Gen Z is the Future — and the Present

Building on the advice of Frances Hesselbein, we want to learn more about the emerging leaders in the next generations, Millennials and Gen Z. If we want to prepare for the future, we need to look at demographics.  There is a big shift happening now that merits our attention.  The following are excerpts from 8 Generation Z Trends & Predictions for 2022/2023A Look Into What’s Next by James Anthony, (Link).

Gen Z is Different than Any Other Previous Generation

Gender-fluid Concepts

Over the past years, we’ve seen how more and more businesses are opening up to gender-neutral products, and for a good reason: Gen Z reports being a generation more accepting of non-binary products. Gen Z’s power extends in allowing a new wave of acceptance that’s not restricted to any gender at all. With this, various brands like Sephora and Telfar took the major steps to a more accommodating and gender-neutral industry.

As shown in several studies, binary-gendered options are a thing of the past. Back in 2015, Facebook, apart from the male and female options, started adding a third one: the custom option, where users can select from 58 different identities, such as androgyne, trans-male, trans-person, and more, prompting other brands and companies from various industries to do the same. Milk Makeup, a cosmetics brand, followed in 2016 by launching a makeup campaign that includes everyone, starting from trans models to cis straight men wearing makeup.

This shift to gender-neutral products opened new doors for businesses to expand their brands. This also allowed them to relate more to Gen Zers and retain them as loyal customers. The strategy improves customer experience for Gen Zers. Instead of products “made for men” or “made for women,” brands are using product categories instead and getting rid of stereotypical gender roles. Such a trend is expected to continue in the coming years as businesses prepare to cater to the demands of the new generation.

Concerns on Mental Health

Today’s current headlining issues, from immigration, sexual assaults, mass shootings, to environmental decline, are affecting the whole world, and it can be too much for anyone. With these issues plus, other internal and sociological factors, Gen Z becomes the generation feeling the impact more as compared to their predecessors. After that, they are the ones most likely to report mental health concerns. And Gen Z, being a big part of today’s workforce, considers mental health as a factor that affects their work environment.

Prior to the pandemic, a study found that many Gen Z workers usually suffer from anxiety and stress. Its follow-up study found that the stress levels of Gen Zers appeared to have declined, likely because of the general shift to remote work and the slower pace of life in general. Nonetheless, the study found that 48% of Gen Zs feel anxious or stressed all or most of the time (Deloitte, 2020).

In an earlier study, nearly 9 in 10 Gen Z adults report having at least one or more emotional or physical symptoms because of various stressors in their lives, according to a study by the American Psychological Association. About 58% report being depressed or sad, and 55% experience a lack of interest, motivation, or energy. This leads to companies encouraging workplace wellness programs in an attempt to take care of the mental health of their employees. As a result, employers can minimize the health care costs allotted to their businesses and workers.

Diversity as an Asset

Political shifts, changes in education, and other social changes drove Gen Zers to become the most ethnically and racially diverse generation in the history of the United States. A study by the Pew Research Center reveals that 52% of Gen Zers are non-Hispanic white (Pew Research Center, 2019). In the next 10 years, Gen Zers will grow more in population and can make the majority of the population racially diverse.

With Gen Z considering diversity as a positive asset, businesses are prompted to develop a more inclusive and diverse brand, extending even further beyond advertising and products. Emarketer’s study results show that about 6 in 10 Gen Zers say they prefer seeing ads that have diverse families in them. They are also more likely to support brands that are proactive in tackling racial issues.

This only goes to show that Gen Zers are pickier when it comes to choosing companies to work for and brands to support. As a racially diverse generation, they need assurance from brands that discrimination won’t be tolerated. When doing business with Gen Zers, it’s crucial to take into consideration not only the market’s similarities but also their differences, leading to a more expansive product line.

Sustainability as a Factor

Sustainability is another thing to consider when dealing with Gen Zers. Along with Millenials, Gen Zers are pushing for a more sustainable and eco-friendly market in various industries. For younger generations, a product’s ecological footprint is very important. They seek high-quality and long-lasting products as opposed to disposable items. At the same time, sustainable materials find their way into this environmentally conscious generation.

One example is the clothing line Tentree. It successfully gained a massive social media following worldwide right after launching products that use only sustainable materials. The brand also associated with supply chain partners who are socially responsible. This led to an influx of traffic on their website due to an increase in international web visitors.

Gen Z respects brands that are highly conscious of the marks they leave on the environment. In a study by FirstInsight, about 73% of Gen Zers are willing to pay more for environmentally-friendly products (First Insight, 2020). Meanwhile, the same preference was shared by 68% of Millennials, 55% of Generation X, and 42% of Baby Boomers.

Allison Carter in Top Gen Z trends in 2023, (Link) shares some more insights into this generation’s aspirations and needs.  Some of the trends she identifies are:

An activist generation

Gen Z cares deeply about a wide range of issues — and wants the organizations and influencers they interact with to do the same. Thirty percent of Gen Z is of voting age, the study says, and they want to see change.

Topics they’re particularly passionate about include disability rights and climate change.

Concern over climate change seeps into aspects of Gen Z life you may not expect. For instance, half of survey respondents plan to DIY clothes in the new year — a response to the fast fashion movement that leave landfills stuffed with clothes intended to be worn only a short time. They also incorporate sun protection into their (often elaborate) skincare routines to ward off hotter temperatures and damaging rays.

Global interests

American Gen Zers are the most ethnically diverse generation in history, according to Pew Research, with 48% identifying as a race other than white alone. It stands to follow that this generation has a deep interest in the world outside their own borders.

The Instagram survey found that more than half of respondents plan to listen to non-English music in 2023, with a particular emphasis on K-pop and Latino music. Another 68% either has or wants to try food from another culture after discovering it on social media.

Communicators must look beyond a dominant, mostly white culture to embrace this diverse group of Americans.

A craving for community

Unsurprisingly for a generation which spent many of its formative years in the midst of a pandemic that demanded we stay apart, Gen Z is particularly interested in coming together for in-person experiences. The survey found that one-third of respondents were interested in in-person meet-and-greets with influencers, while 68% of respondents plan or want to attend a rave in 2023 (yes, apparently raves are back).

And not to be outdone, Josh Howarth in 7 Key Gen Z Trends for 2023, (Link), has more trends to observe for this generation that will change much of American life.  Howarth list includes these trends:

Digital Natives

Gen Z doesn’t know a time when the internet didn’t exist. They are “digital natives” in the truest sense of the term.  The stats prove this. More than 95% of Gen Zers own a smartphone, 83% own a laptop, and 78% own an internet-connected gaming console. In fact, they’ve been exposed to tech from a young age, especially when compared to previous generations.

Older Millennials got their first cell phone at an average age of 20. Younger Millennials started at 16. Gen Zers had their own phones by the time they were 12. Trends show that this generation is becoming more and more centered on tech.

One survey found that more than half of Gen Zers feel more insecure without their smartphone versus without their wallet.

Social media is a huge trend for this generation. Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok are, by far, the most frequently used platforms. One-quarter of Gen Zers spend five hours or more per day on TikTok.

The average Gen Z individual spends 3.4 hours per day streaming videos. Searches for “YouTube TV” have remained on a fairly steady increase over the past 5 years (221%). It also reported that 44% of Gen Zers stream more than 3 hours of Netflix per day. Only 20% of Gen Zers don’t have their own Netflix subscription.

Distrust Of Government and Other Organizations

A Pew Research report showed that 70% of Gen Zers believe the government should do more to solve problems. This trend was only amplified by the pandemic. A February 2021 study said 66% of Gen Zers disagree that the government has done its best to protect the country.  The same study reported that nearly 60% of this generation agreed that it’d be difficult to trust the government post-pandemic. One research paper suggests this distrust could continue well into the future.

The Political Scar of Epidemics, published in mid-2020, suggested that individuals who experience an epidemic when they are between the ages of 18 and 25 are likely to have negative attitudes toward the government and elections for a long time after the epidemic is over. This means individuals in the older segment of Gen Z are less likely to trust elections, less likely to have confidence in the government, and less likely to approve of political leaders.

This trend could have a large impact on the 2024 election.  In 2020, Millennials and Gen Zers made up 37% of the voting eligible population. In 2024, that number will jump to 44% with all the growth coming from members of Gen Z.

The distrust of Gen Zers goes beyond politics.  They are unlikely to trust brands, too. Only 39% of Gen Z internet users trust a brand to keep their data safe. Consumers in Gen Z trust brands with their data much less than any other generation.

A Deloitte survey found that 24% of Gen Zers don’t trust business leaders, 30% don’t trust traditional media, and 49% don’t trust religious leaders.  This trend may continue as Gen Zers grow into adults, but some experts suggest distrust is just part of being a teenager.

Peter Adams, who leads an organization teaching kids about media literacy, recently said, “Trust in institutions is down across the board, but teens experience even more cynicism about institutions just as a function of their time of life.”

Influencing The Workplace

The oldest members of Gen Z are just now entering the full-time workforce for the first time, but by 2025, they’ll make up 27% of the global workforce. Right now, they’re starting to lead the charge for several big changes.

The first is work-life balance. Research shows that nearly 40% of Gen Zers put a large emphasis on work-life balance when choosing where to work.

Gen Zers are also likely to focus on empowering work culture and potential for growth with the company. Work culture and growth potential are the top two reasons Gen Z employees will stay with a company, according to Finances Online.

Gen Z is also demanding more workplace benefits. They want flexible hours, fully covered health insurance, free meals, and sizeable salary increases – just to name a few.

They want their employer to encourage a healthy lifestyle. Gym memberships, flexible spending accounts related to healthy activities, and sabbaticals are all trending as benefits now. Employee wellbeing has become a topic of focus in many organizations. Search volume is up nearly 289% over 5 years.

Generation Z is one subset of employees that does not put a large emphasis on working remotely. In one survey, 48% of respondents said they’d prefer a hybrid work environment. Only 30% wanted to work fully remotely. Searches for “hybrid work” surged in the latter half of 2020 and is up 364% over 5 years.

In one survey, nearly half of Gen Zers said they’d like to own their own business.

Stats from Wonolo, an on-demand staffing platform, show the gig economy is growing among Generation Z. Their share of jobs on the platform grew by 14% between 2019 and 2021.  Lending Tree reports that 46% of Gen Zers over the age of 18 have a side hustle. Nearly one-quarter of these individuals would not be able to pay their bills if they didn’t have that side hustle. A few of the most popular spots in the gig economy for Gen Z workers are selling custom clothing, selling artistic goods on Etsy, and freelancing on Fiverr.

As the future of work changes, we can expect that Gen Z will be leading even more change. In The state of young leadership by Layla Zaidane, The Fulcrum (Link), Zaidane says, “It’s no surprise that Gen Z and millennials operate differently from older generations on everything from when they get married to how they approach money. But one thing the most diverse generations yet are doing differently is surprisingly under-reported: They’re bringing a new and more effective style of leadership to legislatures across the country.

Not only have we seen them prioritize future-focused solutions on issues like climate change, criminal justice reform, cost and access to higher education, and more — but they’ve done so in a more collaborative and bipartisan fashion than their older peers. At my organization, Millennial Action Project, we’ve been tracking these young agents of change and recently released a report called “The State of Young State Leadership.” Here’s what we found:

Young people only make up 20.7 percent of state legislatures. That’s right – despite being the largest generation, millennials and Gen Z only make up one-fifth of our nation’s state legislative chambers. While the average age of the country is 38, the average age of a state legislator is 56. I’ll let you guess what the average age of Congress is. And unfortunately, indications point to state legislatures and Congress only getting older.

While there is value in having older, seasoned lawmakers in office, it does more harm than good when it’s at the expense of uplifting young or diverse leaders who can bring new perspectives to the policymaking process. And after tracking 1,535 legislators under the age of 45, we can safely say that this group’s success as bridge builders is incredibly high.

Young legislators are responsible for authoring 32.9 percent of all bipartisan legislation that actually gets passed – busting any claim that young people in legislatures are more partisan or uncooperative than older generations. In my work at MAP, we have found that, while opinionated and outspoken, young legislators are able to strike a balance between bringing their full selves and opinions to the table and successfully collaborating across the aisle. While young people did not create the problems we’re facing, it appears that we’re idealistic enough to believe we can solve them and pragmatic enough to know that building coalitions is a necessary step to creating change.

Importantly, 266 of the 1,535 young state legislators are in at least one senior leadership position, including speaker, Senate president, president pro tempore, majority/minority leader, majority/minority whip/assistant leader, or caucus or conference Leader. In addition, 401 young legislators are in a committee chair position, and 444 are in a vice chair position. Young people hold positions of power within state capitols, and they’re using it to great effect.

It makes sense that individuals who can persuade, listen and “strike a deal” often rise into these leadership positions. The data show that by this measure of assessment, young people certainly make the cut. Their bipartisan track record and presence in leadership positions prove that not only are young officials up for the challenge of holding public office — they are excelling at it.