the exact opposite of Millennial survey results. Also, 71% of survey-takers have a paying job.
When presented a list of leadership traits, Zs ranked positive and trustworthy the highest. While Millennials and Gen Zs both value trust in a leader, Millennials usually cite collaboration and vision as most important. In other words, Millennials focus on the outcomes leaders inspire, whereas Zs are more likely to consider leaders’ attitudes and personalities. To Z, what leaders encourage others to do isn’t as valuable as how they make them feel.
Both Millennials and Gen Zs place a very high value on feeling challenged and appreciated in the workplace. However, according to our survey results Millennials rank appreciation slightly higher than challenge, whereas Zs rank feeling challenged slightly higher than appreciation.
Time will tell how Zs go down in history, but we know this generation’s influence on history will be unlike any other.
Does your organization have what it takes to engage the next generation? Take this quiz to find out.
Sarah Sladek is CEO of XYZ University. Our generational intelligence can assist you with engaging and retaining young talent and members.
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