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Generation Z

We Want Change: Why Our Activism Shouldn’t Surprise You

Generation Z was born into an era of disruption and escalating change and has tools to easily amplify messages and organize resources. We see Gen Z’s all over the world mobilizing and making their voices heard.

“We want change!” chanted Boca West High School Students as they walked out of school in solidarity with their fellow students. (Photo: WPTV)

In the aftermath of the horrific shooting at Marjory Douglas Stoneman High School, Gen Z’s all over the world are mobilizing and making our voice and opinions heard. We have been given a platform, and the world is starting to pay attention to what today’s youth are saying.

Born Into an Era of Disruption

We are synonymous with change. We are synonymous with disruption. Because that’s the world we were born into: technological advancements, terrorism, climate change, recessions, and mass shootings. We see how things were done in the past and the results, and we firmly believe that we can put our heads together and become the generation that cleans up the mess.

Without question, one of the key things that shapes Gen Z is school shootings. Sandy Hook and Parkland, among many others, are major historical events for us. I was 10 years old when Sandy Hook happened. And in these times of crises, when the country seems as divided as ever, we shake our heads at the adults running things and are NOW taking our turn to make change. “We are going to make change and we need him to do that. I'm here for those who can't be here because I know if they were, if they could, they would be,” comments Sam Zeif, a survivor of the Parkland shooting, during an interview on the message he wanted to share at a listening session at the White House.

Digitally Connected Activists

We are digitally savvy and have access to platforms that can reach millions instantaneously, like Twitter, YouTube, and Snapchat, that no generation before us had at their age. We have the ability to make the world listen to what we have to say! And we are using, and will continue to use, those tools and platforms to our advantage. Conversations about moving the legal voting age to 16 have arose. Marches, lie-ins, and walkouts have been organized by teens and young adults.

A Generation of Heroez

We are a generation filled with social justice warriors, civic leaders, and changemakers. Past crises and current events shape us. Digital platforms amplify our messages. Pop culture hero storylines surround us. Taken together forms a “heroez” mentality for many in my generation. And like the young adults and teens of the ‘60s and early ‘70s protesting the Vietnam War and fighting for civil rights, women’s rights, and environmental protections, we are going to leave our mark on this world. Just watch.

Download our white paper on Generation Z, Ready or Not, Here Comes Z, for key findings from our global survey, further analysis on what shaped this generation, and the six characteristics that define their different strengths, values, and attitudes.

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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