Does it really matter what Gen Z are thinking and feeling right now?
We are told on a daily basis, as a collective, we are living through ‘unprecedented times’. There is no arguing with this fact, however, to Gen Z, aren’t most experiences unprecedented?
Each of us is categorized in a demographic cohort; those of us of a working-age range from Baby Boomers (1946-mid 60s), Generation X (mid 1960s-early 80s), Millennials (mid 1980s – late 90s) and of course Gen Z (late 1990s to 2012). Differentiating factors between the generations are determined by experiences, views, values, challenges and technological advancements – a broad-stroke explanation.
So who are Gen Z and why does it matter?
As a member of Generation X, my views differ enormously from that of my Gen Z son. From an early age, my learning was through repetition of what I was told. That is unless I wanted to spend time in the local library searching for alternative answers; time which could be better spent building dens, climbing trees and scrumping. I was raised in an educational belief system where a child is an empty vessel that needs to be filled with knowledge. Hence, as a child, I rarely questioned what I was told or taught. Gen Z, however, quite literally, has the world at their fingertips. They can gain knowledge within seconds. The abundance (and often quality) of knowledge encourages them to question this before determining an acceptable final answer. This is a double-edged sword, as the journey of discovery can be educational and enlightening or a rabbit hole of misinformed convictions.
Nevertheless, Gen Z is adroit at researching, information gathering and questioning. They are dispelling previous paradigms of thought process and behaviour by constructing their own. They’re not afraid to the world know their thoughts and ideals. Think Greta Thunberg and Malala Yousafzai, this is the power, commitment and conviction of Gen Z.
Digital technology is unavoidable now, even for the Baby Boomer generation who initially struggled with its introduction, and it is advancing at such a rate that even the Millennials have to make a concerted effort to keep up. Born into the digital age has made Gen Z adept at accepting and using technology which is continually evolving. This is their norm. My son, a perfect example, no longer asks me to ‘game’ with him. He can’t understand how “Just drive the car Mum” can 2 minutes later leave us at the bottom of the harbour, “Mum! You had one job!” I am amazed and in awe at his dexterity, ability to view a situation, calculate probabilities for outcome scenarios and take quick and decisive action. Bet he couldn’t make a carbon paper last a whole week though…
Gen Z seems to have innate confidence which previous generations lacked. Maybe because they have been given the latitude to think freely and independently, where previously, there was an expectancy to conform (- the “suitable fit” clause at job interviews). Their life and career paths are less certain or linear and yet they are self-assured in their eventual success. I don’t perceive this to be ‘arrogance of youth’ more a case of success will follow because they have the conviction and self-driven control to make it happen. They understand how to apply technology to optimise every aspect of their lives. They are able to marry creativity with analytical thinking. They are unafraid when exploring ideas with potential, even if they seem crazy to the rest of us. They use the idealism of youth, enterprising ingenuity and unimpeded minds to determine pragmatic solutions.
So, back to the worriers, warriors, or saviours question. In a worldwide survey* carried out at the end of April, the concerns for the future were lowest in Gen Z. They are looking after themselves much better - a more conscious collective median. Statistically, their generation is exercising, sleeping, meditating and focusing on personal development a whole 10% more in each category than the rest of us. This said, statistics prior to COVID show them as having higher stress levels and being more worried about the future as a whole. Perhaps they are proving themselves to being more resilient than they realise. Perhaps being “in the same storm” is the impetus required to ignite the imagination and creativity needed for innovation and a new macro perspective.
As a cohort, Gen Z is passionately fighting against environmental, socio-economic and equal rights issues on a global level. They are unwilling to tolerate injustice and demand transparency and authenticity from their leaders, within the workplace and beyond.
Maybe, Gen Z will be the Samurai saviours of the digital age, banishing their worries by applying the might of their warrior keyboards as swords for justice and all that is good?
It is how we, the other generations behave through this time which will determine how Gen Z remembers and responds to the COVID-19 period. They are holding us to account for what has passed and asking us to mitigate the repercussions of what is to come. The Baby Boomers, Gen X and Millennials have to be the reassuring and trustworthy hand that guides the next generation. It matters because they are the upcoming change-makers and leaders. Their thoughts and actions will determine tomorrow’s world.
Responsibility for the future lies with you, all of us. Our job is to empower Gen Z to ensure they rise to new and unprecedented heights.
*Survey by Kantar
Samurai: Literal translation – ‘those who serve’
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