While a lot has been articulated in the last 18 months about older people at risk from COVID-19, Generation Z, the younger generation born between the late 1990s and the early 2010s, also saw their world shaken in 2020 due to the pandemic. From being subjected to school shutdowns and quarantining to social distancing and high unemployment, Gen Z as a current and near-future workforce is coming of age in the middle of far-reaching socio-economic turmoil.
Who is Generation Z?
Generation Z (Gen Z), colloquially also known as Zoomers, are the demographic cohort following Millennials and preceding Generation Alpha. Researchers and popular media categorise Generation Z as being born between the mid-to-late 1990s and the early 2010s – currently aged approximately 12 – 27 years old. Most members of Generation Z are children of Generation X. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Generation_Z
Generation Z, psychological state-of-mind
A series of consumer surveys and interviews conducted by McKinsey, and published in January 2022, indicate a stark difference among the different generation cohorts, with Gen Z reporting the least positive life outlook, including lower levels of emotional and social well-being than older generations.
- One in four Gen Z respondents reported feeling more emotionally distressed (25 percent), almost double the levels reported by millennial and Gen X respondents (13 percent each), and more than triple the levels reported by baby boomer respondents (8 percent).
- In their sample, Gen Z respondents were more likely to report having been diagnosed with a behavioural-health condition (for example, mental or substance use disorder) than either Gen Xers or baby boomers.
- Gen Z respondents were also two to three times more likely than other generations to report thinking about, planning, or attempting suicide in the 12-month period spanning late 2019 to late 2020.
- Gen Z also reported more unmet social needs than any other generation. Fifty-eight percent of Gen Z reported two or more unmet social needs, compared with 16 percent of people from older generations. These perceived unmet social needs, including income, employment, education, food, housing, transportation, social support, and safety, are associated with higher self-reported rates of behavioural-health conditions.
Gen Z: Worldview
Insights from Deloitte Millennial Survey 2021 reveal that Millennials and Gen Zs believe the world is at a tipping point on environmental issues, inequality, and racism. They are holding themselves and institutions accountable in order to bring about a more sustainable and equitable world. This year’s survey unearths the following global insights:
- The environment remains a top concern. During the pandemic, health care and unemployment topped millennials’ list of concerns. But environment remained a priority (#3 for millennials and #1 for Gen Zs). ~40% believe that more people will commit to take action on environmental issues after the pandemic. But 60% fear business’ commitment to helping combat climate change will be less of a priority as business leaders reckon with challenges brought on by the pandemic.
- Two-thirds of millennials (69%) and Gen Zs (66%) think wealth and income is unequally distributed. Many believe government intervention will be needed to drive change. Nearly a third have supported politicians who want to reduce income inequality. Roughly 60% said legislation to limit the pay gap between senior executives and employees would significantly help, as would requiring a liveable wage. And more than half of respondents said universal basic income would help.
- Millennials and Gen Zs believe discrimination is widespread, likely enabled by systemic racism. One in five respondents feel personally discriminated against “all the time” or frequently because of an aspect of their backgrounds. Six in 10 Gen Zs and 56% of millennials said systemic racism is widespread in general society. They believe Individuals and activists are doing the most to reduce systemic racism, while the education system, legal system, government and business falls short of their potential to drive change.
- High stress levels are driven by concerns about finances, family welfare, and job prospects. Almost half of Gen Zs and four in 10 millennials said they feel stressed all or most of the time. About two-thirds of respondents agreed that they often worry about their personal financial situations. Their families’ welfare was also a main cause of stress for millennials. Uncertainty about jobs/career prospects was top for Gen Zs.
- Stress and anxiety are prevalent in the workplace, and employers’ efforts to support mental health are seen as inadequate. About a third of respondents (millennials 31%, Gen Zs 35%) said they’ve taken time off work due to stress caused by the pandemic. Yet about 40% have not felt comfortable disclosing the reason for their absence to their employer. Approximately 40% of millennials and Gen Zs feel their employers have done a poor job of supporting their mental wellbeing during the pandemic.
- Views on business’ social impact continues to decline; job loyalty slips. Continuing a steady decline over the last five years, less than half of millennials (47%) and Gen Zs (48%) think business is having a positive impact on society. This marks the first time these levels have fallen below 50% since this survey began in 2012. 62% of millennials agreed that businesses “have no ambition beyond wanting to make money.” However, that figure is down slightly (four percentage points) from 2020. Job loyalty slipped from its 2020 peak. More millennials and Gen Zs would like to leave their employer within two years than last year—36% and 53% respectively, compared to 31% and 50% in 2020.
Mental health: Levels and sources of stress
Mental health: Stress in the workplace
Concerns: World challenges
How has COVID-19 reshaped Generation Z career ambitions?
The Covid-19 pandemic has radically altered the attitudes and career aspirations of Gen Z who have earned the nickname ‘Generation Resilient’ in their ability to overcome hurdles such as massive job losses, a sudden shift to living and studying online and unexpected social isolation. This change will come to define the future world of higher education and work.
- The pandemic has caused Gen-Z to take a fresh look at their educational goals. Gen-Z recognises that education is a tool to combine their personal passions with their careers.
- Many members of Gen-Z are now thinking about entering critical STEM fields – inspired to consider a career in healthcare and science. Many are likely motivated by what they have seen and experienced during the pandemic.
- One of the rising trends among Gen-Z is a desire to start their own business or pursue new career opportunities in ways that promise to create more fulfilling lives for themselves and others.
- Gen Z could change jobs multiple times between the ages of 18 and 34 as the outdated concept of a career ladder that runs from the mailroom to the executive suite in the same organisation is replaced by something much more ad hoc and flexible.
- Diversity and inclusion matter a lot to Gen Z. They want their employer to care about the environment, and hold to high standards when it comes to ethics and transparency.
- Gen Z values remuneration less than every other generation. Given a choice of accepting a better-paying, dull job versus work that was more interesting but didn’t pay as well, Gen Z could go either way in their decision.
Gen Z are coming of age in the aftermath of a historic pandemic, at a time when hostilities between Russian and Ukraine will have far-reaching socioeconomic and humanitarian repercussions, and when the climate emergency poses an unprecedented threat to humanity. What they look for at work – and what they will not accept – is likely to have significant, long-term repercussions.