Generations are far from homogeneous – just look at millennials and Gen Z

Generations are far from homogeneous – just look at millennials and Gen Z

The millennials have moved into dominant positions in the workplace, hopefully sparing us further articles on how different these newcomers are and how they will transform the world. But hold on! Generation Z is now edging into the work force – the oldest ones are 24 – and like every generation we will be told endlessly how nothing will the same because of them. Only this time, it may be true.

Generations are far from homogeneous. And for all the business bravado about constant change, our workplaces are far from elastic. I’m a child of the sixties, when revolution was in the air, and it was assumed the boomers would hold sit-down strikes unless business changed its way dramatically, becoming more socially responsible, egalitarian and groovy. Didn’t happen.

Or, more accurately, didn’t happen in the way that was anticipated. Social currents, which reflect younger generations to some extent, have their impact, such as feminism, and technology is also powerful. But the youngest people in our workplaces lack the power to make changes and when they hit positions of power, as with the millennials now, they have usually adapted to the ways of the past – become the past’s defenders. Remember when workplaces would supposedly have to succumb to the millennials’ insistence on working less and having more balance? Didn’t happen, but you may have not noticed because you were too busy thumbing away on your mobile.

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Market researcher Michael Adams attacked the notion of generational uniformity in his 1997 book Sex in the Snow, arguing demography is not destiny. He looked at how people fared on two crucial philosophical and psychological divides – communitarian versus individual; traditional versus modern – and divined 12 different “tribes” present in varying proportions in each generation. His focus was on social values but you could, if evaluating the impact of different generations on your organization, as employees or patrons, pick other factors that seem more applicable. Healthy eating, for example, may be critical if you’re in the food industry – but no generation will be homogeneous on it.

But even with that backdrop, I was intrigued by an anecdote consultants Jason Dorsey and Denise Villa of the Center for Generational Kinetics share about six-year-old daughter Rya in their book Zconomy. They walked into the kitchen when she was doing homework and heard her asking, “Alexa, how do you spell rainbow?” Much was made of millennials as digital natives but this is far deeper, digital envelopment.

Rya relies on Alexa daily and continually. “Rya will never remember a time before she could speak to a connected device and have it respond with the correct answer or action – all without learning how to type, spell (!), or look up from her homework,” her parents write.

Which search engine do you think this generation favours: Google, Bing, Yahoo, or DuckDuckGo? Those are the traditional favourites of older generations but for Zers the choice is YouTube. That’s because they get a huge amount of their information from videos. You search for something to read on a topic; they look for an instructional video or influencer. News comes through Twitter as it connects them directly with newsmakers rather than subject them to the filtering of the news media.

Nike drew a lot of attention with its ad supporting Colin Kaepernick, some thought foolishly stumbling into a divisive no-win topic and connecting to an athlete whose career was essentially over. The ad proclaimed: “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.” The ad ran on social media, not television, because it was aimed at these youngsters.

“Nike was playing to their future, not their past, consumer. Nike recognized that Generation Zers prioritize diversity, inclusion and social causes when making purchasing decisions,” Mr Dorsey and Ms. Villa write.

They note the generation came of age in the aftershocks of the Great Recession that started in 2008, which made them more fiscally conservative and practical than their age would suggest, seeking value for money. They don’t hang out at the mall; they shop online (and at thrift shops). And they expect your website to be top flight – in ways beyond your imagination. Research the consultants were involved in found that 44 per cent of Gen Z say they will leave a website if the company doesn’t know what they are looking for before they get there.

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In terms of work, fewer of them are actually in the work force or looking for employment compared to other generations of the same age. In 2018 in the U.S. the work force participation rate for 16- to 24-year-olds was 55.2 per cent compared to 65.9 per cent in 1998. Their parents don’t want them to work (one youngster quoted in the book on the accusation the generation was raised on participation ribbons rather than winners’ trophies noted it’s the helicopter parents not the youngsters who demanded that). They can find side gigs through various apps. And they know about your company through ratings and comments on websites – as well as YouTube. “Our research shows that YouTube is way more important to Gen Z in their job search than most employers and leaders believe,” the consultants warn.

Will they change everything? Or will it just be around the edges? History suggests the latter, at most. But many of them are certainly quite different and worth understanding, to get a competitive edge in recruiting, selling and managing Zers.


  • HR consultant Tim Sackett says you are an idiot if you still check references by phone. When he asks recruiters how many candidates they have rescinded offers to because of bad references, the answer is essentially none. He is, however, a fan of new reference checking technology which sends automated e-mail questions trying to double-check fit and culls about 10 per cent of intended hires.
  • A survey by Skynova found the top career goal of employees this year is getting a raise – 44.8 per cent of respondents picked that. Runners-up: Getting a promotion, at 35.8 per cent, and network with more professionals, at 30.6 per cent.
  • If you’re tracking your organization’s environmental footprint, watch out for online meetings. A study suggests one hour of video conferencing emits 150 to 1,000 grams of carbon dioxide – that compares to 8,887 grams when a gallon of gasoline is burned by your car, so commuting is still worse – and requires two to 12 litres of water. Turning off video cuts those figures by 96 per cent.

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Published at Sat, 30 Jan 2021 10:00:00 +0000

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Written by Riel Roussopoulos


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