Understanding Gen Z’s use of digital technology, as well as their view of the world, is essential to connecting with the group that views technology, and social media in particular, as a force for good.
Encompassing those born between 1995 and 2010, Generation Z is set to become the largest group of consumers and future employees by 2030.
In 2020, Gen Z already accounts for 40% of global consumers, according to a study conducted by The Center for Generational Kinetics, a research firm focussed on generational challenges.
Gen Z’s digital fluency also allows them to communicate on important social issues, such as the environment and diversity and inclusion. The study found that 64% believe the internet will bring us closer together and 72% believe you can be part of a social movement even if only participating through social media.
Anna Taylor, the 19 year-old co-founder of the UK Student Climate Network says: “Social media has been an absolutely crucial tool for Gen Z, which has enabled us to organise mass movements on a much greater scale and at a faster pace than ever before.”
The global scope of the school strike for climate movement and the Black Lives Matter movement that “spread so widely and so quickly even in the midst of a pandemic” are testament to the power of Gen Z and social media together.
“Through social media I have learnt a lot about the openness of my generation and their receptivity to the information that is shared on it,” Taylor adds.
Gen Z view social media as a valuable source of information and consequently create “a greater sense of unity and shared values”.
Gen Z: Consumers who care
No longer just participating in social media activism and climate strikes, Gen Z’s passion for justice is being translated into consumer activism – the power of the purse.
“Gen Z feels the heavy burden of [environmental] responsibility and wants to make a difference,” explains Gordon Wilson, CEO at British software and services company Advanced.
This is a view echoed by Taylor.
“It is absolutely crucial for businesses and companies to commit to issues that are important to Gen Z primarily because what Gen Z have shown is that we are committed to the things that are important to us and subsequently draw us together (such as sustainability and diversity),” she says.
“We will call out businesses and companies who we feel are refusing to recognise and address such issues.”
“It is absolutely crucial for businesses and companies to commit to issues that are important to Gen Z.”
Jerry Caron, GlobalData technology analyst says that “businesses need to understand that Gen Z cares”.
He argues that businesses are growing “conscious of the need, and the special requirements of the current generation”, but that companies are “still marketing to parents, or to previous generations”.
“There really isn't a lot of earning potential [with Gen Z] or a lot of spending potential, so they're still marketing to the other people who hold the hope of funds,” he says. “So it's understandable that they've been a bit sluggish.”
However, sluggish won’t cut it for much longer. Gen Z will soon take on the Millennial mantle of being the youngest in the office and will be ready to spend on companies with values aligned to their own.
Higher expectations: Technology and Gen Z in the workplace
Millennial trends of collaboration and flexibility are set to accelerate as Gen Z enters the workplace.
Businesses will also need to construct their posture and how they run their business in a way that will be acceptable to Gen Z, says Caron.
According to Wilson: “Gen Z not only looks to their employer to take clear, decisive steps in tackling the climate change challenge, they also want them to lead the way in delivering initiatives that will make a true difference on a larger societal scale.”
Caron adds that, from a technology perspective, “using the techniques and platforms that make sense to Gen Z” is going to be increasingly important.
Interactions with Gen Z employees will need to be digitally transformed to support the trends of flexibility and collaboration. As a result, video is going to be a more important tool than previous generations.
“Interactions with Gen Z employees will need to be digitally transformed to support the trends of flexibility and collaboration.”
Other important technologies will include user generated and curated content; cloud-based applications and data privacy. All of which echo the increasing overlap between personal and professional interaction with software and data.
Caron says there is an “expectation set by Apple’s iPhone for technology to be really easy to use”. Therefore, it is to be expected that AI techniques, and in particular machine learning, will be essential.
This mix of technology and interaction is also going to continue and accelerate the need for employment flexibility that was established by Millennial trends in workplace culture. The duration of time spent with a company and the organisation’s practices will also be applied to the concept of flexibility “to accommodate your different work processes and different employment practices, more of a sort of contract engagement model,” says Caron.
For businesses, then, embracing Gen Z will ultimately be both a social and a technological challenge. Cooperation with the youngest and largest group soon to be earning – and spending – is going to be dependent on businesses adapting to their expectations of ethical consumption and easy technology.
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