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Generation Z

Ready or Not, Here We Come

A global survey of Gen Zs uncovers insights about how this new generation is going to shake up the way we work, learn, and communicate.

Ready or not, here we come.

We are Generation Z. And we are about to shake up the way the world works in almost every way imaginable.

Generation Z, according to the U.S. Department of Education, has an estimated 57 million members and is larger than Gen Xers by an estimated 9 million people. We are starting to enter the workforce in huge numbers, and organizations need to understand this demographic to be ready for us to enter the workplace --for the next 14 years. Are you ready to recruit and retain Generation Z?

XYZ University surveyed 1,801 Gen Zs globally to uncover insights about how this new generation is going to shake up the way we work, learn, and communicate. Here are a few key insights into Gen Z.

Gen Zs are interactive learners.

55% said they prefer to learn new skills by doing. 7% prefer to learn by listening. Professionals across all businesses and industries, take note. From how we educate to how we engage employees or plan events, this is a key insight. Traditional methods of education and onboarding will not work with us. People, especially in education, should be thinking of more effective ways to engage us as students and new employees. Due to the hyperconnected world around us, we acquire knowledge very quickly, and prefer to learn in interactive or visual ways. Remember, YouTube teaches us a lot.

However, 38% of respondents said they prefer to learn online. In order to appeal to Gen Z, organizations need to understand that the technological aspect of learning is something that needs to be embraced, not rejected.

Gen Z is career-focused.

Millennials are often criticized for their unwillingness to enter the workforce in traditional ways. Gen Z is the opposite. We understand we need to work hard to be successful and that we may have to compete with our peers to work our way up a corporate ladder. We are very realistic and many of us know from an early age what career we want to pursue. 21% already have a job in their career of interest, and 48% know what career they want to pursue. Only 3% of Gen Z said they haven’t thought about their career yet.

We are also fortunate to have access to more opportunities. We are participating in extracurricular activities based on our career interest (40% of respondents). Organizations like DECA and Junior Achievement give students the opportunity to learn more about business in an extracurricular setting. Zers are also taking classes at school focused on our career interest (51%).

The biggest influencers of these career interests are parents and teachers. 55% of Gen Z said their parents were the primary influencer of career decisions, and teachers came in second at 33%.

Generation Z prefers face-to-face communication.

Yes, it may seem that Gen Zs might be glued to their laptops and mobile phones, updating our Snapchat streaks or watching the latest YouTube videos. But contrary to popular belief, 43% of Gen Z prefers to be communicated with face-to-face. Text comes in second at 24%.

However, there is a fine line. The challenge for managers, teachers, and anyone else who leads meetings and delivers lectures is to create content more engaging and more valuable than what we can get on our phones. Nothing keeps us off our phones as much as an intriguing conversation. The reason we seem to be on our phone so much is that the content on it is often more exciting and valuable than the surrounding environment. However, when we communicate about something that matters to us, we seek authenticity and honesty. This is best achieved in-person.

Knowing these three insights that Gen Z are interactive learners, are career-focused, and prefer face-to-face communication will help shape how organizations recruit and retain this talent pool. Content and interaction needs to be engaging and valuable. For certain fields, like education, this may require major shifts in thinking. Leaders, bosses, and supervisors better be ready when Gen Z lands at their doorstep to engage and develop Gen Z as they are driven and career-focused.

Get the entire white paper findings in “Ready or Not --Here Comes Z” which also includes workplace shifts likely to occur and tips on what your organization should be doing to prepare for Gen Zs arrival into the workforce.

Miller is XYZ University’s director of Gen Z Studies. Tune into his The Gen Z Podcast launching in February.

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.

Josh Miller

Josh Miller is a passionate and informed advocate for his generation—Gen Z. He started speaking on national stages at the age of 13. Now, at the age of 16, he’s an award-winning entrepreneur and thought-leader who has met and been mentored by several notable business leaders. Miller brings considerable research and insight to his presentations, drawing on his experiences as both a high school student and a young consultant to Fortune 500 companies. His presentations resonate with audiences that want to learn how to engage today’s students and young professionals, and glean valuable insights into future workforce trends.

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