Learning & Development

What’s Different About Gen Z

There’s a new generation entering the workforce: Gen Z. They’re the group that was born after 1997; the oldest are now turning 20. While, as is true of generations before them, they share both similarities and differences with the other four generations that comprise their colleagues, there are some distinct differences about this generation, likely driven by the unique environment they were born into.

According to a recent Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4CP) study, 72% of this young generation say that corporate responsibility is very important to them—93% say a company’s impact on society affects their job decisions. The report was created through a partnership with generational expert David Stillman—coauthor of When Generations Collide (HarperBusiness, 2003) and The M Factor (HarperCollins, 2010)—and a focus group of high school seniors.
The report identified seven personality traits that uniquely define Generation Z. Members of this generation are:

  • Realistic and pragmatic. They grew up in the aftermath of 9/11 and experienced life in a depression that has impacted their parents and family members.
  • Competitive racers. This generation’s parents have moved beyond “participation awards” and have worked to instill a sense of independence and self-sufficiency in their children. They are, according to the research, less team-oriented and reliant on others.
  • Connected. This comes as no surprise. This is a generation that has literally been immersed in technology since they were born. As the report says: “Gen Z is the first generation born into a world in which every physical aspect (people and places) has a digital equivalent.”
  • Focused on people, profits, and While Gen X started—and Gen Y ran with—a preference for environmentally social employers, “93% of Gen Z says that a company’s impact on society affects their decision to work there.” However, unlike these previous generations, Gen Z is seeking a way to find “the intersection of purpose and profit.”
  • Customized “to the max.” They’re accustomed to building their own playlists—even designing their own clothes, or sneakers in the case of Nike.com. Yes, they’re also less entrepreneurially focused than Gen Y—57% are focused on getting a job, versus 43% interested in creating a job.
  • Suffering from fear of missing out (FOMO). They’re glued to their mobile devices and continually seeking up-to-the-minute information on what their friends and the world are doing.
  • A do-it-yourself (DIY) generation. Millennials are known for seeking out mentors and coaches; Gen Z, according to this study, is more likely to learn what they need to know through a YouTube video.

Because of these traits, the report suggests, Gen Z may “present enormous challenges for learning and development.”

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