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Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Generation Z but Didn't Know to Ask

May 4, 2015

It seems like just a few months ago, everyone was talking about Millennials. In fact, I heard a speaker at a CSR conference in January state flatly that "Millennials Rule, Period!" Now, everyone seems to be talking about Generation Z. Who are they and why should we care?

It turns out that I know a lot more about Generation Z than I thought. With a 16 year-old daughter at home and a steady stream of teenagers in and out of our apartment, I've spent a lot more time with this new generation than some of their older counterparts. Generation Zers were born in the mid-90s to early '00s, and over the next few years they will be graduating from college and entering the workforce. In fact, right now Gen Zers make up about 7 percent of the workforce (mostly part-time), but by 2019 it is estimated that more than 30 million will be employed.

And, experts think they are different from Millennials.

According to a recent profile in The New York Times [March 28, 2015], Generation Zers are more independent than their older siblings. A 2015 Census Bureau report found that nearly a third of Millennials are still living with their parents, but Gen Zers are growing up in a healthier economy and appear eager to be cut loose. They don't wait for their parents to teach them things or tell them how to make decisions, and thanks to social media, they are used to engaging with friends all over the world, so they are well prepared for a global business environment.

Business Insider [February 12, 2015] describes some Gen Z habits:

  • They want everything, everywhere and immediately. They surf on two screens simultaneously. They get all the latest trends from social media and find the morals of their elders out-of-date. They find it easier to talk online than in person. Their friends on social media are as important to them as their friends in real life. They spend more than three hours a day in front of a screen, live in constant fear of missing out ("FOMO"), and can't stand the idea of not being in the loop when something new and exciting comes along. They want to start their own companies - between 50 and 72 percent say they want to run their own start-ups. They believe that success comes from their "network" rather than from qualifications, and they prefer flat organizations to a hierarchy at work.

Advertising Age [January 21, 2015] notes the following attributes of Gen Z:

  • Gen Zers are the least likely to believe there is such a thing as the "American Dream." They look for products and messaging that reflect a reality rather than a perfect life. They respond to independence and entrepreneurism, self-direction and a spirit of ingenuity. But, they are also a generation of customer service - such as the Apple Genius Bar - to solve problems at any moment. They design their own, unconventional paths, yet they anticipate consistent success (and hand holding) along the way. They are highly educated, technologically savvy, innovative thinkers. They look for solutions on their own. They set out to make things their own.

The Chronicle of Philanthropy [April 2015] calls Generation Zers "savvy, bold and eager to do good." "Generation Z appears even more charitable than the Millennials," says Aria Finger of "When you talk to them both about what they care about and their future career aspirations, they track even higher than Millennials in wanting to make sure there is purpose in their future and wanting to make sure their lives are about giving back in some capacity."

Consider these statistics from a recent Deep Focus survey of people ages 7 to 17:

  • 20% want to start a charity in their lifetime
  • 49% volunteer at least once a month
  • 32% have donated their own money
  • 26% have raised money for a cause or charity
  • 39% consider giving time and money to charity a "measure of success"

"With their ready access to information, they can form their own opinions," says Jamie Gutfrued, chief marketing officer at Deep Focus. "This means when it comes to philanthropy, kids of this generation want brands and institutions to talk to them directly. They want a seat at the table as independent thinkers with their own perspectives. They are more sophisticated in that way than earlier generations."

Getting Gen Zers connected to a cause requires creativity, transparency and a willingness to listen. The Chronicle suggests the following ways to rally Gen Zers to a cause:

  • Tap youthful creative energy. Ask them for their own designs and ideas.
  • Don't sugarcoat. Give them facts. Don't treat them as naïve.
  • Communicate in microbursts. Hit them frequently and limit the text they have to read.
  • Be transparent. Gen Zers will see through attempts to confuse or obfuscate.
  • Ditch gender stereotypes. Self identity is less about gender than past generations.
  • Use good design. Good design will influence how they see your organization or cause.

We'll be hearing much more about Generation Z in the coming years, but the above should be good fodder for CSR professionals, business leaders and nonprofits to consider now. If you have a question or comment, follow me on Twitter at @timmcclimon and let's connect there.

In two weeks: What's in Store for Generation Z in the Workplace


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