Jan 16, 2019 | 5
Minute Read

10 Defining Characteristics of Generation Z

Young group of Generation Z

Recently, I read an article in HR Magazine written by 16-year old Josh Miller, a thought leader on all things Generation Z. Despite his young age, Miller spoke eloquently from a first-person perspective, comparing and contrasting Generation Z with other generations. With his article as both a source and inspiration, these ten defining characteristics of Generation Z will help better articulate what sets this generation apart from others, notably the Millennials with whom they are regularly confused.

Generation Z is financially focused

When it comes to work, Generation Z views their job as a means to an end. Unlike their Millennial counterparts who often need to love what they do, Gen Z understands that work is performed for financial reasons. They’ll readily accept employment that provides a steady income and necessary benefits even if it isn’t their dream job.

It’s not to say they wouldn’t prefer to enjoy what they do, but it is not a necessity for Gen Z. If the decision came down to doing something they love or getting a more substantial paycheck, the paycheck will most often prevail.

This financial focus is a byproduct of watching their Generation X parents lose significant savings in a very short period of time during the market crash and recession of 2008. They witnessed how quickly the money can disappear, so financially-driven actions lead much of what they do.

Generation Z is entrepreneurial

We regularly hear about rags-to-riches stories that have resulted from the technology boom. Whether it’s the notable rise of Steve Jobs and Bill Gates from toiling in their garages to accumulating limitless wealth, or the recurring stories of teenagers creating apps in their free time that make them overnight millionaires, Gen Z knows there is money to be made from good ideas.

They aren’t afraid to chase those ideas and believe that they have what it takes to have similar successes. They are also keenly aware that everything they don’t currently know is a simple click or two away, which makes the bold decision to be an entrepreneur less arduous and easier to swallow.

Generation Z is all about technology

From the time of their birth, the internet and cell phones (for the most part) were commonplace. Gen Z wants instant gratification and they know if that if they need information, it’s easily accessible. 

Because being connected makes communication virtually limitless, it’s not uncommon for members of Gen Z to have friends all over the world. For many, communicating with someone halfway around the world may be easier than communicating with older relatives at the dinner table during a holiday meal.

While phones may be confused for an extra appendage on members of Gen Z, cell phones are used, first and foremost, for entertainment purposes. Members of this generation still prefer to have face-to-face human contact whenever possible, especially with people they know.

Gen Z does a lot of research online and companies trying to reach this group would be well served to attract them through online means compared with old-school methods of print, radio or television. They research companies online, and rely on user reviews to backup their gut instincts about a company before they actually do business with them.

Generation Z enjoys other people

Sure, Gen Z likes face-to-face interaction, but it doesn’t always have to take place in the same physical location. Regularly utilizing apps such as FaceTime or Skype, members of Gen Z will often have “face-to-face” conversations with thousands of miles separating the participants, utilizing technology of which they are so adept.

The main difference between Gen Z and older generations is the reduced amount of eye contact employed. The younger generation was born with a device in their hands and are simply used to looking down. It’s not meant to be a sign of disrespect or disinterest in the person speaking to them, although older generations may interpret their lack of eye contact as such.

Generation Z is competitive

This group is very focused and competitive in most areas of life. Not only do they want to get into the best schools and get the highest paying jobs, they want to win every debate and every sporting event. Competition constantly drives this group.

Competition may be against others or within themselves. And, competition against the clock is a constant. They want what they want now! Patience is a lost art with Gen Z, knowing they have to act quickly to get what they want fearing someone else may beat them to the punch.

Change is welcomed by Generation Z

With limitless information at their fingertips, Gen Z has a lot of knowledge and exposure to many different topics. With this breadth of knowledge, they constantly seek new ideas and experiences. They will change direction on a dime without a second thought, leaving some of the older generations shaking their heads trying to keep up.

Unlike previous generations, this youthful group is actively engaged in political conversations despite many of them not yet being able to vote. Information is easier to find, making them “experts” on subjects very quickly. With this mentality, they tend to rally behind causes that resonate with them, often before they even take time to consider the “other side.”

Diversity doesn’t even register with Generation Z

They’ve grown up in a diverse world and it’s all they know. Neither race, sexual orientation nor religion are the identifying characteristics that they may have been for previous generations. People are just people to Gen Z. It doesn’t mean they won’t judge, however. Gen Z is more likely to judge someone for what you are, rather than for who you are.

With changing demographics happening in America, Gen Z will be the last generation where a majority of the population is white. Gay marriage and a black president is a way of life during this group’s formidable years, making diversity “the norm” thus eliminating any need to focus on the subject specifically.

Generation Z prefers independence

A key differentiator between Gen Z and their Millennial counterparts is Gen Z’s preference to work independently. Millennials are all about collaboration, but the competitive nature of Gen Z contributes to them wanting to control their own destiny and not rely on others for their own success.

Workplaces who lowered cubicle walls and created open work areas for the Millennial workforce may want to rethink this strategy because it is typically not embraced by members of Gen Z.

Generation Z wants to be heard

Having access to so much information, Gen Z has strong opinions and wants them to be heard. This is especially true in the workplace, where they expect to be an equal contributor. Gen Z members believe their ideas are just as valuable as ideas from members of other generations.

While they may lack experience that only comes with time, their ability to change on a dime, process information quickly and compete make them a voice to be heard in any organization.

Generation Z can be a lot like their parents

No matter how much they may try to fight it, Gen Z can be a lot like their Gen X parents. Behaviorally, Millennials tend to reflect many of the characteristics of their Baby Boomer parents, a key distinguishing difference between the two groups.

With an individualistic focus and a certain level of skepticism, they are relatively optimistic even if they aren’t overtly trusting.

Focus group of one

Having a Gen Z daughter, I have a front-row seat to witness many of these characteristics daily. With few exceptions, the concepts delivered by Josh Miller in his article seem to be accurate in what I regularly experience.

My daughter is extremely financially focused and has been since a very early age. She has big plans but has the wherewithal to understand it takes money to finance those plans. Instead of just talking about what she’s going to do, she’s already created and enacted plans to make her big dreams become a reality. One of those big ideas is forming her own art company, a bold move from a then 16-year old.

Without question, she is connected to either her phone or computer constantly. During those late hours online, she is often chatting with friends scattered throughout the country.

She’s consistently open to new ideas and can change a strategy in a fleeting second, clearly relying on gut instinct over labored research. She doesn’t see color or orientation and cares little about religion. Her competition is internal, constantly challenging herself to be better today than she was yesterday. An opinionated individual, she is a self-starter who will create a vision and see it through to completion entirely on her own.

Finally, whether she likes it or not, she can be just like her Dad in so many ways (good and bad) and I remind her of that every chance I get.

Final Thoughts

Other than being relatively close in age and both being technologically savvy, Gen Z is a very different and unique group compared to its Millennial counterparts.

This group, born between 1981-1996, has its own set of formative life experiences, just as every generation had before them. These experiences have made an indelible imprint on their DNA and has helped shape them into the people that they are and will continue to be.


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Dave Clark