Get Ready for Generation Z

Digital Culture
Generation Z are the young people born between 1995 and now and they are set to revolutionise the way you work. They have grown up with Wi-Fi, the internet, smartphones, YouTube and the selfie. They are digital natives and they are my kids!

A recent study by Ofcom on the status of the UK Communications Market highlights some interesting facts:

  • An average 6 year old now has the same technical ability as an average 45 year old when it comes to smartphones and digital communication.
  • Just 3% of teen communication is voice, for adults it’s 20%.
  • 94% of teen communication is text based (Instant Messaging and Social networking).
  • 2% is email based, compared to 20% for adults.

The report also suggests that our technical ability in digital communications peaks at 14-15 years of age and it’s all downhill from there on in. Having kids that age myself, I can testify that they spend hours on their smartphones, hours and hours. They don’t do much talking, but they do a lot of messaging, video making and entertainment.

Unlike, Ofcom though, I don’t think they have peaked. Our digital natives have grown up on this stuff, but it’s just the beginning. As new technologies come along and they start to go to work and earn money, they will continue to develop their technical abilities, but with more buying power.

Today’s 14 and 15 year olds will be at the vanguard for a while yet. What is interesting is that teens tend to be the early adopters of digital and it slowly filters through to older generations. 

For example, 25% of teens left Facebook in the last year, but an equally large number of silver surfers joined it!

But Generation Z are not only defined by being digital natives, they are also defined by having grown up in one of the deepest and longest recessions in history and a time when they face huge debts if they decide to go to University.

Not surprisingly after witnessing the banking crisis first hand, teens of today are less self-centred than the recent generations before them: they are more socially aware, more entrepreneurial and want a job that has a positive impact on the world. They are not adverse to a bit of retail therapy, but they also see the value in saving and not getting into too much debt. Seventy percent want to start their own business and many are asking themselves if going to University is worth the mountain of debt that comes with it.

As Generation Z starts to enter the workforce and they become independent consumers, the pace of change will accelerate. Organisations will have to adapt rapidly to meet their needs. Not only that, but examples like Facebook have taught us that this group of teens is at the vanguard of digital adoption and where they go, older generations follow. This means there is likely to be a seismic shift across all generations in the next few years. The way you, me and everybody else work will change radically. Here are some examples:

  1. If customers don’t use the phone to interact with an organisation they don’t need large call centres. Organisations will need excellent self-service facilities and to take part in social networks to ensure they are actively listening and responding to their customers’ opinions. If they don’t, then a small, tech savvy company will fill the gap and they’ll start to lose customers.
  2. If customers and employees don’t read their emails and have the attention span of a gnat, how do companies engage with them? Generation Z will watch a video for 6 seconds, like a Vine, but will switch off traditional online or TV ads and they certainly won’t read long emails. Rolling out those corporate messages will require new and innovative customer and employee engagement models.
  3. What if large numbers of resilient, self-starters exit the graduate pool and plough their own path? Generation Z don’t want a 9-5 career with a good pension in thirty years’ time. They want to undertake fulfilling projects, work flexibly and connect with socially responsible companies that undertake real and lasting activities. Organisations must work out how they are going to attract and retain the smartest and most innovative minds as independent collaborators.

Traditional work patterns, organisational structures and employee relationships will change radically and forever in the next few years. Generation Z, our digital natives, will change the way we all work like no other generation before them and leaders of all types of organisations need to take action now to develop strategies and plans to meet the challenge.

As a dad of three teens, my last musing on the subject is this: - They may be the generation that is about to radically change the way we work, but don’t ask them for directions unless they have Google maps: they are quite literally lost without their smartphones!

Simon Sear


Simon leads SPARCK, helping customers invent new and innovative ideas and prototypes. He has over 20 years experience reliving transformational change to businesses.