Age-wise, Generation Z follows Generation Y beginning approximately in 1995. A starting value which many studies use to classify the generations (some tend to state that Generation Z already began in 1990 while others contend that Generation Z only then began around 2000). In his book “Generation Z”, Christian Scholz stated that “generations cannot be defined through their affiliation to a certain peer group”, but rather this much more encompasses a value system. This value system is characterized by external events and these values can thus be embraced by persons who were born far earlier. Through thegeneration, only an average behavior is being described and exceptions always then prove the rule. On the other hand, it repeatedly arises that members of other generations embrace the new value system; this is the particularly the case if people react more strongly to the changed environmental conditions through their behavior and attitudes. However, in this blog article, I intend to illuminate this stereotype of Generation Z in order to make us aware of the fact that, in this case, we are dealing with a quite different generation.
Generation Z is often (as is also sometimes the case with Generation Y) also referred to as the “Digital Natives”–those persons who have grown up with the digital media. Thus, for example, the social media are nothing new for them, but rather a part of their lives. Digital Natives are always online and have no reservations about sharing all their information with everybody else on the Internet. Different from so many generations before them, they are of the belief that they have nothing to hide. They master the action in networked systems, but also at the same time learn about the dark side of such networking. The networking alone doesn’t help us at all as long as we cannot qualitatively evaluate the vast abundance of information.
Even today, we still don’t know very much about Generation Z. Indeed, there are already some studies and publications–particularly from the USA and Australia and/or occasionally now also from Europe–but we will first have to very precisely observe in the upcoming years which of these hypotheses prove true in the diverse studies. For example, Christian Scholz cited the popular and often-referenced theory of pendulum movements on the one hand between group behavior (Baby Boomers) and a stronger individualism (Generation X). Because Generation Y acts in a rather collectivistic manner whereby there are indeed “lone fighters”, but they define themselves via the group, it must be assumed that Generation Z will once again be even more individualistic. Likewise, this pendulum movement alternates between globalization and a local focus. If the Baby-Boomers were characterized by a global perspective as a reaction to the Second World War, Generation X’s perspective was reduced to the local “playing field”. The Internet euphoria characterized Generation X and it can thus be observed with Generation Z that it, despite or sometimes even due to the worldwide informational offering, focuses on its small and local community where it finds security and safety. And how does this look in the work environment?
The pendulum movement is also clearly seen here. If the career was still the focus for the Baby Boomers (and this was also completely subordinated to the private life), this was also reduced by Generation X which focused substantially more on the private life. For Generation Y, the professional success once again dominated, but had to be brought into harmony with the private life; the concept of “work-life balance” was created. Thus, this will then once again change for Generation Z, but the private life will once again quite clearly dominate. Don’t worry, the dedication to one’s job will not disappear, but it will become substantially lessened. But not all value developments can be substantiated through the pendulum movements. Some are continuous developments while others occur as the result of the external circumstances. Baby Boomers were idealists, Generation X the skeptics while Generation Y – as the Austrian researcher Markus Hengstschläger once so accurately said – “the generation which overestimates itself the most and nonetheless we must learn to work with them”. Thus, Generation Y can also be referred to as Boundless Optimists. The fundamental attitude of Generation Z will correspond more closely to the realists because it precisely sees the problems (climate change, shortages of raw materials, etc.) in our environment and has learned that one cannot fight these problems. Their parents were oftentimes very well-trained and nonetheless lost their jobs during the financial crisis – this generation no longer knows a guarantee for success.
Through these changed environmental conditions and its realistic view of the society and work life, we face a generation which not only often says “no” if it doesn’t want to do something, but rather also gets its way in this regard. Generations before them perhaps revolted or perhaps revolted even more strongly, but ultimately they bowed to the pressure and – as was the case, for example, with the more career-conscious Baby Boomers and Generation Y – then did what they perhaps didn’t want to do. The representatives of Generation Z adamantly refuse to continue traditional value models such as striving for achievement or fulfilling one’s duty and that we (insofar as we belong to a different generation) should also accept this. It is no longer a matter of simply doing something which others want us to do, but rather to identify the purposefulness of the work even if we have to also change our customary routines in this regard. In the Swiss Handelszeitung weekly newspaper, the following was stated about Generation Z: “they are accustomed to reacting quickly to changes and tend to enjoy taking risks. In addition, they are self-confident, demanding and need freedoms.” Precisely this striving for freedoms will challenge us during the everyday work life because this also means ... “Before they will implement orders, they would like to understand why they are supposed to do this”. This naturally sounds wonderful even if one already has to ask himself the question: Didn’t the other generations also want to learn about the purposefulness of the work?
Naturally, we all wanted to find the purposefulness of the work; however, what was purposeful was determined by our value system and has changed. Thus, it is not sufficient to regard our value system as the determining factor because then we will not learn to understand the young generation in both the private and professional environments. Many companies have dealt with Generation Y only far too late – and still don’t do it in a satisfactory scope. Thus, it is high time to deal with Generation Z quickly and above all appropriately. A generation which will indeed challenge us, but a challenge which I daily find to be very exciting.
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