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Generation Y

Why Gen Y Isn't Interested In Advocacy

In our last post on advocacy in associations, we discussed the challenges you face. We were surprised that “Engaging the younger generation in the process” came in as low as number four in our 2012 Advocacy in Associations Survey. So now, in this post of the series, let’s talk specifically about advocacy and Gen Y.

This is the fourth in a series of blog posts around the topic of “Advocacy and Associations” that XYZ University will publish during the month of November.

In our last post on advocacy in associations, we discussed the challenges you face. We were surprised that “Engaging the younger generation in the process” came in as low as number four in our 2012 Advocacy in Associations Survey. So now, in this post of the series, let’s talk specifically about advocacy and Gen Y.

Despite the fact that only 40.9% of survey respondents thought engaging the younger generation was a major challenge, nearly 83% of associations are “very concerned” about the lack of participation or interest of younger members (under the age of 40).

Well, you should be concerned.

Younger generations aren’t getting involved as a whole—and their disinterest in advocacy can hardly come as a surprise considering that they are generally disdainful and cynical about politics.

Raised on cable television, Gen Y, has seen political leaders suffer through public scandals like Clinton’s Monica Lewinsky debacle, lies and failure to deliver on promises. Today, much of Gen Y gets its news from shows like The Daily Show and The Colbert Report, which poke fun of the political process and call out corruption wherever possible.

It is not surprising that Gen X and Y are not lining up to get involved themselves.

Besides, it’s slow and confusing.

The results of your association’s advocacy efforts take years to demonstrate and a lot of patience, but Millennials expect things to happen quickly. They grew up with technology that makes things happen fast—they can microwave a dinner in under five minutes, most won’t wait more than a second for a Web page to load before moving on in frustration and let’s not forget about text messaging and Face Time.

Political engagement continues to drop for younger generations, but it’s not all bad news.

The number of people between the ages of 18-29 who claimed to be following election news closely in 2012 vs 2008 plunged by 50% according to PEW research. Millennials have become less engaged in politics than they were just four years ago. And this loss of interest comes at a time when unemployment and higher education issues continue to be hot button issues, things Gen Y has a vested interest in.Despite low engagement numbers, the number of Millennials who actually got out to vote on November 6 remained close to the numbers from 2008–a good sign. Perhaps there is hope for getting Gen Y involved in the political process after all.

If advocacy is something that Gen Y takes for granted, then maybe when it stops, they will realize the error in their thinking and get involved. Not to be involved in the conversation, working collaboratively with an organization, maybe even government, goes against Gen Y values. And maybe this is a good sign. Gen Y wants to be listened to and taken seriously, perhaps they just don’t yet realize that association advocacy efforts are a way to do that. Or maybe association advocacy methods are not the best way for them to be involved at all.

One thing’s for sure, Baby Boomers cannot continue to shoulder this load for an entire country. Something needs to change and be done so that Gen Y’s voice is heard in government. Perhaps that means working harder and smarter to get the younger generations interested in buying into the current way of doing things, or maybe it means that the entire system needs to change.


A special thank you to Shannon Neeser, contributing researcher and Melissa Harrison, design, for their work on the 2012 Advocacy in Associations Survey report.

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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