Gen Z is the generation who have never been off-line. The younger siblings of millennials, they are young people born after 1997. Michael Pankowski, a Gen Z himself writes:
Like many members of my generation, I have a morning routine that starts with the most important meal before breakfast: checking my social media. Instagram first, then Twitter, Snapchat and TikTok. If I’m not busy, I’ll do another lap through them.
This quote encapsulates three characteristics of Gen Zers. The first is, their “snack media” habits. Gen Z’s consume information across multiple digital platforms and often across multiple devices. This snacking style of consuming information across multiple platforms means imagery is often more important in conveying messaging than words, for example Instagram and Snapchat.
The second characteristic is Gen Zers have “grown up in the digital age and have never known a pre-Internet world”. They live in a world of connectivity and are used to finding and working things out for themselves one YouTube video at a time. This leads to the third characteristic which is that the Gen Zers are natural information seekers. Because they have grown up in an established framework of social media, they are used to navigating their way around and finding out information in ways that previous generations often struggle with.
These characteristics have strengths, particularly in workforces where agility and the ability to adapt quickly to changing circumstances are required. However, they also have some challenges for current workplaces.
Connectivity v’s Connection
Connectivity across multiple digital platforms is different from the human connections that are still vital in workplaces, and indeed in daily life. The ability to successfully connect person to person requires emotional rather than digital intelligence. Emotional intelligence is the ability to understand and accurately name the feeling state I am experiencing. It also requires the ability to understand and accurately name the feeling state of the other person and then adapt communication, not just to transfer information but to do so in a way the feeling states of the speaker and listener do not negatively impact the communication process. Emotional intelligence is built over many years and many interactions with others. The challenge with digital communication is often the communicator is not aware of the impact of what they are communicating because they cannot see the other person. Even if the person is seen with video technology, what is being discovered is often the subtle nuances that are picked up when we engage in face-to-face communication are lost in digital communication so there is a flattening of emotional impact and understanding.
Where organisations had to invest in training in IT and technology to assist Baby-Boomers use technology effectively, it may be that organisations will have to invest in training in person-to-person communication and emotional intelligence skills for Gen Zers.
The impact of their information gathering skills
It is likely a larger percentage of Gen Z will attend and graduate from college than any previous generation, including the Millennials. Gen Zers are also adept at web-based research and often self-educate with online sources such as YouTube and Pinterest. The skill with web-based research and self-education appears to be in contradiction to the earlier commend about this generation's emphasis on images with snapchat and Instagram. However, both appear to be true.
Certainly, their information gathering skills have made Gen Zers eco-conscious and aware of human- kind’s impact on the environment. Many have also been involved in fast paced political discussions on social media. They want to make a difference in the world around them and they bring this desire into the workplace. More than other generations they want the organisations they work for to take a stand on social and environmental issues. Organisations can no longer hide behind a mantra of “making a profit”. For example, Gen Zers expect organisations to have strong diversity, equity and inclusion practices that are reflected in a diverse workforce. Organisations that are still struggling to implement constructive and environmental policies will lose out in engaging with Gen Zers.
Communicating with Gen Zers
As a result of their stronger virtual communication skills and their “snack media” habits, the length of time organisations have to engage with Gen Zers is reduced. One writer says you have 8 seconds to engage with them before they move on.
Quoting again from Michael Pankowski.
“Many brands fail miserably, wasting our time and clogging our feeds with memes from the Stone Age and lingo your grandma would find lame. But for the brands that have taken the time to understand us, Gen Z is willing to reward them with social media exposure and love.”
Michael writes as both a marketer and a Gen Zer, hence the emphasis on brands, however his comment about taking the time to understand Gen Zers is important for all organisations and businesses. As Gen Zers come into our organisations it is important for us to adapt, to change, to understand and to provide space for Gen Zers to bring all themselves into the work environment.