From GenY finally to GenZ

by Chris Scholz on April 2, 2019

We have the Millennials, the Homeland Generation, the iGeneration, and then, of course, we have Generation X,Y, Z.
They do not just have specific meanings, they have also specific years connected to it. 
Following an earlier paper, the author systematize these and other concepts, following what seems to be a trend in current academia.

 

Christian Scholz[1]

Defining Generations: When does Y stop, when does Z start?

Z is different from Y and this difference is crucial: As early as January 2012, the author of this article talked in the Austrian daily newspaper DER STANDARD about the dangerous belief that Generation Y would continue unchanged in the following years and about a potentially new iteration of generations. Therefore, he suggested to use the “Generation Z” for those born after the year 1995 – however knowing that there are no sharp boundaries between “generations”, but still different patterns. Meanwhile, US-American research has finally followed, and Pew-Research postulated in January 2019 the existence of a Generation Z as the next generation after Generation Y.

To begin with, the division into Generation X and Y (and later Z) is not about classification or labelling as arbitrary attribution of features. Rather, it is supposed to localize shifts in value patterns and develop options for actions from the perspective of these different generations. For example, in 2000 a company was able to attract young talents by promising them “working time autonomy” or “flexible working models without time recording”, these incentives will almost certainly be prohibitive to young people almost 20 years later. That is what companies should at least know before they put money into a counterproductive employer branding. Furthermore, this highlights that there are quite drastic shifts to be observed in distinct attitudes between generations.

Looking now at the dynamics of the generations, it is possible to locate interesting and at the same time astonishing episodes in the generations following to baby boomers and Generation X.

Episode 1: Generation Y emerge as Millennials (2000)

At least in the US-literature in 2000 the millennials emerged following baby boomers and Generation X, – as explained amongst others by Neil Howe and William Strauss[2], who use this term for what European researchers usually call Generation Y. Born in 1980, these young people are, at that time, around 20 years: they quickly recognize the fascinating opportunities of the new Internet technology, see the boundless perspectives of the new working world. It is the time of the ever-expanding Internet bubble. The message is clear: work hard, play hard, and enjoy a competition with surprisingly few losers, much success, but also less free time. The work dominates and penetrates more and more into the private life of a dynamic Generation Y, who is boundlessly optimistic and willing to perform. Everything works limitless in good and bad sense.

This Generation Y combines two phenomena: on the one hand, it operates in a highly competitive environment, which bears distinctly Darwinian features. On the other hand, the actors focus primarily on themselves and their own benefit, formulated positively as a question of sense meaning (“Generation Why”), critically formulated as pure opportunism. The result is Darwiportunism[3], a combination of Darwinism and Opportunism, typical for the Generation Y as a product and as a designer of this time.

Episode 2: Noticeable changes in the very young Generation Y (2010)

In 2010 Generation Y is between 15 and 30 years old. The younger millennials notice it more clearly than the older ones: this acting like a hamster in a wheel is becoming a problem. A few recognize the first signals, according to which the adolescents of this, still called, Generation Y are no longer willing to subordinate private life around the clock to the company. This small but growing group is starting to get interested in free weekends and privacy. The willingness to work overtime is also dwindling. At the same time, economic growth is collapsing and suddenly career goals are more difficult to achieve. The Generation Y are shown tough limits, which cannot be solved by working more and harder.

The following statement (translated from a German article with the title “This is how the millennials have changed the world of work” is typical for this discussion:[4] “If researchers talk about the Millennials or Generation Y, which are  those born between 1980 and 2000, they paint exactly this picture: Contrary to many prejudices, this generation is quite performance-oriented and would like to be successful – but not at the expense of family, friends or personal interests.” But this statement is both wrong and dangerous. That can be seen by looking at the title: Instead of “this is how the millennials have changed the working world” it should read “this is how the younger millennials (who are actually not millennials) have changed the working world”.

This effect taking place in a small portion of the Generation Y produces two problems: since these changes at the younger edge of the generation (year of birth between 1995 to 2000) are at the same time amazing and by companies often as unpleasant registered, it gives the impression that the entire Generation Y would tick so. This is wrong. At the same time, critics rejoice in the generational logic, which now points out that Generation Y is not homogenous at all, because the very young are simply behaving differently than the older ones.

Episode 3: Focusing on Generation Z in Europe (2012)

The obvious conclusion: There is still a Generation Y that can be clearly conceptualized and distinctively identified. In addition, however, a completely different generation is coming into existence, which is shaped by completely different factors. Therefore, we can no longer speak of the “somewhat different young Generation Y representatives”, but of the distinct Generation Z, presumably even the complete opposite to Generation Y.

From this time comes the contribution of the author of this text in the Austrian STANDARD[5], which – based on first explorative data and assuming constant transition patterns between the generations – is focusing on the digital natives with the birth year starting at 1995. This “Generation Z”[6]sees itself as a digital entrepreneur with the goal of maximizing both personal income and feeling well in life. This Generation Z is willing to work hard (sometimes on the weekend, but if possible, not). It is realistic, has a low degree of loyalty to the employer as the employers do not show loyalty as well, and trusts more in their own generation than to older generations. 

This conceptual treatment of Generation Z has two features: on the one hand, it is the holistic approach to the value systems of Generation Z and, on the other hand, a positive view of Generation Z as the “Generation Zukunft”[7] .

Episode 4 (U.S.A.): Diversity of Names for the Successor Group (2014)

For the younger and apparently considered just slightly different millennials, researchers and consultants in the U.S.A. continue to use the term Millennials, although it becomes clear that there is a divergence within the Millennials. Therefore, we get a large variety of names for that cohort, each name not just a name, but almost a mission statement for that group of young people.

In 2014, emphasized by the US-government[8], the expression “Homeland Generation” becomes official language. This generation values, due to the terrorist attacks of 9/11, the “homeland” again and even prefers to spend their holidays in the US. However, there might also be another interpretation of this name: following that, this generation is in the shadow of the Homeland Security Act, which is seen, by some, as a drastic restriction of civil rights. In any case, the focus here is on dealing with terror and violence and the resulting actions.

In 2017 Jean Twenge[9]– as well as several others before  – talks about an “iGeneration”: born in 1995, the I in the name expresses the dominant relation to the Internet, iPod and iPhone, thus providing primarily a technological perspective; according to that, the iGeneration is considered to be addicted to smartphones, partially socially isolated, rather unhappy, and desperately seeking safety in a life full of psychological distress caused by stress and insecurity.

Other expressions for the generation after the millennials in the US are, for example, “post-millennials” as mere continuation of the millennials and “generation-We”[10]as people who are rarely alone, but always real or virtual connected to a group.

The decisive factor in this conceptual world is, on one hand, the focus on usually only one dominant feature, and on the other hand the not really paying attention to generation-specific value systems. Exactly these are significant when we look at shaping process of the minds of generations as explained in the generational logic founded by Karl Mannheim[11]: These imprints of values acquired in the young age lead to value systems that stay largely constant in their lives[12].

Episode 5: The U.S.A.’s call it Generation Z (2018)

Since 2018, at least according to Google trends, in the U.S.A the expression “Generation Z” gains popularity.

This can be highlighted by an interesting article from the Pew Research Center[13]: Based on that, the U.S.A. had dealt for a decade explicitly with the millennials. In order to continue this analysis, however, a clear distinction to the next generation is necessary. And this is done by introduction “Generation Z”. Also, in several Pew-publications the cohort comparison becomes more important, which is the comparison of 15-20-year-olds today compared to 15-20-year-olds 15/30 years ago. The fact that Pew Research sets itself for the start of 1997 is bearable in view of these otherwise meaningful and internationally compatible basic orientations.

Episode 6: Convergence and Professionalization (2019)

This small article tries to describe some episodes from developing the generational concept and to alleviate some of the associated linguistic confusion, behind which tangible conceptual differences lie or to phrase it more exactly, have laid: For now, there seems to be a worldwide convergence of generational logic, an important condition for a professional and ethical responsible handling of generation differences.


[1]Christian Scholz (scholz@1v.com), Professor emeritus for Organizational Behaviour, Human Resource Management and Information Management at the Universität des Saarlandes in Saarbrücken, author of the book Generation Z (Wiley 2014).

[2]Howe, Neil/Strauss, William (2000): Millennials Rising: The Next Great Generation. New York: Vintage Books.

[3]Scholz, Christian (2003): Spieler ohne Stammplatzgarantie: Darwiportunismus in der neuen Arbeitswelt. Weinheim: Wiley-VCH.

[4]Greiner, Lena (2018): So haben die Millennials die Arbeitswelt verändert. March 1, 2018, http://www.spiegel.de/karriere/generation-y-so-haben-die-millennials-die-arbeitswelt-bereits-veraendert-a-1195595.html, retrieved on March 25, 2019.

[5]Scholz, Christian(2012): Generation Z: Willkommen in der Arbeitswelt.  DER STANDARD, print January 7/8, 2012, online January 6, 2012, https://derstandard.at/1325485714613/Future-Work-Generation-Z-Willkommen-in-der-Arbeitswelt,retrieved on March 24, 2019.

[6]Scholz, Christian (2014): Generation Z. Wie sie tickt, was sie verändert und warum sie uns alle ansteckt. Weinheim: Wiley-VCH.

[7]“Zukunft is German for Future and has the advantage to start with a „Z“.

[8]Boysen, Anne (2014): It’s Official, The White House Calls Them “Homeland Generation”. October 22, 2014, http://afterthemillennials.com/its-official-the-white-house-calls-them-homeland-generation/, retrieved on March 24, 2019.

[9]Twenge, Jean M. (2017): IGen: why todays super-connected kids are growing up less rebellious, more tolerant, less happy – and completely unprepared for adulthood (and what that means for the rest of us). New York: Atria Books. 

[10]Mary Meehan, Mary (2016), The Next Generation: What Matters To Gen We. August 11, 2016,https://www.forbes.com/sites/marymeehan/2016/08/11/the-next-generation-what-matters-to-gen-we/#6bb5aa767350retrieved on March 24, 2014.

[11]Mannheim, Karl (1927/1928): The Problem of Generations. In Kecskemeti, Paul (Hrsg.), Karl Mannheim: Essays 1952(republished 1972): 276–322. London: Routledge & Kegan Ltd.

[12]Scholz, Christian: Karl Mannheim on Generation Z. November 8, 2018, https://the-generation-z.com/karl-mannheim-on-generation-z, last accessed March 25, 2019.

[13]Dimock, Michael (2019). Defining generations: Where Millennials end and Generation Z begins, January 12019,https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2019/01/17/where-millennials-end-and-generation-z-begins/retrieved on March 25, 2019. 

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