In mid-2018, a whopping 61 million members of Gen Z entered the US workforce, making there five generations in the workforce at once. During a panel entitled “The Inherent Rebellion of Gen Z” at this week’s 3% Conference, Alain Sylvain—the founder and chief executive officer of strategy and design consultancy Sylvain Labs—makes the case for employers to ask how they can work with the TikTok-loving cohort, instead of asking how Gen Z will work for them.
Sylvain’s case study, which highlights how Gen Z’s tech-savviness will catalyze social progress and a workplace revolution, has important implications for brands looking to understand and appeal to Gen Z.
A little rebellious, very socially conscious and more digitally connected than any other group, Gen Z is perhaps the savviest generation when it comes to risk, creativity and invention, argues Sylvain. In the ‘50s and ‘60s, people revolted against innocence and authority, respectively. Later, Gen X would lead an anti-establishment rebellion, embracing all things alternative. For millennials, it was about shunning the conventional idea of adulthood and the milestones that came with it, such as getting married or buying a house at a certain age.
Unlike the generations before them, Gen Z—digital natives born during times of crisis spanning the 9/11 attacks, the 2008 recession and now, COVID—have a vastly different perspective than others, and therefore is not anti-anything, but rather pro-change.
“Gen Z only knows a world where things aren’t making sense or things are falling apart, and they’re looking to the rest of us to do something about it. Add to that they’re looking at it through the lens of technology,” Sylvain says.
From Gen Z’s reliance on technology was born a new humanity, one characterized by a collective connectedness, enabling Gen Z to have a greater sense of awareness thanks to information about anything being just a smartphone tap away. Because of their ability to connect with people from every corner of the globe, Gen Z feels a sense of responsibility to care for their neighbor, which Sylvain notes is inducing Gen Z-created businesses and content that simultaneously benefit society and challenge norms.
“If millennials shunned the system in pursuit of their own personal purpose, Gen Z is hacking the system in pursuit of collective progress. For them, work is a medium used to solve their desire to change the world. Work is an extension of that pursuit.”
The truth is, Gen Z, having reimagined what rebellion can actually be, is a political force to be reckoned with, according to Sylvain. In one savvy act of rebellion, Gen Z activists in Hong Kong used Animal Crossing to stage a virtual anti-government protest, featuring characters holding torches and signs that read “Free Hong Kong.” As a result, the game was banned in China.
Gen Z’ers also have higher standards for the companies they work for. In fact, a recent study by Girls With Impact found that 45 percent of Gen Z want to work for a company that makes a positive difference in the world, while 65 percent wish to personally create something world-changing.
To reach the group not afraid to call it like it is, Sylvain recommends employers act as allies toward Gen Z by listening, and being supportive and humble in their interactions with them.