What you need to understand about GenZ

Image credit: oneinchpunch — stock.adobe.com

(Editor’s note: A version of this post previously appeared on our blog at OrangeSV.com.)

While many of us are swimming in a pool of Boomers (31%), GenXers (32%), and Millennials (34%) right now, get ready: There are 69 million GenZers in school, and by 2025 they’ll be one-fifth of the U.S. labor force.

As part of Orange Fab’s upcoming event on GenZ our analysts are reading everything they can get their hands on about this cohort, and the literature is burgeoning — there are youth marketing experts, “generational research” agencies, even GenX+GenZ father-and-son teams. The prognostications are broad and unexpected: GenZ is already being credited with reviving Polaroids and record players, which may be a good thing as they are also described as “being on the brink of the worst mental-health crisis in decades.”

We’ll engage with GenZ through the lens of her behaviors and experiences, not her purchases or how much she spends. We strongly intuit that due to the accelerating rate of change in the global digital economy, those experiences are so markedly different that she will build cities, companies, and relationships that are truly new and responsive to that changing world.

GenZ as a learner

This is the first generation that from the beginning has grown up with a supercomputer in her pocket. That device takes many forms, and the primary method to watch video is via mobile (71% use daily, versus 52% on TV daily).

So what does that have to do with learning? The Center for Generational Kinetics reports that 85% of GenZ went online to find a video that could give them a skill in the past week. Millennials built and used Khan Academy, which started with one precocious video blogger and now offers complete curricula. In the AI-driven world of GenZ, YouTube EDU uses machine learning to automatically curate videos that teach something/anything and organizes it into thousands of channels: It has 10.2 million subscribers.

YouTube, SnapChat, Instagram, Siri, and Alexa all present information in frictionless, snackable formats. When surveyed about what skills she wants to acquire the most to succeed in the workforce, GenZ lists “public speaking” and “communication skills” as the top two. Connect the dots; with frictionless, rapid access to resources at their fingertips, GenZ wants to get right to the point, and appreciates others doing so.

But the information environment for GenZ is way more complex than even the fake news problem of social media — GenZ is the first generation to grow up with native advertising in a digital format. That means that for GenZ even sites like the NYTimes.com or CNN.com — so-called “premium content” sites — are carriers of content that may look like news but has been paid for by a brand deploying native advertising.

GenZ entering the Millennial workplace

The Generational Kinetics study is one of several that focus on GenZ’s attitudes about work, despite the fact that it is on the cusp of participation there, with the Future Workplace showing a dramatic shift from the current 1% participation to 19% by 2025.

To state the obvious, this limits actual observation of the GenZ workforce to attitudinal research — and more robustly, looking at Millennials currently in the workplace. Here, the literature is plentiful, and we note Deloitte’s longitudinal Millennial research (since 2014) based on 8,000 surveys, particularly focused on workplace attitudes and propensities.

Deloitte’s 2017 study shows Millennials growing more conservative about their own tenure at work, with significant shifts in intent to leave (down from 44% to 38% in next two years), and intent to stay at least five years (up 400 basis points to 31%).

One of the clear findings across both studies mentioned is that for employers, GenZ looks like it will double down on Millennial preferences for Fun and Flexibility. If your organization lacks these qualities now, your likeability will likely suffer more until these key parameters are fixed. Consider the following:

• Flexible is the new normal: Deloitte’s global Millennials report being able to choose when they start/stop work 69% of the time, and similar levels for choosing assignments (68%) and contractual arrangements (67%). That said, Deloitte punctures the stereotype of Millennial gigging, reporting 65% preference for full-time jobs.

• Fun and Learning, yes please: 47% of GCK’s GenZ’rs list “fun working environment” in top two factors for a job alongside “flexibility.” That said, showing the money is still meaningful, a 15% increase in compensation is more likely to get GenZ to switch jobs than it is for older cohorts.

• The Purpose/Flexibility Connection: Deloitte’s focus on flexible work arrangements dispels the idea that flexibility means lack of accountability — on the contrary. Millennials and (we can expect) GenZ strongly correlate Flexibility with positive social outcomes: 34% in flexible arrangements feel responsible for the “overall reputation of the company” vs just 21% in more rigid organizations.

• (Co-)Workplace-as-Funhouse carries implications not just for talent officers and operations/facilities management, but co-working operators as well. This massively scaling phenomenon we might call “WeWorkization” has seen the global population of people in co-working spaces zoom from 510,000 in 2015 to 1.18 million in 2017.

• Millennials feel positive about GenZ: Many Millennials entered the workforce in a global recession, and most have had to make their way amid negative stereotypes. (Richie Norton’s amazing Medium post titled “The 14 Most Destructive Millennial Myths Debunked by Data” is an excellent compendium.) Perhaps that experience is part of the reason Deloitte reports 61% of Millennials expect GenZ to have a positive impact on the workplace — though Deloitte cites IT skills, as well as creative thinking and new ideas.

GenZ will work (and live) with unprecedented automation

The first wave of GenZ was 17 years old when Professor Geoffrey Hinton et al crushed the Very Large Scale Image Recognition challenge using neural networks and GPUs in 2012, a watershed in the commercialization of AI and specifically machine learning. The resulting uncertainty about human employment is very real for GenZ — who will be 25 at a time when many predict autonomous vehicles will be commercially available (2020).

In the meantime, Amazon has stepped up warehouse automation, which it is extending to retail. Millennials are worried: 51% feel they will need to retrain their skills, and almost the same, 48% expect “significant use of automation/robotics/AI” in what Deloitte calls “Pax Robotica.”

GenZ will expect the payoff for them to be more options and greater flexibility in terms of work roles and challenges. While Millennials want challenging roles as well, there is a growing narrative within the business establishment that continued GDP growth will require automation. Making sure GenZ employees can thrive within this blended workplace will be critical for management.

Actually, given that 72% of GenZers in high school have gone on record as saying they want to start a company in their careers, they may be the ones to find the optimal mix of human and machine intelligence for themselves.

They are on their way. While many Boomers and GenXers feel that using voice commands in public looks stupid, GenZ has figured out that voice assistants inside their smartphones are highly effective: A recent survey shows 1 in 3 use these cutting-edge AI-powered voice search platforms on their phones.

GenZ as (financial) pragmatists

One of the areas surveyed by the Center for Generational Kinetics (CGK) is GenZ’s relationship to money. The results paint a portrait of GenZ as a diligent, hard-working cohort that has learned both positive and negative lessons from older Millennials. Findings included:

Early participation in the workforce, with 77% holding a part-time job to obtain discretionary income — the same ratio as older Millennials

This is extends through the college domain, where 38% say they will work while in school, this reflects a deep aversion to (student) debt, with more than 20% saying it should be avoided at all costs

GenZ is growing up surrounded by advertising aimed at their grandparents’ retirement, so it’s not surprising this is part of its worldview, with the study showing 52% plan to use personal savings for retirement (making 401K policy important)

GenZ is also the vanguard of a mobile and digital-first banking relationship. Indeed the meaning of banking is different in this context, as digital peer-to-peer payments are something no traditional bank had ever provided. Another “first” for GenZ finance is the fact that portfolios will be built with cryptocurrency and tokens in place alongside fiat currencies and securities as investment vehicles.

At our GenZ workshop we will discuss this exciting blend of new pragmatism evolving alongside an evolving fintech ecosystem with companies such as Venmo and Chime.

Hopefully this introduction shows just how wide a net we are casting: we are relentlessly multidisciplinary, and there will be DJs. We’d love to hear from you about any work you do that touches the topic. Themes of interest to us include GenZ City — after Millennials made cities safe for bicycles, what will GenZ push for? Also, GenZ School — we want to talk about reinventing the school day, and the school itself.

So stay tuned for more content, but register today as spaces are limited.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the position or views of Orange or Orange Silicon Valley.