Gen Z

We’ve all had multiple opportunities to hear about the Generation Gap, the Veterans, Boomers, Gen X and Gen Y.  And if you are gritting your teeth over the characteristics of the Gen Y workforce, just wait till you hear about Gen Z, born between 1994 and 2004.  They are already in our workplace to the tune of 1.6 million of them.  This makes five – not four – generations trying to co-exist in your organization.  The 2009 workforce, as reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (pictured below) gives us a feeling for the number of workers in each generation:

Gen Z is growing up in an environment where technology is ubiquitous, materialism is rampant and “happiness” is the ultimate goal.  It’s a world where many schools no longer have and “F” for fail, preferring the less confrontational “E” for effort.  22% of children today under the age of 15 are in single parent households compared to just 14% in 1986-1988.  Kids are taught “stranger danger” in school and parents preach the dangers of going out and about in the world alone and unprotected.  Due to their being overstretched, guilty about working outside the home, and their lack of time to be with their kids, many of these parents are responding with over-protectiveness, overindulgence, and permissiveness.

British psychologist, Dr. Aric Sigman, labels the western Gen Z as “little emperors” and by demographer Hugh Mackay to be the “most rebellious and obnoxious group of teenagers ever”.  The mantra for this generation is predicted to be “I don’t want to and you can’t make me”.  Dr. Sigman argues  that the overwhelming promotion of self-esteem and “positive psychology” has created a generation where the tenants are “gold stars for everybody, always praise, never criticize, never talk about failure.  It has parents confused, scared to punish kids, believing it will be counterproductive – even harmful – and preventing their children from expressing themselves”.  Mackay believes that Gen X and Y overprotective parents have spent so much time focusing on boosting their child’s self esteem, that the result is a generation much less equipped to cope with the inevitable failures and disappointments in life.

For these and other reasons, too many to cover in a short article or blog, the predicted characteristics for Gen Z include:

  • Materialistic, demanding and short tempered, feelings of entitlement  and instant gratification.
  • Acquired ADD – shorter attention spans – with a constant need for attention.
  • Not attaching value to education or professional careers, but rather to intelligence and self acquired knowledge and technology.
  • Smarter and tech-savvy, highly dependent on technology
  • Individualistic vs. team players
  • Poor interpersonal skills, verbal communication and self-confidence EXCEPT when on the Internet.
  • Redefining face-to-face via Facebook, Skype, Facetime, etc.
  • Capable of making huge communities online and massive collaborations without actually meeting anyone.
  • Privacy may become a core value and they may consider living or working along-side others as an intrusion into their personal space.

My advice:  employers should start preparing themselves to juggle the many different generational quirks.  Learn as much as they can about generational values and motivational methods.  And maybe get some stress management training to go along with their headache and ulcer medication!

Pat Beck, SPHR, CLU, ChFC