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Distinguishing Between Y, Z, and Alpha: An Updated Look at the Youngest Generations

Just as we were getting used to Gen-Y, Gen-Z is already entering the workforce and Gen-Alpha is not far behind. What defines the youngest generations and how will they impact the workplace? We compare the characteristics of Gen-Y’s and -Z’s and highlight the differences, concluding with some predictions about Gen-Alpha, the oldest of who are 4 at the time of writing this.

Screen Shot 2015-01-06 at 8.50.30 AMWe’ve talked about Gen-Z’s before in “Get Ready for Gen-Z”, where we discussed their love of technology and their desire  to influence the world around them. However, since then they have grown and developed and some of the early research/predictions have been off the mark.

Born between 1994 and 2010, Gen-Z is a cohort of approximately 21 million in America (Forbes). Already toting the highest IQ’s of any generation, they are expanding their knowledge rapidly through technology and the access it provides to global resources. This makes them more aware of global issues at a younger age than any previous generation. 80% of Gen-Z’s are aware of the human impact on the environment and 76% are concerned about it (Methodologie). Taking that one step further, 60% want to positively impact the world compared to 39% of Gen-Y’s (Globe and Mail). While Gen-Y’s fixate on social status and updates, Gen-Z’s are looking at the economy. This marks a drastic change between generations. Gen-Y’s enjoyed a world that revolved around them, but Gen-Z’s have been raised to cope and adjust to the changing landscape (Huffington Post).

While we joke about them being the “zombie generation” due to their need to be connected at all times, Gen-Z’s recognize that technology is a distraction. Having grown up in the digital world, they understand online tracking and prefer to use sites like Snapchat or Whisper. They are drifting away from the constant need to be online and are instead exploring how to better connect with others in a meaningful way. Gen-Z’s are more empathetic than Gen-Y’s, preferring in-person communication, although video apps like Skype or Google Hangout are the fallback plan to communicate “face-to-face”(Globe and Mail). The human connection does not stop there. Gen-Z’s having a strong family connection and a desire to have a family of their own in a house they own. 97% of Gen-Z’s expect to own homes, with 53% saying they’d give up social media if it meant they could buy a house (Business Insider).

Despite their concerns about debt, 1-in-2 Gen-Z’s are projected to be university educated and an amazing 72% want to be able to design their own majors (Winnipeg Free Press). We suspect this is the result of a combination of two factors. First, they have grown up with more choice than any other generation and “hackschooling” gives them the ability to choose courses they are interested in. The second factor is the struggle they see Gen-Y’s going through to become employed despite having multiple degrees. Gen-Z’s are already looking at the longterm picture and want to make moves to increase their chance of success and don’t trust the existing education system. Being highly aware of the financial landscape of Gen-Y’s, Gen-Z is concerned about their ability to take on the debt associated with 67% saying they have worries about being able to afford higher education (Diverse). With 44% saying they would be able to handle $100/month in debt and 25% saying they couldn’t handle any debt, it is not surprising that they want to ensure their education has value and are exploring non-traditional education paths.

More differences appear when we examine their workplace motivations. Gen-Z’s are motivated by opportunities for advancement, hands-on and direct involvement in projects, and meaningful work, but this is weighed against the corresponding salary. Gen-Y’s, much like the Boomers before them, have had to give up on meaningful work and have become heavily motivated by money as they struggle to pay off debts. Gen-Z’s are looking for longer employment opportunities, expecting to have fewer jobs in their careers than Gen-Y’s. Interestingly, only 7% of both generations identify having a good boss as a factor in deciding to stay with a company (Globe and Mail). If you’ve been adjusting your organization and leadership style to appeal to Gen-Y’s, keep doing what you are doing! Both generations identify honesty as the most important leadership skill. Gen-Y’s seek autonomy and independence while Gen-Z’s want to be heard and have their opinion matter. As they are in the early stages of their careers, training and mentorship are major loyalty factors for Gen-Z. Considering Gen-Z’s dislike of major corporations controlling the economy, and the increasing trend for each subsequent generation to be more entrepreneurial than the last, Gen-Z’s are poised to create startups that can not only overcome any challenge they face through the support of their social networks, but also tackle many of the issues currently facing the world. Gen-Z is the “We Generation”, making them more like the Silent Generation than the “Me Me Me” Gen-Y’s or Echo-Boomers (Globe and Mail).

As we discussed in “Reflections”, Gen-Z’s signal a return to the silent generation mentality of giving themselves to something bigger than themselves and have the tools to do so. They not only understand inequality, global impact, and social issues at a level that some Boomers struggle with, but are using technology to search for solutions. They want to impact everything around them, from product development to the education system to the way we interact with media. Gen-Z’s are still in their informative years with the oldest graduating university now and we are excited to see what they can accomplish.

This brings us to the toddlers of today, Generation Alpha. The Google Kids. The birth year of their generation, 2010, coincides with the release of the first iPad. Even more than Gen-Z’s, they are growing up immersed in technology. Furthermore, they will likely choose what they wear based on the technology attached to it (Business Insider). Some predict screens will replace books and paper, citing the current trend towards e-readers and digital text books (Daily Telegraph). Their parents will likely be a dual-income home, suggesting they will be the most materially endowed generation to date. They will also likely be more educated than previous generations as a result of their early exposure to and use of technology. Whether they go through the same educational stages remains to be seen as Gen-Z’s may radically change the way we view education and school. However, if the existing approach remains, Gen-Alphas will most certainly become the most formally trained generation as well. Gen-Z’s are looking globally and Gen-Alpha will be as well but it will be significantly different. By as early as 2028, India’s population could surpass China as the most populous country in the world, which will put them at the center of global conversations. The current expansion of organizations and technology into these countries will also likely cause a significant and pronounced generational gap in these countries (Business Insider). It is difficult to know the impact Gen-Alpha will have on the workforce as they are too young and Gen-Z hasn’t yet had a chance to take charge, but if history has taught us anything, they will likely be much like the generation before them…at least until it’s time to pay the bills.

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