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Generation Z

Getting To Know Gen Z

Don’t look now, but while we’ve all been busy trying to figure out Generation Y, the oldest members of Generation Z will soon walk out of their high school classrooms and into the workforce. The members of Generation Z were born in 1996, which means none of them remember a time before iPods or the Internet. They’re also old enough to buy your products and many (even those who aren’t graduating this year) are old enough to work for you.

Don’t look now, but while we’ve all been busy trying to figure out Generation Y, the oldest members of Generation Z will soon walk out of their high school classrooms and into the workforce. The members of Generation Z were born in 1996, which means none of them remember a time before iPods or the Internet. They’re also old enough to buy your products and many (even those who aren’t graduating this year) are old enough to work for you.

Gen Z has been shaped by a post 9/11 world  in which we’ve constantly been fighting a “War on Terror,” while struggling through dire economic times. Their circumstances have molded them into a generation with a sense of social justice and fiscal maturity who want things on demand.

Download the Research Paper on Gen Z

Gen Z is fiscally conservative

The oldest of Generation Z (the 14-17 year old crowd) are already going to work and saving the money they earn. That’s right, saving money. The oldest of Gen Z spent their formative years listening to bad news about the economy, watching parents lose jobs and siblings move home, which has taught them to do more with less.

Unlike their Gen Y and Gen X predecessors (the first generations comfortable with large amounts of debt) Gen Z is not interested in going into credit debt to have what they want now. They are much more patient and willing to compromise, holding off on the gratification until they can afford to buy what they want outright. And what do they want? College and retirement. They are already saving for college; some are already saving for retirement. Thirty percent of Gen Z is worried about their family’s financial situation.

Gen Z cares about social justice

Generation Z grew up hearing about global warming; they’re living in a time of color coded terror watches; they watched their parents lose jobs and possibly even their homes. Forty-three percent of kids aged 7-13 feel that school violence will have the largest impact on their generation.

Gen Z doesn’t have the optimism of Millennials, when they see these problems in the world, they feel the need to take action to fix them. Gen Z is a very realistic generation. Still, they are not pessimistic, only six percent of Gen Z is fearful of the future. Why is that? Because they have plans to make it better.

Gen Z : The Now Generation

Generation Z comes after the Internet and cell phone. They have lived their whole lives in an information age where they don’t need to wait for a response. The answers they want come to them immediately through smartphones, iPads and the like. Some are even calling Gen Z The Google Generation. They expect immediate feedback. They will text you before they’ll send you an email and wait for a response. Communication happens in real time with Gen Z. If they have an email address, chances are it was set up so they could communicate with their grandparents.

Gen Z trusts the digital world

Considering that many had digital footprints before they were even born, it’s no surprise that Gen Z trusts digital sources like social media and mobile messaging more than any generation before them. Marketers and recruiters pay attention: Gen Z is not going to find your ads in a mailer or brochure, but they’ll trust you if you’ve created a genuine online presence. If you want this fiscally conservative generation to help keep you in business or your association going, you’re going to need to get up to speed with the media they use and trust.

Gen Z might be a small generation compared to others, (currently about a quarter of the size of Gen Y), but their diversity, inherent ability to network worldwide and use tech tools for collaboration will give them a broad reach and a lot of influence. Expect changes.


Eager to learn more about Generation Z? Contact us today to see how we can bring your organization up to speed on Gen Z.

Zs came of age in an era of disruption

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.

For example:

  • ‍Zs were born into a “modern family era” in which highly involved dads help out at home, and the nuclear family model (two parents, married, with children) represent only 46% of American households.
  • ‍Zs are the first generation to be born into a world where everything physical, from people to places to pennies, has a digital equivalent.
  • From the time they were infants, Zs had access to mobile technology. As a result, their brains have been trained to absorb large amounts of information, and Zs are especially adept at shifting between skills and subject matter.
  • Zs tend to have crystal-clear memories of sitting up for the first time at six months old because they can easily and quickly reference the photos and videos their parents shared on social media or saved in the “cloud”. 

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.

Zs were raised to be competitive

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.

Zs are career-focused.

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 are seeking financial security. 

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.

Zs value leaders who are positive and trustworthy.

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.


Zs want to be challenged.

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.

Sarah Sladek

Concerned about declining engagement in our nation’s membership associations, non-profits, and workplaces, Sarah Sladek founded XYZ University, the nation’s first and only generations-focused training and engagement strategy company, in 2002.

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