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Defining Characteristics of Generation Z

With the onslaught of chatter around the arrival of Gen Z – and proudly one of the first to pioneer Gen Z data – I am often asked to comment on others’ observations. By no means am I claiming to be the ONLY voice on Gen Z, but hopefully a respected one. 

Backed by ongoing national and international studies, conversations with leaders around the world, focus groups with Gen Zers themselves, and an overall dedication to studying what happens when generations click and clash – I do pay close attention and naturally have opinions. 

Generation Z were born between 1995-2012.

 On the whole, I am just appreciative when other thought leaders help promote the dialogue. It still shocks me how many people are lumping everyone under 30 together – and often just calling them Millennials.

For example, I read a blog from Growing Leaders called “Six Defining Characteristics of Generation.” I was excited because, in our Gen Z work, we identify 7 key traits.

  • Phigital
  • Hyper-Custom
  • Realistic
  • FOMO (Fear of Missing Out)
  • Weconomists
  • DIY
  • Driven

It was interesting to compare our seven traits to their six.

Is Generation Z Cynical?

The blog’s first trait was that They Are Cynical. I would agree with this, sort-of. The challenge with the word cynical is that it has a bit of a negative feel. 

No, but Gen Z is realistic.

This negativity is enforced as the blog goes on to say that they are cynical because they have a jaded view. The article also used the word “realistic” with which I would agree. Although this might just sound like a matter of semantics, it is not. 

The Gen Zers that we meet are not negative at all. In fact, they have determination, grit, and even hope that they can survive in what has been a much scarier climate. Gen Z came of age during the economic recession, watching their Gen X parents’ net worth fall by 45%. Adding to that, they’ve only seen political polarization. 

So, they have a realistic lens at which they look at the world. But that doesn’t mean that they are negative or even jaded… they are practical and using this realistic attitude to launch amazing careers in a whole new way.

Is Generation Z Private?

The blog’s second trait was that Gen Zers Are Private. Agree 100%. Every generation has had the luxury of watching the previous one make some costly mistakes and therefore adjust accordingly. 

Yes, Gen Z learned from Millennials’ mistakes.

Gen Zers sat back and watched Millennials share their life on Facebook, and eventually, other platforms as well. It was the Millennial generation that took the internet social. 

The whole world could now see pictures of your sushi dinner. The problem was when that sushi dinner turned into quite the evening or even weekend, and too much of the world saw it. This oversharing eventually hurt any opportunity for a promotion as the lines between private and public information blurred. 

Learning from this, Gen Z has gravitated to more private platforms like Snapchat and Whisper. However, pay attention to how this push for privacy is making its way into the workplace. Gen Zers are WAY less collaborative than Millennials. Take open office space – the Millennials dream environment that so many offices have catered to – only 8% of Gen Z likes open office concept.

Is Generation Z Entrepreneurial?

The third trait that explains They are Entrepreneurial is again spot on. Gen Zers are the most entrepreneurial generation I have met! However, the article goes on to describe their entrepreneurial drive as more hacker than slacker. While a cute play on words, it could be damaging. 

Gen Zers are not hackers trying to break any systems. They are those realists we talk about, who are trying to survive and thrive. 

Slacker has never been a well-received description of any generation. It started with Xers when they weren’t doing it the Boomer way. 

I agree that Gen Z’s entrepreneurial spirit is fueled from experiencing such a bad economic downturn, but I don’t think it’s made them jaded entrepreneurs like the blog suggests.

Not only are Gen Zers entrepreneurial, many have both jobs and side hustles.

I think Gen Z is taking entrepreneurialism to a whole new level. For example, Gen Z is not deciding between if they should work at a business or start their own like previous generations of entrepreneurs did. 

They are doing both! 

This is the generation of side hustlers. From more 1099 employees to revisiting non competes – Gen Z’s entrepreneurial drive will introduce all-new challenges OR opportunities for the workplace.

Are they Multi-taskers?

Trait number four in the blog – They are Multi-tasking – is not only incorrect but is a dangerous assumption to make.

No, but Generation Z is good at task switching.

I do see how most would perceive Gen Zers to be natural multi-taskers. They are indeed engaged on up to five devices at once, as the blog mentions. However, Gen Zers are actually not good at doing a lot of things at one time as multi-tasking suggests – what they are good at is task switching. 

This generation can go from task to task at lightning speed. So much so that the even more natural tendency is to assume they all have ADHD. 

It actually started with Millennials, whose attention span was measured at 12-seconds. Shortest ever, until, stand back – Gen Z arrives and comes in at 8-seconds. 

However, it is not about having short attention spans; it’s about how fast the generations are processing information. Gen Z has the fastest processing speed to date because they can navigate the devices and information more naturally. Yes, Gen Z can take on a lot of tasks, but they will be switching between them, rather than diving into, working on, and tracking all of them at the same time. 

Is Generation Z Hyper Aware?

The fifth trait of Gen Z in the blog is that They are Hyper Aware.  I think I understand what it is getting at but got a little confused at – 

“Because their minds are streaming in so many directions, they’ve become post-moderns who are hyperaware of their surroundings.” 

All the generations are hyper-aware now. It’s our new reality.

Regardless – I agree that Gen Z is hyper-aware of their surroundings. But all the generations are, as the reality is that bad things that used to happen far away are now happening at malls, movie theaters, and in classrooms. 

What started with Millennials and Columbine has only continued on to Gen Z with Sandy Hook, Virginia Tech, and Parkland. It has sadly become only natural to think about evacuation plans and self-defense. 

However, with the use of technology, it has only made it easier to feel at least more secure by monitoring, communicating, deploying, and beyond. The smartest way to prepare for the sad realities of today is to bring Gen Z to the table. 

Their innate ability to navigate technology, along with their hyper-awareness, indeed makes them the leading candidate for insights on how to be more aware and even prepared.

Is Generation Z Technology Reliant?

If only the sixth and final trait would have been more climatic. Instead, my response to the blog’s insight that They are Technology-Reliant is… 

Ummm….DUH! If that is news to anyone, then they have a lot more to learn than 6-7 traits on Gen Z. 

But too often, any conversation related to Gen Z and tech is negative. It’s assumed this generation doesn’t have communication skills or that their phones are only distractions. Yes, Gen Z is spending up to 4.5 hours a day on smartphones. But it’s not all selfies – and even more so, it’s not all bad. 

Yes, but more than that, Generation Z are digital natives.

The fact that Gen Zers are digital natives compared to the other generations of digital pioneers does indeed make them an authority figure on something significant – the tech revolution. 

That is a complete paradigm shift from the “typical” view of authority figures as the oldest, with knowledge trickling down from them to the younger generations. 

Also, it’s about time everyone stops assuming that if a Gen Zer is on their phone, then they are playing games. Gen Z’s reliance on tech has eliminated the line between physical and digital. The other generations are still only blurring it. Now THAT is really going to change things – but will have to wait for another blog.

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