Forget the Millennials. Why I’m Betting on Generation Z.

Dear Generation Y,

A lot has been written and said about you.  A lot of it has been unflattering.  People, older people, have said your generation is predominately lazy, lacks work ethic and cares more about immediate gratification than achieving long-term goals.  They say that you’re a market mercenary and will switch jobs when the wind blows in a different direction.  There are entire management seminars completely dedicated to teaching people how to manage you.  Do you believe that?  Sure, you never knew what a VHS tape was, the Cold War was something you read about in history class, and the Internet always existed.  But, who cares?  Let me share a little secret: they said the same thing about Generation X almost 20 years ago.  You see, it’s fun to bash the younger kids on the block.  You wouldn’t expect older workers to say you’re better than them, do you? 

Regardless, I’m over you.  No, there’s nothing wrong with you.  It’s not you, it’s me.  I hate to say this, but you’re just too old for me.  You’re over the hill.  Old school already.  You’ve lost your shine.  I’m now going with workers younger than you, the next generation, Generation Z.          

My children are part of this up and coming generation.  As I watch them grow I am equally scared and excited for them.  It’s amazing what they have access to and what they can do.  My 9-year old has her own tablet (thanks to my mother-in-law).  I don’t have a tablet.  And worse, my kid doesn’t share hers with me.  I am constantly searching for my iPhone because my 7-year old son prefers to watch YouTube videos on it versus watching the Nickelodeon channel.  My son is learning to spell words by what he needs to type into the search window.  When both my kids come home from school, they have to get online to finish their homework.  For take-your-kid-to-work day last week, I let my kids stay home from school.

Consider some stats from author Tammy Erickson on a recent HBR blog:

  • Two-thirds of 4- to 7-year-olds have used an iPhone or iPod
  • 6% of 2- to 5-year-olds have their own smartphone;  50% of 11 year olds have own cell phone
  • The average teen sends more than 50 texts a day
  • Over 25% of 2-5 year olds and over 40% of 6-8 year olds use the Internet
  • The amount of time all kids spend online daily has tripled in the past 10 years

I am already preparing my responses to questions I’m sure they will ask when they grow up.  My answers will be something like:

“Yes, that’s a game console.  In my day, you used that to play video games.  And yes, it needed those wires hooked into the box.”

“Well, we used something called Facebook.  It was quite popular for a while.”

“That’s an office cubicle. Believe it or not, people actually liked working in those.”

“Grandpa was referring to something called a mainframe.  There was no cloud back then.  Punch cards?  No, I have no idea what Grandpa was talking about.” 

You get the point. 

We are breeding virtual workers without realizing it.  The workplace is still in transition from the traditional to virtual environment and Generation Y is living through this uncomfortable change.  The following generation will have it a bit easier.  The workplace will already be mobile, flexible, virtual and global by the time they enter it.  Leaders today, regardless of what generation they are from, should try to get ahead of the curve, or at least embrace the coming changes.  Evolution is inevitable, but as quality guru Edwards Deming used to say, survival is not mandatory.  In the meantime, Gen Y, you can start prepping your snarky comments for Generation Z.  You’ll eventually get to pick on the new guys.  

-Jason

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