By Blake Hutchison
Screenagers, digital natives, Gen Z – we can’t help but apply labels to the latest generation of people reaching adulthood and lump them in the same pile to determine trends and behaviours that apply to entire groups.
Whatever you want to call them, these are the next generation of entrepreneurs, leaders and influencers. Having been born after 1995, those marked as Gen Z already comprise 20% of the Aussie population and nearly a third of the globe, numbering nearly 2 billion.
While there is no end to the negative stereotypes that plague Gen Z — glued to their phones, unable to focus, increasingly unhealthy — there are numerous positive trends we can already see emerging from this generation and ones that would be good to keep in mind.
For one, they’re better educated: About half of Gen Z will have a university degree in Australia, versus one in four in Generation X. They’ll comprise 31% of the Australian workforce in the next decade but the golden days of having a lifelong career are long gone: Gen Z will, on average, have 17 jobs, five careers and 15 homes throughout their lifetime.
So Gen Z view their careers — and as a result, business as a whole — very differently to past generations. While there are no doubt lessons they will need to learn as they mature, there are things we can glean from their attitudes and behaviours that could help push forward our own thinking of business today.
They are digitally connected
Having grown up never knowing a world without the internet, or even Google, Gen Z’s are the first true digital natives. To them the internet isn’t a luxury; it’s a necessity, and core part of their daily existence. That does mean that they are connected to screens more than ever before — according to research firm McCrindle, Gen Z spend one in every four waking hours looking at screens.
But this also means they are more connected than ever before. They have twice as many Facebook friends as older generations, for instance. And in a country with one of the highest mobile adoption rates in the world — there are 1.2 phones for every person — they are a swipe and tap away from all the information they might need.
As a result, mobile and social-powered apps are likely to figure heavily in their future. Everything from buying clothes to signing up for a mortgage and managing their banking and investments will happen primarily through a screen and, as a result, any businesses they start will accommodate the small screen.
They will work harder and longer
Smartphones are already at the beck-and-call of Gen Z fingertips, with push notifications coming in thick and fast, so it should be no surprise that their exposure to technology is blurring the lines between work and home. A global survey from Universum showed that just 40% of Gen Z respondents considered a work-life balance to be essential.
For good or bad, this will radically influence the way younger generations do business. The traditional nine to five is going the way of the dinosaur, as Gen Z work on a more global level with counterparts around the world.
But they want to work for themselves
Atlassian founders Mike Cannon-Brookes and Scott Farquhar began their own businesses because they didn’t want to wear suits every day. Expect to see more of the same stories — that same Universum survey suggests 32% of Gen Z respondents would rather work for themselves.
Given Gen Z grew up during the global financial crisis, it shouldn’t be surprising that the next generation will be more entrepreneurial than ever — one survey from Global Messaging reports 72% want to start their own business.
Combine the fact that a third of the Australian workforce will be Gen Z by 2025, half of whom have a university education, including degrees in entrepreneurship itself, and you have a cocktail for a fundamental shift in our workplaces in the near future. As a result, we are likely to see many more people try their hand at a new idea, or new way of doing things.
That’s not to say that major companies will become extinct as a result. In fact, much of the entrepreneurial flair that Gen Z’s demonstrate can thrive inside major conglomerates, provided they give this new generation the autonomy they’re looking for.
At Xero our culture actively encourages and benefits from the ideas and talents of everyone, regardless of age. Younger talent get access to regional leaders and global executives, and they’re encouraged to take ownership of their work.
We also use tools like Yammer where almost every company initiative is shared openly. It’s easy to be part of the conversation, prove your smarts and show you are a get stuff done type of individual. With 25% of our workforce aged between 24 and 29, and autonomy being central to our work style, our younger staff who stand up and want lots of responsibility are typically given it.
Put simply, company cultures will likely have to change.
Those workplaces that give Gen Zers the freedom to try out new things rather than toeing the company line could find themselves with many more great applicants showing up at the door.
Blake Hutchison is the head of strategic partnerships and new channels at Xero.