As if the end of the alphabet signified a turning point in evolution, Generation Z is transcending the Darwinian model and taking things into their own hands. That’s not to say they’re in control, though. The little glowing devices that are glued to their palms are now running the show.
Throughout most of history, humans have been severely limited by their biology. It’s been a game of playing the cards you’re dealt, shutting up and putting up, keeping calm and carrying on.
But today, this couldn’t be more untrue. Hooked up to a world of opportunities and a wealth of information from day one, Generation Z is the world’s first generation without limits. For Gen Z, also known as iGeneration or Post-Millenials, things like where you’re from, your social status, and how intelligent you are — things that used to be concrete and were largely predetermined — are just another set of variables that can be changed, like their gender and identity.
This shift from fixed to dynamic, scarcity to abundance, is pivotal to understanding digital natives. And as you’ll see, it underpins many of the ways in which they’ll affect the workplace — whether as customers, colleagues, or managers.
From changing communication styles to their doomsday fascination, here are three characteristics of Gen Z that you need to consider if you’re to harness their power and influence in your business.
Growing up with smartphone in hand and a world of information and entertainment at your fingertips is sure to have an effect on how you act, particularly with other people.
For one, with social media and internet news feeds being designed for rapid-fire consumption, teens today prefer to communicate in shorter, more frequent bursts of information. This is one reason why, instead of picking up the phone or sitting down and having one single conversation, they’re much more likely to turn to social media or messenger apps and engage in several open-ended, informal chats.
But that doesn’t mean they’re not demanding. With a personal assistant in their pockets who they can ask for anything they want, expectations are through the roof. They have access to world’s answers, so you should too. And so anything less than an immediate response is seen as not good enough — especially if they’re forced to think through the problem themselves. In this way, Gen-Z value speed over accuracy, and would take a soundbite or tweet in place of an in-depth, critical review any day. This is, after all, the only way they can fulfil their constant craving for novel and stimulating information.
Gen-Z’s fascination with the apocalypse is not merely a media trend that’s caught on — some experts even go as far as saying it’s a defining characteristic of their generation.
For their entire lives, Gen-Z has been bombarded by current and impending dangers of global warming, been to subject to regular terror alerts and attacks, sat back and watched natural disasters strike the world, and, not least, witnessed their parents weathering the recent economic crisis.
While some view all the doomsday doom and gloom negatively, others celebrate it and embrace it as a part of their lives — they’re films, TV series, games, books, and bands all dedicated to the theme. However they reconcile it, there’s no denying Gen-Z is facing hard questions about the world and what it means to be a part of it.
For businesses, this means they have little time to sit around and discuss trivialities. Whether it’s the melting ice caps or the emerging gender debate, there are much more important topics to discuss and things they could be doing. Even if that means enjoying every moment while they can.
As was the case with mums and dads of Gen X, the overriding desire of parents today is to raise children with bags of confidence and high self-esteem. Combined with the power and independence gained from mobile technology, this has left Gen-Z with a very special sense of entitlement.
On the one hand, they may have the resources and support to make their way in life. But on the other, they want to be completely free and independent to do what they want. Whereas previous generations were bound by having to rely on others, particularly for education and employment, members of Gen-Z know they can access information and make money from wherever and whenever they want.
This freedom makes them more self-directed than any other generation, and therefore much more demanding of flexibility in the workplace. Gen-Z has very little interest in being 9-5 desk jockeys, seeing themselves more as permanent freelancers. For instance, studies show 69% of Generation Z would rather have their own workspace than share it with someone else. So whether you are to employ members of Gen-Z or target them as your audience, it bears noting that they’re no longer going to put up with rigid, corporate structures and fixed, defined roles.
Whether it’s their laziness or short attention spans, Gen-Z gets a lot of negative press. Less talked about is the perspectives, skills, and influence they have to offer businesses today. Take on board these points and make sure you harness the unique characteristics of a generation that have never known anything other than a fully digital world.
Joseph Pennington is a freelance writer and long-term traveller from the North of England. Find him on Medium exploring remote working, technology, spirituality, meditation, and everything in between.