In thinking about the generations, a key thing
to understand is that these groups are typically
categorized by events rather than arbitrary dates.
Generation Z’s birth years are generally recognized as 1996 to 2009. The start year was chosen
so that the cohort would include only those who
do not remember the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
The belief is that if you were born in 1996 or later,
you simply cannot process what the world was like
before those attacks. For Generation Z, the War
on Terror has always been the norm.
Like all other generations, mine has been
shaped by the circumstances we were born into,
such as terrorism, school shootings and the Great
Recession. These dark events have had profound
e;ects on the behavioral traits of the members of
Generation Z, but they have also inspired us to
change the world.
Earlier this year, X YZ University, a generations
research and management consulting ;rm where I
act as the director of Gen Z studies, surveyed more
than 1,800 members of Generation Z globally and
released a study titled “Ready or Not, Here Comes
Z.” The results were fascinating.
We discovered key characteristics about Generation Z and what the arrival of my generation
will mean for the future of work. At 57 million
strong and representing the most diverse generation in U.S. history, we are just starting to graduate from college and will account for 36 percent
of the workforce by 2020.
Needless to say, Generation Z matters. And it
is more important than ever for HR professionals
to become familiar with the following 10 characteristics so that they know how to engage with
1. GEN Z ALWAYS KNOWS THE SCORE
Members of this generation will put everything
on the line to win. We grew up with sports woven
into the fabric of our lives and culture. To us, the
NFL truly does own a day of the week. But it’s more
than just professional, college or even high school
teams that have shaped us; it’s the youth sports that
we played or watched throughout our childhoods.
This is the generation of elite young teams and the
stereotypical baseball mom or dad yelling at the
umpire from the bleachers.
Our competitive nature applies to almost every-
2. GEN Z ADOPTED GEN X’S SKEPTICISM AND
thing, from robotics to debates that test mental
fortitude. We carry the mindset that we are not
necessarily at school just to learn but to get good
grades that will secure our place in the best col-
leges. Generation Z has been thrown into perhaps
the most competitive educational environment in
history. Right or wrong, we sometimes view some-
one else’s success as our own failure or their failure
as our success.
We are also accustomed to getting immediate
feedback. A great example is the online grading
portals where we can get frequent updates on our
academic performance. In the past, students some-
times had to wait weeks or longer to receive a test
grade. Now, we get frustrated if we can’t access
our scores within hours of ;nishing an exam—and
sometimes our parents do, too.
Generations are shaped by the behavioral characteristics of their parents, which is why clumping
Millennials and Generation Z together is a mistake. In fact, when it comes to each generation’s
behavioral traits, Millennials are most similar to
their parents—the Baby Boomers. Both are large,
idealistic cohorts with in;uences that will shape
consumer and workplace behavior for decades.
Members of Generation Z, on the other hand, are
more akin to their parents from Generation X—a
smaller group with a skeptical, individualistic focus—than they are to Millennials. That’s why many
generational traits are cyclical. Just because Millennials and members of Generation Z are closer
in age does not necessarily mean they share the
same belief systems.
3. GEN Z IS FINANCIALLY FOCUSED
Over the past 15 to 20 years, HR professionals have
been hyper-focused on employee engagement and
;guring out what makes their workers tick. What
How do Gen Zs
prefer to be
Social media 8%
Source: X YZ University.