What Did We Get Wrong About Gen Zers?

They’ve been stereotyped and called many different things: a generation of slackers; a strawberry generation (that “bruises easily” like the fruit); entitled, easily offended, and overly emotional self-obsessed snowflakes; spoilt, selfish, and arrogant serial job-hoppers who don’t understand the value of hard work.

Dubbed as the most “plugged in” generation, Gen Zers are unknown to a world without the Internet. These “digital natives” are brought up on technology and social media and are often criticised for their relationship with their smartphones.

But These Characterisations of This Generation Don’t Tell the Whole Story

The world had time to observe them. Born between 1997 and 2010, Most Gen Zers are teenagers and young working adults now, with the oldest already 25 years old. And if anything, they are probably the most misunderstood generation.

The financial crisis, political uncertainty, social unrest, and global terrorism are the events they grew up in, not to mention a gruelling pandemic that brought them the biggest educational disruption in modern history—at a time when they should be excited to prepare for entering adulthood. Through personal experiences and with unprecedented access to information in the digital sphere, this generation has also come to learn about the world that they are inheriting and know that they will be the ones to bear the brunt of climate change.

Shaped, Weathered, and Worn. What Have They Become?

These circumstances have resulted in Gen Zers emerging and growing into an “activist generation” that is value-driven, pragmatic, and action-oriented. They care deeply about others, and they value authenticity and social responsibility. 

This generation of youths will not hesitate to take a stand on what matters to them, and they will roll up their sleeves to effect change. Gen Zers from around the world have held rallies, hosted virtual events, and created content to educate and spread the word through social media, advocating for a myriad of social issues, including, but not limited to, the climate crisis, racism, gender equity, wealth equality, voting rights, and mental health.

Whilst they hold themselves accountable, they expect the same commitment from leaders, businesses, and governments to help bring about their vision of a better future. Because as the upcoming generation, they feel responsible. And more than any other generation, they know what it is like to pick up the pieces.

Gen Zers Top Concerns: Climate Change, Wealth Inequality, and Discrimination

According to a recent global Deloitte survey, protecting the environment remains a top priority for Gen Zers. 75% of the respondents agree that the world is at a tipping point in responding to climate change, and the future can go either way. Only 44% of them are optimistic that efforts to protect and sustain the state of the planet will be effective. Gen Zers do not believe business and governments are as strongly committed. And so they are willing to put their money where their mouths are to propel change, starting with making “greener” choices themselves and caring more about how and where the products they consume are produced. A UOB-commissioned study polling Gen Zers from five ASEAN countries also reflected the same trend, with 51% of the respondents indicating that they were spending more on sustainable products, up from just 7% in the previous year. The Deloitte survey also found Gen Zers to have deep concerns about wealth inequality, with 72% of respondents agreeing that the gap between the richest and poorest people in their country is widening. Discrimination is another big worry for them, and the issue is personal to many. Six in 10 Gen Zers say that racism is widespread in general society. And because they do not believe institutions are living up to their potential, Gen Zers are taking change into their own hands. Their actions have gone as far as boycotting businesses and brands that do not share their values.

So Now Let’s Debunk the Stereotypes

When Gen Zers bury their heads in their phones and laptops, they are not ignoring the real world. They are prepared to use their digital savviness to keep connected with the world, educate themselves about what is happening, and use technology as a platform to make their voices heard and motivate others to care. 

What about the bad rap around their job-hopping tendencies and the accusation of how they cannot withstand hardships? First of all, the type of side hustles that Gen Zers take on, such as earning through online platforms, consulting, and social media influencing, are indeed new to the older generation, who may find it hard to understand the scope of such work. But it is by no means effortless. Gen Zers want to work smart and work lean—to have just enough time to follow their passions. And why not, when they understand technology well enough to help them accomplish that?

Gen Zers are thought to be an “emo” generation, self-indulgent and often making up disorders, trying to get attention. An American Psychological Association report found that Gen Zers are more likely to report mental health concerns than their older counterparts. And thanks to the proactivity of this generation to discuss topics about mental health, the stigma around seeking mental health therapy has since been significantly reduced over the last decade.

Gen Zers are on track to be more diverse, more educated, and more ready for change than any other generation. They may be complex in terms of their affiliations, identities, aspirations, and even the way they navigate digital platforms, but they’ve proven to possess the aptitude to navigate complexities. More proudly, this is a generation most concerned about the environment and society’s pressing issues, and this is exactly what our future needs.