The last company I founded, Brazen Careerist, was full of Gen Yers. In fact, for a while, I was the only person in the company older than 25. I spent a lot of time learning to adapt. Fast. And the whole time I thought to myself: I can’t wait until these kids need to adapt to the next generation. I want them to know what it feels like.
At this point, the oldest in Generation Z are just turning 13, and we have enough information about the two demographics to predict what will happen. Aside from my case of schadenfreude, I’m particularly interested in Generation Z because my sons are smack in the middle of it. But also I’m interested because if we understand the impact the next generation will have on the workforce, we’re better able to adapt our own careers for it. So get ready:
1. In generational conflict Generation Y will hide.
All generations have conflict between each other. But conflict is really bad for Generation Y because they hate conflict. They are the generation that moves home with their parents because they get along so well, and they apologize for quitting because they can’t cope with disappointing their boss. Generation Y is sunny, upbeat, and non-confrontational. Which means that Generation Z, raised by pragmatic, confrontational Gen X parents, will think Gen Y are lame. Weak. Delusional. (Which are the negative traits of kind and non-confrontational.)
2. Gen Z will lead Gen Y almost immediately.
Gen Y hates to stand out. Their idea of leadership is leading from the middle. Or pretending people don’t like leaders. This has not been a problem for them because Gen X doesn’t want to lead. Gen X just want to go home to their kids. So the only people providing top-down leadership at work right now are Baby Boomers who refuse to retire and exist miles and miles from the cutting edge of everything except the new retirement.
So there will be a power vacuum when Gen Z enters the workforce, and they will take it over very quickly. All they’ll need to do is say, “I want to lead.” No one will challenge them. And, conveniently, Strauss and Howe point out that generational tendencies are cyclical, and Generation Z is poised to lead. They grew up in a time of turmoil: economic demise, war, rampant, random shootings. Generation Z will take charge, create stability, keep everything in line.
3. The passion problem will be passe.
Gen Y is immobilized by their need to “do what they love”. Their Boomer parents instilled in them the fairy tale idea that passion should guide what they do. But Baby Boomers have never had this, except when they were unemployed at Woodstock, and their impractical, dreamer career advice has left their kids unable to make decisions. Gen Y has a passion problem. But this will end when Gen Z comes on board.
First of all, Generation Z will be the education generation. They will have been homeschooled at a rate we have never seen before, so they will be great at identifying what they like. Generation Y, on the other hand, was schooled by teachers who told them what to study to ace the test, and parents hired tutors to help, which means Gen Y is particularly good at taking tests and bad at figuring out what they like. Generation Z will fill the gap and simply tell Generation Y what to do.
Generation Z will give meaning to work in a way that Gen Y has talked about but has been incapable of achieving. Work will be about creating a national sense of stability. Work will be about helping families to adjust to the new economic realities. Work will be about helping people build new paths through adulthood that do not focus on the corporation. Gen Z has been priming for this their whole lifes, with their counter-culture, Gen X parents.
4. Gen Z will out-communicate Gen Y.
Right now, Gen Y are the best communicators at work. They are the first generation to be taught social skills at work, and they are genuinely kind and concerned about people. Additionally Gen Y are the first generation who grew up writing for a massive audience, even as kids, and they are the generation with the best writing skills in history.
This will all seem old-fashioned, though, when Gen Z is on the scene. Gen Z communicates largely through video. They use YouTube like it’s Google. For example, when they want to know how to beat a video game, they search online for a video to tell them: no reading.
Teenaged boys are giving video game lectures to thousands of other kids. Teenaged girls are political activists who have their own video platform before they’re thirteen years old. The poise Gen Z has in front of the camera will translate to workplace confidence and charisma. This will be the age of verbal communication rather than written, and Gen Z will shine.
5. Gen Z will force Gen Y to live more in reality.
Gen Y’s obsession with travel is rooted in their acute need to feel special and different and document it in a way their friends approve of. Also, Gen Y has no money, so they are forced to say they value experience above possessions since they can’t afford possessions beyond their de rigeur Apple equipment and marked-down high-end purchases they self-define with.
Jan Chipchase is a great example of the travel-is-everything mentality; he does brag tweets about his job that is nearly 100% travel. Another example: Gen Y brides who forgo the wedding and just splurge on a big trip and a photographer to document the dress in an exotic location. Gen Y lives on Facebook and Instagram, and their reality is whatever is in the photo.
Generation Z is over the photography thing already. Every gadget they have has a camera. Their parents have documented their every move, and they are expecting to have no disposable income, so they won’t’ need to post photos justifying their existeence.
So Gen Z will shine a light on Gen Y and expose a lot that Gen Y hasn’t seen before. But the truth is that every generation keeps the generation before them more honest. In the end, I’m grateful for the Gen Yers who worked with me, and forced me to see myself differently. I am less cynical and more sunny becuase I was surrounded by Gen Yers.
And they will be better, too, once they get over the shock of someone younger than them in the mix.