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Who is Gen Z? Lazy & Entitled or Misunderstood & Mismanaged? 

By  Henry Rose Lee

Who is Gen Z? Lazy & entitled or misunderstood & mismanaged? 

(Part #1 of 2) 

Who is Generation Z? 

Do you believe all the negative hype about generation z? 

Born between 1997 and 2009, zedders can be tarnished by the media as disrespectful, soft, work-shy, and disloyal. 

A 2022 Guardian article wrote, “Kids these days don’t know the value of a hard day’s work. They ask for too much, they do too little, they do not respect hierarchies, they don’t want to pay their dues, they say “like” too much, they have tattoos on their arms, they’re always looking at their phones, and they quit their jobs instead of miserably sticking it out. Snowflakes!” 

Read the original Guardian article HERE

But is having tattoos, saying “like”, and being hooked on your phone really so terrible?

For a start, WE ARE ALL hooked on our phones! (Here’s a game for you. At your next meeting, notice what everyone does as soon as there’s a break; every age group is likely to jump on their phone!)

Talking to older senior leaders – who are usually over 55 years old – I find many say ‘I don’t understand gen z. They should be grateful they’ve got any work at all. In my day, we kept our heads down and did what we were told to do’.

But isn’t that a bit like saying all coalminers in the 18th to 20th century should just have been grateful for the dangerous, insecure, unhealthy, back-breaking work they did by going down the mines?

Why is Gen Z so different?

Let’s look at what’s going on for people born 1997 to 2009.

No, it’s not about the tattoos or the language. Gen z is the most tolerant, adaptable and open generation in history. To them, gender, sexual orientation, culture, background, hair-colour or piercings should not stop them having or doing a job - unless these things become an impediment or a health hazard (for example, some piercings are not permitted for some medical, catering or food-preparation jobs).

So, what makes gen z so different from other generations? 

There are many reasons. But two words stick out like a sore thumb.

Social Media. 

Yes, many of us live under the social media spell, with our Facebook and Instagram accounts and our zillions of mobile apps.

But in the same way that zedders have grown up with computers already being a normal and integral part of life, they have also grown up with social media as a normal and integral part of their identity.

And there’s the problem. Social media has given them the best of times and the worst of times.

The best?

Information at their fingertips. Access to global information, knowledge and date. Access to opportunities and global comms. Access to global movements. And the chance to share information and be seen by huge numbers of people – creating rich and diverse networks. 

Social media has taught gen z that they can be anything they want and go anywhere they want.

The worst?

Too much data, but not enough truth; fake news is everywhere, from anti-vaxers to global conspiracies. Global opportunities and global communicating can make people feel envious and inadequate when compared with the glossy photos and videos that are everywhere. Worst of all, social media plays on the two key fears of all humans; that we are not enough (not rich enough, not clever enough, not beautiful enough etc., etc., whatever enough means to us); and that we are not loved or lovable (gen z on social media can struggle when they don’t get many clicks, likes or views of key posts or videos for example).

Gen z is the product of the world they were born into.

In real terms, gen z is better educated, healthier, richer, and safer, with more opportunities than any previous generation.

But zedders are also in a world where they feel more insecure, more self-conscious, more bullied, more inspected, and more judged, than any previous generation.

We all know someone who was bullied at school. But, in the past, that poor bullied person could come home, and the bullying stopped at their front door.

Today, the bullying doesn’t stop when the young person gets into the apparent safety of their bedroom; it simply continues online - unabated, and vicious.

If we imagine ourselves as being mid-teens or mid-20s today, wouldn’t we also be hostages to the iron grip of social media?

Wouldn’t we also find it hard to stop both the relentless checking for likes, and the continuous anxiety about being able to present ourselves in the best possible light?

Social media has also taught gen z to feel more anxious, worried, and concerned about their mental health.

This is partly because of the proliferation of mental health, social media posts. When presenting to a zedder audience a couple of years ago, one 19-year-old boy came up to me to ask my advice. His exact words?

“I’ve got mental health. What can I do about it?” The fact that he talked about how he was feeling psychologically by summing it up as having mental health – as if he had caught a virus – seemed both tragic and highly concerning to me.

Social media can do some wonderful things. Instagram is the new photo and video album, and wonderful stories can be uplifting and informative. But social media can also proliferate the sense that everyone is struggling with their mental health issues.

Gen Z reports having issues with mental health

It’s no coincidence that McKinsey research in 2021 found that gen z had the highest reporting of poor mental health and anxiety during the Covid 19 lockdowns.

The pandemic was bad news for every generation. But it was particularly bad for people in their teens and twenties.

Gen z were the generation (along with Gen Alpha born 2010 to 2025), who were least likely to get sick, or die because of Covid 19. However, they were the most likely to get furloughed, lose their job, have their career curtailed or stalled, or to lose their education.

Zedders have shared their pain on their social media feed and received feedback from their network - who all appeared to be in the same dark place.

One in four Gen Z respondents in the McKinsey study reported feeling emotionally distressed. That’s double the figures for people in their 40s and 50s, and triple that of older generations.

Ironically, however, McKinsey has also found that gen z were the most likely to self-report on feeling emotionally disturbed, yet the least likely to seek professional help.

Instead, they turned to their network, which usually meant social media.

See HERE

Gen Z are concerned about their social status

Perhaps the worst element of social media is the issue of status.

In his book, The Status Game, author and journalist, Will Storr, confirms that “humans are programmed by evolution to be obsessively interested in status. As a tribal animal, our survival has always depended on our being accepted into a supportive community. But once inside any group, we’re rarely content to flop about on its lower rungs. We’re driven to rise within it.”

Whether in the family home, or at school, or uni; whether in a corporate firm or a charity, humans are pre-programmed to “strive for individual status.”

This is not necessarily bad.

As Storr explains, the desire for status can drive something negative, but it can also fuel innovation, huge generosity, or new ways of working. If you put yourself in the position of a gen z at work, you’ll see that they are finding themselves often at the bottom of the pile in a job role. This means that their desire to advance is normal and natural.

We’ve all had that drive and ambition to do better, to achieve more, or even to be somebody – especially when we were their age. But the impetus and drive of zedders are, again, further highlighted and fuelled by social media.

Zedders are different for so many reasons

It’s not just the impact of social media on young minds that makes zedders so different. Gen z is also a victim of the global events which provide the current context to our world today.

Global events are war, famine, plague (pandemic), social, political, economic change, and technological advances. Of course, every age group is challenged by these events; such as Brexit, climate change, Covid, the invasion of Ukraine, increasing costs in fuel, energy and food, as well as increasing insecurity of food and supply chains. However, it’s clear that – in the same way that the Covid 19 pandemic impacted every age group but in different ways, so too are the impacts of all these world events.

Bluntly, if you’re older, more experienced, and have some savings, you’ll be doing a bit better in today’s VUCA world (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous), than much younger people.

Gen Z use their voice far more than previous generations

Perhaps one of the biggest differences we see in generation z is their ability to say what is there for them.

We might not always like what they say. But people in their teens and twenties today, are often voicing what older generations have been thinking, but never dared say.

For example, whatever our age, we all hate poor managers and leaders – yet how many of us have just put up with their poor behaviours, just so we could stay in a well-paid job?

Many of us have also struggled during the terrible Covid pandemic years, but few of us have learned to share our feelings or talk about our challenges.

Perhaps the best of gen z is an ability to share a message that we should all be talking about. And surely that’s the best thing of all?

Treating everyone with compassion and respect and providing a working environment and a set of working practices that suit everyone. And what are the five things that Gen Z ask for, more than any other generation at work today? Money, career, learning and development, flexibility, and purpose.

If you want to read about the five key demands of gen z at work, subscribe to the mailing list and get the weekly and monthly updates.

Please leave your comment below. I'd love to know what your thoughts are.

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About the author

Henry Rose Lee

Henry is a recognised authority on Generation Z, Millennials, Generation X and Baby Boomers in the workplace. She helps businesses to recruit, engage and retain their younger employees, and helps individuals to ignite their talents and carve out an outstanding career, whatever their age.

Through her keynote speeches, workshops and coaching, you will understand the evolution of leadership in what is sometimes called ‘the Shift Age’, so you can avoid common pitfalls and help your organisation (and yourself) to thrive.

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