Throughout my generation-focused career, I have faced much critcism and cynicism regarding the power and influence of Generations X and Y. Most recently, I was questioned about the influence younger generations would have on the election.Some (who happened to be Baby Boomers) dismissed my statistics about rising registration rates and volunteer participation in the presidential campaign, saying that younger voters may be doing all the right things, but probably weren't going to actually show up at the polls and have their votes counted on Election Day.
The media didn't help put the stereotypes to rest. Shortly before the Election, the Kansas City Star ran an article titled, 'Young voters could turn election, but will they turn out?' Gallup Daily ran a similar article: 'Young voters favor Obama, but how many will vote?'Just as I expected, young voters dispelled the notion of an apathetic generation and proved the pundits, reporters, political parties, and other naysayers wrong by voting in record numbers.How dare you call us too lazy to vote! Too egocentric to care about America's future!This is the problem with America today. The older generations don't trust, believe in, or want to acknowledge the presence–much less the power–of younger generations. Perhaps it's always been this way, but the neglect of younger generations today is likely to have far worse outcomes than any other time in history.Why? Because in just two years 40% of our workforce will be eligible to retire, making it difficult if not impossible to continue to compete in a global economy. America must engage younger generations now and take succession planning very seriously.Generations X and Y are not invisible or irresponsible. We are not the young whipper-snappers to be managed. We are the future majority — and that's a role we take very seriously.Like it or not, Generations X and Y are shaping our country's future.Perhaps Rock the Vote stated it best in the press release announcing 'Young Voters Make History':
'For 18 years Rock the Vote has promised that young people would reward elected officials and candidates for public office with their support on Election Day if they were reached out to in a sustained, substantive and authentic way.President-elect Obama did precisely that and more. He responded to the concerns and questions that they have. He found them on the Internet, engaged them through text messaging and technology, and devoted resources and time to earn their trust.This is a transformative moment. Research shows that once people register and vote for the first time, they become active members of the electorate for the rest of their lives. The same people who elected President-elect Obama will now ensure that he has the support to make the real changes so many of us have been calling for. And in the future public officials who overlook them as a bloc will do so at their own peril.'
In other words, young voters saw this election as their chance to help make history.And we did.
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.
Looking for a game changer at your next event or a strategy unique to your organization?