A few weeks ago, The New York Times pronounced the end of the Millennial Era. It would seem, like the many fleeting digital trends they’ve championed, Millennials have finally been displaced.
The generation that’s made a collective career out of brazen entrepreneurialism and brattiness (“They’re brash, they’re narcissistic, they’re entitled,” says the Times, “Or so the cliché goes”) has new competition in the workplace: Generation Z.
A note on the new kids
To give you some context on Generation Z: these kids are, literally, kids. The oldest just finished high school, but many are still toddlers. Gen Z won’t be running Fortune 500s in the next three months, but they’re the next world order. In the coming decade, they’ll dictate how we advertise, how we evolve the workforce and society, how we progress.
And here’s the thing: they stand in complete opposition to the Millennial mindset.
These are the kids who grew up post-911 in the height of a recession. They view their careers and hard-earned money through a lens of anxiety. Gen Z witnessed parents out of work, tight Christmases, the emergence of “terrorism” as a dinner table topic—all with a heightened sense of imperfection, inevitability, and tragedy.
In the Times article, Lucie Greene, a director of the Innovation Group at J. Walter Thompson, calls them “Millennials on steroids”:
“If Hannah Horvath from ‘Girls’ is the typical Millennial — self-involved, dependent, flailing financially in the real world as her expectations of a dream job and life collide with reality — then Alex Dunphy from ‘Modern Family’ represents the Gen Z antidote. Alex is a true Gen Z: conscientious, hard-working, somewhat anxious and mindful of the future.”
How Generation Z does business
So what exactly does this mean for the workforce? A lot—although it’s anyone’s guess exactly how it will turn out.
For employers, it’s probably going to be a great thing. Where Millennials were raised in a period of relative peace and affluence, the products of 1990s stability (think: Cher in Clueless, meandering through malls, buying shoes to make herself feel better, negotiating her way to better grades through hard sells, not hard work), Gen Z comes from a more unstable background. They have good reason to fear the bottom falling out, meaning they’ll work that much harder to secure their stability.
Where we’ve grown accustomed to Millennial logic (“I don’t like my boss. I’ll just start my own company” or “I may be 18, but I’m too talented to work entry-level”), we’ll now find dogged dedication. These are kids who study web development in school and grew up making Vine videos, who in short, live in a digital reality—but pair this with the very real fear of going broke. To put it simply: they’re innovative, but most of all, they’re pragmatic.
What this means for the Millennials
Members of Generation Z still take their cues from their Millennial forerunners—they join the workforce fully-equipped with an entrepreneurial mindset. But they’ve also witnessed their predecessors’ mistakes. You won’t catch these kids posting any questionable photos on social media that might cost them a job, but you won’t find them working at Dairy Queen either.
Says 15-year-old Andrew Schoonover, “Kids are witnessing start-up companies make it big instantly via social media. We do not want to work at a local fast-food joint for a summer job. We want to make our own business because we see the lucky few who make it big.”
There’s still a permeating sense of entitlement, but you don’t stop working until you get to where you “deserve” to be. There are no shortcuts, which means the cheats and #lifehacks of Millennials may not hold up well against the hard work of younger employees. Despite the fact that Americans already work longer hours than they should, we all might need to work a lot harder to compete. So look out, Lena Dunham, the next round of #girlbosses might give you a run for your (possibly unfairly earned) money.