Step aside, millennials — Here comes Generation Z

By Greg Witi

Born from the late 1990s to now, Generation Z is the current generation, and its oldest members are starting to enter the workforce. More importantly, they are researching and interacting with our companies long before they will ever buy our products, so being proactive in understanding these “digital natives” is crucial for our companies’ future success.

Introducing Gen Z

Gen Zers were raised by young boomers and Gen Xers in a protective, “helicopter parent” environment much like their Gen Y counterparts. However, while Gen Yers are optimistic and some say have unattainable expectations, Gen Zers are realistic.

They grew up in the post-9/11 world, understanding the threat of domestic terrorism. They have seen the effect of the recession on their family and their Gen Y siblings returning home with multiple degrees and debt. Despite all this, only 6 percent are worried about the future according to Forbes. And 43 percent say school violence/shootings will have the biggest impact on their generation.

Gen Z’s may have experienced an early loss of innocence; it has made them resilient, pragmatic and eager to influence the world around them. Think Katniss from The Hunger Games: forced into tough situations yet she finds a way to rise above it to change the world. Having the highest IQ of any generation, they are curious and driven, using technology to be self-sufficient.

They are known as “digital natives,” and we joke that the “Z” stands for zombies as they are rarely away from their devices. They grew up with Internet, smartphones and instant information, making them more tech-savvy than any generation before them.

According to research conducted by Ipsos and Wikia, 73 percent of Gen Zers are on their devices within an hour of waking up and over half state they are more active now than they were in the three months prior.

They also spend a significant amount of time plugged in, with 43 percent spending 10-plus hours a day. That being said, 63 percent “unplug” while at work or school, showing they understand the need to focus on the tasks at hand. This is partly due to the huge pressure they are under to succeed. Due to their attachment to technology, they are used to instant gratification and reward.

Being so connected, it is not surprising that 76 percent of Gen Zers agree that technology will help them achieve their goals. They turn to technology to share their opinions, to learn new things, and to be entertained. Interestingly, only 31 percent share knowledge to feel good about themselves or show how smart they are.

Gen Zers view the online world as their Encyclopedia Britannica and want to ensure that the information they get from it is accurate. While they appreciate their parents’ support, they use social media to get advice from their peers, learn new things and get peer reviews.

According to USA Today, Gen Zers are likely to break traditional opinion molds, mixing and matching points of view in ways that might have isolated them prior to social media. They have difficulty in direct, assertive communication in person, rarely disagreeing with their manager in the office but sharing it online.

Selling to Gen Z

Gen Zers turn to Google and peer reviews when making buying decisions. They want their brands to be as connected as they are, and interacting with them in real-time is crucial. Simply having an account is not enough; you have to be actively involved and engaged with your young followers.

Gen Zers have short attention spans. While being on Facebook is needed, Gen Zers live on Instagram where media can be quickly digested, according to Forbes. While the traditional “This product will solve all your problems!” marketing message won’t work with Gen Zers, they are drawn to products that remind them about the bright side of life and encourage them to share their experiences. In a similar vein, marketers should make them feel secure and empower them to change the world.

In fact, Gen Zers want to start their relationship with a product and/or brand early on and influence the development. Giving them an opportunity to voice their opinions and contribute will greatly increase the probability of them buying your product down the road. Provide creative, interactive ways for them to express themselves and share their ideas across their social media channels.

Gen Z in the workplace

In the same way they want to influence their products, Gen Zers want to impact the world around them. They are independent thinkers and are used to making things happen, such as finding opportunities to gain experience or find global mentors in their desired fields. This mindset suggests they are likely to be highly entrepreneurial.

They can be highly motivated, energetic and productive team members. But they are also high maintenance and, having grown up with awards for everything and instant rewards, they can become demotivated quickly. They look for jobs that have creative elements or unique benefits that tie into their passions. Their biggest challenge will be developing the interpersonal skills needed to run a successful business.

As leaders, we need to be prepared to coach and mentor them to develop the “old school” behaviors: customer service, time management, assertive communication and the ability to accept and learn from criticism and integrity. They work best in small work groups with a defined structure, direction and project goals, led by a strong peer leader. Promote in-person meetings, training and creative sessions to further develop their interpersonal skills.

Get prepared

As mentioned earlier, now is the time to be proactive in preparing our organizations for Gen Zers. Start putting your leaders through interpersonal skill and communication training.
They also need to learn how to coach and effectively lead this generation, as Gen Zers will not respond to the traditional “boss” figure and motivators. Reach out to them through social media and engage them on how to make your product, service and even your culture better.

Greg Witz is the President of Witz Education in Toronto, Canada. He delivers courses and keynote addresses on leadership, sales and customer service, along with a look at how generational differences impact these topics.