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Preparing for Generation Z

Preparing for Generation Z

By Teresa Meek

Just when you were finally getting the hang of millennials, here comes Gen Z.

Though many are still kids — born between 1995 and 2012 — this generation is already packing a powerful punch, contributing nearly $830 billion to the economy. By 2020, Gen Zers who are currently 10 to 19 years old will comprise about 40 percent of the U.S. population, according to marketing agency sparks & honey.

So how is Gen Z different from millennials? What do they want from the workplace and the marketplace? And what’s the best way to reach them? Here’s a brief overview of the next generation’s priorities and habits, some of which may surprise you. 

They’re “phygital.”

As you might expect, Gen Zers are technology-savvy digital natives.

“They’ve only known a world where phones are smart,” says David Stillman, co-author of “Gen Z @Work: How the Next Generation Is Transforming the Workplace.” “Technology has made them great multitaskers, and they’re comfortable switching between multiple screens and devices all day long — and well into the night.

But please don’t try to separate Gen Z from their smartphones.

“Our phones are synonymous with how we breathe,” says Connor Blakley, an 18-year-old who consults with corporations that want to know how his generation thinks.

Older generations may beg Gen Z to detach from technology, assuming it’s a distraction. That’s often not the case, Stillman explains. They use smartphones to take notes, look things up and solve problems. They may be looking for information to shed light on something you just said. They’re not being disrespectful. They’re just being Gen Z.

If they’re separated from their devices, some Gen Zers suffer from “FOMO,” or fear of missing out.

“They want to stay connected to friends to know what’s going on,” Stillman says. “If they can’t be in the know, it creates anxiety.”

Though their phones may be an appendage, it’s not the only way Gen Zers communicate. In fact, 84 percent of the Gen Zers Stillman surveyed said they prefer face-to-face interaction. “It’s more efficient to communicate in person than to send 10 to 12 emails,” he explains.

Face-to-face conversations are also seen as more authentic, Blakley notes.

For Gen Z, life is experienced as a seamless continuum of the physical and the digital — Stillman calls it the “phygital.”

Instead of work-life balance, they have a work-life blend in which work, school and life coexist 24/7.

“They can go to the dentist at 3 p.m. and it doesn’t matter because they’ll be online at night,” Stillman says. “Gen Z won’t work 9 to 5.”

Employers will need to evaluate them on performance rather than hours, he adds.

They want privacy.

Gen Z uses social media a lot, but not the same way millennials do. They enjoy sharing experiences as they move through their phygital lives. For example, they might discover a cool new restaurant on Instagram, try it out and post a selfie, Martin explains.

But they have also learned that sharing may not always be a good thing. Using social media has been linked to loneliness, envy, anxiety, depression and decreased social skills.

“The phone acts as a mirror, and it affects self-esteem,” Blakley says. Kids who don’t get enough likes on their photos in five minutes take them down because they feel insecure.

Perhaps that’s one reason Gen Z prefers ephemeral media like Snapchat to Facebook. In addition, they’ve heeded their parents’ warnings about silly pictures coming back to haunt them later when employers search their names. As a result, this age group is cautious about expressing opinions online, says Anna Sofia Martin, associate editorial director at sparks & honey.

“They have divided selves online, with different accounts and hidden monikers where they can freely express themselves, but have control,” Martin says.

Gen Z wants privacy in the workplace, too. Only 8 percent like the open office concept, Stillman notes. Employers can compensate by having plenty of small, quiet conference rooms.

They’re financially conservative.

Gen Z saw their parents’ net worth plummet during the recession and will do anything to avoid the same fate.

“We’re very conservative with our money because of what we’ve seen,” Blakley says.

Being Gen Z, they are learning a lot about personal finance from online tools. Fifty-eight percent of teens age 13 to 17 are already saving money for their future, Martin says.

When it comes to spending money, Gen Z will go for a fun experience over material goods every time.

“We’d rather buy a concert ticket than a new pair of shoes,” Blakley explains. “We’d rather go out to eat than go to the store and come home.”

But when it comes to larger expenses — like shelling out for a college degree — they’re wary. “They’re questioning a four-year degree in record numbers because it’s so expensive,” Stillman says.

Blakley is more blunt. “Everyone knows college is a scam — you’re paying all this money for a degree that doesn’t necessarily mean anything, unless it’s in something like engineering,” he says. “But we don’t know another alternative.”

College debt is Gen Z’s No. 1 money concern. Fortunately, this generation is already developing clever ways to help pay for it.

They’re entrepreneurs.

Gen Z is universally described as “entrepreneurial.” It’s easy to see why — many have already set up shop on EBay, Etsy or Shopify.

“Kids as young as 13 are buying things at thrift stores and selling them through ecommerce,” Blakley says.

“Some are making thousands of dollars.”

Others are using their tech savvy to learn about business and make contacts, he adds. “Technology makes the world a lot smaller. It gives you the opportunity to meet whomever you want and learn whatever you want. You used to have to go to the library or ask people—now it’s in the palm of your hand.”

Forty-two percent of Gen Zers expect to work for themselves, Martin says. Many will have traditional jobs, but pursue money-making hobbies on the side, whether that means selling clothes on EBay or giving piano lessons.

“Everybody wants to be an entrepreneur,” Blakley says. “If you put it in your Instagram title, you get more votes.”

Gen Z at work

Entrepreneurs have to work hard, and Gen Zers are likely to transfer that mentality to the workplace. “They have a fierce work ethic,” Martin says. “Millennials have been accused of demanding things, but Gen Z has a different mindset.”

Gen Zers are more competitive than millennials. They expect to carry their weight and make their own way in their careers. But security is also important to them, and they are less likely to be job-hoppers than previous generations. Sixty-one percent said they expect to stay with one company for more than 10 years, Stillman notes

But 10 years is not forever. “With a life expectancy in the 90s, they know they’re in a marathon,” Stillman says. “They’ll have multiple exciting careers.”

Marketing to Gen Z

If you want your brand to reach Gen Z, forget about hard-selling them. Just be honest and let them decide if your product is something they want.

“We have a strong BS meter,” Blakley says. “We want sincerity. Marketers should meet us where we are instead of trying to get us where they want us to be.”

Gen Z also expects customization and personalized service, Martin says. They like playfulness, and particularly value products that have a second use, such as pizza boxes that play music or plastic shopping bags that can be turned into picnic blankets or pet raincoats.

Imaginative, hard-working, practical and savvy about money, Gen Z is poised to take over the world – and quite possibly, make it a better place. So, don’t stand in their way or yank the smartphone out of their hands. They’re using it to learn. In fact, there’s a lot they can teach the rest of us.