Gen Z’s Watershed Moment

By Neerja Singh


Boomers To Zoomers

Towards the end of last year, there was a face-off at home. Our millennial daughter was demanding that we pick up the phone to mobilize medical help for young university students protesting against the controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA). She was inconsolable and in tears over her friends having to face the brunt of police brutalities. The updates were coming thick and fast over the social media and I remember facing her frustration at our inertia one night. She could not fathom how her parents could just sit there unmoving while young people were out on the roads raising slogans in solidarity with their injured colleagues. Eventually, our two girls gave up on their pro-establishment boomer parents and left home with packed sandwiches and coffee to stake the night out at the scene of action.

I remember my mixed feelings. On the one hand, I was petrified for their safety, and on the other, I felt a fierce pride in their response to the agitation. I had myself taken them to the Ramlila grounds during the anti-corruption agitation of 2011, which led to the formation of a new political outfit, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). At the time I had wanted them to experience the real dynamics of democracy at work. They have since been poised and ready to jump into social and political action in the public spaces. And now they have been joined by the Gen Z,

Generation Z or Gen Z is the term used to describe the generation of young men and women reaching adulthood at the end of the second decade of the 21st-century. In other words, anyone born in 1995 and onwards. And India has the world’s largest Generation Z. According to UN projections, there are currently 99.2 million Gen Z adults, aged between 18 and 22 years. This is roughly a fifth of the world’s entire Gen Z cohort, a proportion greater than China, the US, and Europe.

The growing importance of this generation is reflected not just in these protests and rallies but also on the internet. Google searches for the Gen Z peaked in 2019. This cohort was born into technology. They are like fish in internet water. So at home are they with social media that it has earned them the stereotype of being tech-addicted, anti-social, or “social justice warriors.” This lot will very soon become pivotal to the future of retail. In fact, many of them are expected to have a sizable spending power by 2026.

But Gen Zers are different from older generations; their bar for how they spend their time online is higher, their weapons of choice being the photo-sharing app Instagram and short video sharing app TikTok. There are other differences as per the most recent YouGov-Mint Millennial Survey. This generation is considered to be a bit more political and “woke” as compared to their predecessors. Around 25% of Gen Z adults (18–22 years) said they had participated in some form of protests and rallies compared to 22% among millennials.

Not only is Generation Z more tolerant than other generations, but they are also more concerned with unemployment and women’s safety. Family, work, and time for themselves came across as the most important factors for Gen Z. Relative to the older generations, they also tend to hold liberal views on the most important social issues. Sadly enough, an overwhelming majority among the Gen Z believe it is difficult to find a job these days. Given the current circumstances, these anxieties are only going to grow and cause instability if left unaddressed.

Gen Z has some crazy coming of age stories. There is one of Anirudh Gandotra dropping out of college at the age of 19 to be on his own. In other words, flirt with some startup ideas before moving on to something more concrete. He eventually built his own app-based content platform. There is another of Jasjeet Singh who happened to fall asleep during his semester exam in the third year of B Com and never went back to college after that day. One internship after another followed concluding in a tenure with a seed and accelerator program for early-stage start-ups.

While the millennials grew up during an economic boom, this generation came to age during a recession. Their pragmatism is a foil to the idealism of the millennials. Where the name of the game for millennials was having experiences, Gen Z would rather save money. And even as the millennials prefer brands that share their values, Gen Z would rather use brands that feel authentic.

Gen Z is beginning early at work, they are figuring it out real fast and want to build things and create an impact. Their tools are internet credentials and personal branding. What gets them going is money and titles. Are the employers ready for this freshly minted workforce?

“Organisations have to change with the times,” said Ganesh S Iyer, CEO of Symphony Ventures India, whose team has more than 50 Gen Z-ers, most of whom are engineers. “Few things have definitely changed over the last few years: Gen Z wants much more clarity on the expected role and if that does not fit in their worldview, they will refuse the role. They are very clear about what they want. Also, a lot more tech-based hiring tools have evolved and Gen Z is extremely comfortable using them. And work-life balance is sacrosanct for Gen Z. They also give importance to instant gratification in terms of rewards, career growth, or a raise”, Iyer said.

What will work best with Gen Z is an explanation of the purpose behind decisions. It would help too to give their requirements a conscious listen. Employers will also have to map their careers as the future is about individual skill-building.

They face their watershed moment with the pandemic. Predictions are that they will emerge from this with a high level of stress over events involving large groups of people. Given the masks and headphones that blunt identity, expression, and interaction, they may end up creating new signs and signals for relating from behind masks. They are also expected to grow up being less coddled, what with parents stressed out over lost jobs and full-time parenting. Expectations are that they will step in and vote for change. As communities repeatedly open up, encounter danger, and close down again as the virus mutates and reoccurs, Gen Z digs in harder into the home scene. They will value the security of home. Gen Zs have often been called Globals for their inclusive, world-wide outlook, and they have always been a fundamentally urban generation. That will change. They will travel less and see fewer foreign countries.

Today, Gen Z looks to us as parents and grandparents, as educators, community leaders, and policymakers. It is up to us, to Gen X, Boomers and Millennials to model resilience, create community, and be protective of our link to the future.