The first members of Generation Z will be graduating from college in a few years, and market researchers and trend forecasters are clamoring to tap into their psyches. Will this latest crop of youngsters reshape how we do business tomorrow? We put two generational experts -- Scott Hess, EVP of human intelligence at Spark, and Jake Katz, VP of audience insights and strategy at Revolt TV -- in the hot seat.
Gen Z hasn’t yet flooded the workforce. Isn’t it a little early to start worrying about them?
Katz: I’d rather be early than late. Generations tend to be innovative as they’re younger and then grow more similar as they get older. That’s a mistake folks made when talking about millennials. Employers thought the world would change, but there are always more similarities between generations at the same age than there are differences. Once people apply a generational moniker, though, it’s so common to treat millennials or Generation Z like a unique species.
Hess: When managers call millennials lazy and entitled, they’re most likely referring to the life stage of teens and young adults. Time magazine ran a cover story about millennials called the “Me Me Me Generation.” But 20 years before that, Fortune had a cover story about why boomers hate busters [what they were calling Gen Xers at the time]. Every 20 years, the generation with power and comfort hates the young generation.
Katz: Gen Z has been shaped by the recession. They watched their parents get screwed. Millennials love the gig economy, but our research shows Gen Z doesn’t want any part of that. They want steady paychecks. They’re thinking about college very early on in high school, and they’re not viewing it as an experience but as an investment. Gen Z is much more pragmatic and a lot more prepared, and that worldview isn’t something they’re likely to outgrow as they start their careers.
Hess: They’ve also been shaped by the personalization of media -- Gen Z can stream any song, watch any episode at any time. It’s an expectation that travels with them outside of media. They expect to be more networked all the time, they expect to be able to customize things exactly to their preferences. That’s intrinsic to Gen Z and will extend into the workplace.
Katz: When we asked Gen Z what makes their generation different, they said they were both more accepting and more rebellious. For millennials, rebellion was totally absent in their youth culture; they had a very shiny outlook. Gen Z is pissed about the system they’re inheriting. Rebellion is back.
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