GENERATION Z CHARACTERISTICS: UNDERSTANDING THE HIGH-TECH AND HYPER-SOCIAL UPBRINGING OF THE POST-MILLENNIAL GENERATION

I’m willing to bet, no matter your age, that technology is re-shaping your behavior and inspiring new values that you’ve never experienced before. If that’s true of you and technology has changed the way you live and work, imagine how it will re-wire an entire generation that has used it as early as 1 year old. Total game changer.

Generation Z Characteristics: Understanding The High-Tech And Hyper-Social Upbringing Of The Post-Millennial Generation

Generations put a face to change. Surveys and data help us to spot trends but behavior helps us to better understand those trends. Generations provide the necessary behavioral indicators to make logical sense of the trends so we can position our leadership, branding, or recruiting accordingly.  

The below is intended to equip you with Generation Z characteristics by understanding how they grew up. The below provides the necessary context around how the oldest Generation Zers have grown up by charting the life journey of one individual. Let’s call her Jennifer Zahn or Jen Z for short—ah, get it? May this help you better understand the Generation Z characteristics and what drives their behavior and expectations today as more and more enter the workplace.

Depending on which study you read, Generation Z can start in 1993 or after 2000. For the purpose of illustration, this post will assume Generation Z starts in 1995. 

Related Read: The Evolution Of Millennials And What You Can Learn From It

1995: Generation Z Is Born (Age 0)

Jen Z is raised by entrepreneurially-minded Generation X parents but her younger Generation Z peers are being raised by the tech-savvy Millennials. In fact, 38% of children today who are under 2 years old have used a mobile device for playing games, watching videos or other media-related purposes. This is a trend that will continue as more and more Millennials become parents which will make Generation Z hyper adept at using technology.

Related Read: Drone Parents: The Next Evolution Of Helicopter Parents

2004: A Generation of Gamers (Age 9)

The world’s most popular massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) is World of Warcraft. The game released in 2004 and now has over 7.1 million subscribers. 66% of Generation Z lists gaming as their main hobby. And 97% of American youth play computer or video games. No doubt, Jen Z enjoys playing online games with her friends.

To further appreciate the impact of gaming, look no further than Amazon's $970 million acquisition of Twitch in August 2014. Twitch is a live streaming video platform where viewers watch playthroughs of video games and other gaming-related events. In February 2014, Twitch was considered the fourth largest source of peak Internet traffic in the United States and in 2015 has had 100 million visitors per month.

Gaming has shaped how Generation Z interacts with the world. Gaming has made Generation Z favor feedback loops, desire to make a difference, appreciate the value of teams, and welcome global collaboration.  

Related Read: 12 Startling Gamification Facts

2005: Social Savvy Society (Age 10)

2005 is when Facebook changed from college-only to include high-school students. Although Generation Z doesn’t meet the age requirements of Facebook, this doesn’t stop them (including Jen Z) from lying about their age in order to create an account.

Millennials embraced technology but Generation Z are the true digital natives. They have not had to adapt to technology, the only world they know is a hyper-connected one where if Facebook was a country, it would be the largest country on the planet with 1.39 billion people.

Digital communications that are real time, transparent, global, and collaborative become the new norm for Generation Z.

2006: School of Google (Age 11)

Imagine how well researched your book reports would have been in middle school if you had access to Google. The world’s information has been curated for Generation Z into a simple blank search box. Jen Z and her peers have become adept researchers and very resourceful due to their early Internet access. In fact, 43% of teens prefer a digital approach to learning and find it easiest to learn from the Internet.

Like many Millennials, Generation Z treats the Internet as their external brain and therefore approach problems in a whole new way unlike any generation before them. They do not consider parents or teachers as the authority but rather the Internet as their authority.

2007: Mobile & Video Centric (Age 12)

78% of teenagers, ages 12-17, have a cellphone. Those lucky enough to receive the original Apple iPhone in 2007, loved it for it’s multi-touch interface, virtual keyboard, and predictive text technology. Smartphones mobilized an entire generation to text, socialize, and game on the go.

At this time, YouTube is growing in popularity and thanks to the easy to use Flip Video camera, Jen Z is empowered to create and share videos. 54% of Generation Z visit YouTube multiple times throughout the day.

Generation Z is an untethered, boundary-less generation. They constantly embraced new forms of technology and forms of communication which imprinted a knack for adaptability and an appreciation for innovation. Red-tape, limitations, and restrictions will irritate Generation Z.

2008: Global Contributors (Age 13)

Jen Z becomes a “screenager” interacting across 3-4 different screens (mobile, TV, laptop, and a game device) on a daily basis. She is now old enough to join Twitter and eagerly creates an account.

She also discovers the social network and blogging platform, Tumblr, which provides her a global platform to share her ideas, passions, and opinions. This is also the year that Apple launched the App Store. Creating an innovative hotbed for tech-savvy teenagers to create.

Generation Z are contributors, activists, and hackers. Technology has empowered them to have a voice, to streamline and systemize, and to simplify complex problems because after all, “There’s an app for that.”

2010: Interconnected Living (Age 15)

Now in high school, Jen Z’s work habits are unprecedented. She begins collaborating with peers via Google Docs inside the classroom, continuing the work via a mobile device on the way home, and then finishes her homework on a laptop at home.

Instagram launches and becomes an immediate hit among Generation Z. Instagram shifts Generation Z’s communication preferences towards more images and short videos. Although Jen Z is not old enough to create an account on Kickstarter, the global crowdfunding platform reveals how easy it can be to become an entrepreneur and have an impact on the world. Apple releases the first iPad. Generation Z now uses 4-5 screens (mobile, TV, laptop, tablet, or game device). 

Today we have about 10 billion interconnected devices which is expected to grow by 10x to 100 billion interconnected devices by 2020. Which means eventually Generation Z will live in a world with 1 trillion interconnected devices.

An interconnected world, has shifted Generation Z's expectations and preferences of how work can and should be done. Generation Z has developed a much higher instinctual relationship with technology. They were collaborating via Google Docs when Millennials were learning cursive.

2012: Rise of Incognito Social Networks (Age 17)

By 2014, 25% of Generation Z had quit their parents’ and older siblings’ social network. Many of Generation Zers are growing weary of the superficiality they see throughout social media. To fill the growing desire for a more true to life network, the anonymous social network, Whisper, launches and quickly nets millions of users. Jen Z, now a senior in high school, also prefers Snapchat (launched in 2011) which offers a more real and honest connection for users.

Generation Z responds to honest, transparent, and authentic messaging from friends, leaders, employers, and brands.

2015: Early Career Starters (Age 20)

Generation Z has begun to enter the workplace. Many having had multiple internships, some as early as high school. In fact, 80% of current high school students have interest in pursuing an internship while they’re still in high school. No wonder LinkedIn decided to lower their minimum age to 13.

Jen Z is eager to launch her full-time career but expects a short tenure. 83% of today’s students believe that 3 years or less is the appropriate amount of time to spend at their first job. 

As they enter the workplace, they expect diversity. As the first truly global generation, a lack of diversity (gender, race, culture, and age) will be a red flag to them. Generation Z understands the value of varying perspectives that diversity brings. Not only do they expect it, they want it.

Generation Z are self-starters, self-learners, and self-motivators. They are just as hungry as the Millennials to have an impact in the workplace.

Question: What technology or innovation do you think will impact Generation Z the most?

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