Gen Z is coming: 3 ways they're different from millennials

This spring, the first class of Generation Z students—those born between 1995 and 2012—will graduate college.

This new generation will soon be entering the workforce and making up a larger percentage of the student population.

But if you're expecting them to be similar to millennials (born 1980-1994), you'll be in for a surprise, says generational expert David Stillman and his Gen Z-aged son Jonah. It's important to understand the unique qualities of Generation Z and what makes them different from the generations that came before, Stillman and his son argue.

According to Stillman and 17-year-old Jonah, here's what makes Generation Z different from millennials:

1. They're independent—and would prefer to stay that way

In surveying Gen Zers in collaboration with the Institute for Corporate Productivity, the Stillimans have found an important distinction: Generation Z likes to work alone.

According to the Stillmans' research, Gen Z prefers to create their own job descriptions and have a habit of keeping private. For example, Stillman says Gen Z prefers the more private social media platform Snapchat, over more public posts on Instagram. Gen Z has grown up with constant warnings about the dangers of oversharing on social media—and how you can leave a potentially negative and definitely permanent digital footprint.

Consider using Snapchat to recruit your next class of Gen Zers

This ties into another distinct trait of Generation Z: their identities are tied to their distinct social consciousness. Gen Zers are acutely aware of which causes they believe in, and the Stillmans say they prioritize working for organizations that help them advance their social causes.

2. To them, the digital world and physical world are one and the same

Everyone knows millennials love their smartphones—but since they're old enough to remember a time before smartphones and constant internet access, they still recognize a difference between the digital world and the physical world.

But Gen Z has grown up with digital technology, which the Stillmans say makes them the first "digital pioneers." The Stillmans use the word "phigital" to describe the world of Gen Z—meaning that every physical part of the Generation Z world has a digital equivalent, and they don't always distinguish between them in the ways that earlier generations did.

For example, when Stillman asked his son to be at a client meeting and his son dialed in using videoconferencing instead, Stillman reprimanded him, saying "I told you to be there." To this, Jonah responded "I was there!" As a member of Gen Z, Jonah didn't recognize any real difference between being at the client meeting in person and being there digitally.

Millennials pursue jobs in education and healthcare. Gen Z wants computer science and video game development

3. They forge their own path

Gen Zers, the Stillmans note, are more scared not to try new things than to try them. And they'll work tirelessly to solve problems and discover their own solutions. According to the Stillmans, members of Gen Z are highly independent and want to figure things out for themselves—and they resent being told to use someone else's solutions.

This tendency to seek experiences and pursue projects outside of their comfort zones contrasts from the stereotype of their "coddled" millennial predecessors.

For this reason, teachers of Gen Z classes should think of themselves more as facilitators and coaches, say the Stillmans (Kaplan, Delta Sky Magazine, 4/2017).

How to communicate with Generation Z

Celebrate the Class of 2017 with #GraduatEAB

EAB is celebrating the success of the Class of 2017! We’re here to help you create more #grads. This May on our social media, join the fun with our graduation-themed content using the hashtag #GraduatEAB to follow, view, and share our best resources on #studentsuccess.

Follow us on Twitter


Next in Today's Briefing

How to make public speaking a walk in the bark—er, park

Next Briefing

  • Manage Your Events
  • Saved webpages and searches
  • Manage your subscriptions
  • Update personal information
  • Invite a colleague