A Defining Moment: The Impacts of the Pandemic on Gen Z and What It Means for the Generation Going Forward

blond Gen Z sitting on rock in the wilderness looking at his phone with a CNBC logo on top left

I Recently Shared with CNBC How the Pandemic is Shaping the Future as Gen Z Comes of Age

  • The coronavirus is Gen Z’s ‘Where were you when…?’ moment
  • Gen Z has been and will continue to be more fiscally conservative than Millennials
  • Expect career reconsideration for older Gen Z and unexpected long-term benefits for the youngest Gen Z

Unquestionably, the last few months have been an unprecedented time. No matter how each of us has been affected, everyone has experienced some sort of disruption in their lives. According to CGK’s latest research, Gen Z has seen the greatest share of these effects, especially on the economic side. It also shows they are the most likely to change and be changed going forward. The pandemic is what I call a Generation Defining Moment.

As a generations researcher, strategist, and author of the forthcoming book, Zconomy, I shared with CNBC our latest Gen Z research, insights, and unexpected trends occurring during these extraordinary times. Below are a few insights from the article that I wanted to make sure you saw.

The Pandemic Will Be the First Generation Defining Moment for Generation Z

Previous generations remember where they were during such times as the Kennedy Assassination, when the Berlin Wall came down, and September 11th. For Gen Z, the pandemic will be the first defining moment of this period in their lives. It is their “Where were you when…?” moment.

This matters not just as a point of conversation; it is a defining and consequential moment that will have a significant long-term impact. As I shared with CNBC, “This is the first one that they are experiencing on their journey to, or while entering, adulthood.”

Gen Z Will Mind Their Money, Spending, and Credit

The economic aspects of the pandemic are extreme. For Gen Z, their memories of the fiscal uncertainty during the 2008 recession often establish their tendency for frugality and propensity to be financially risk-averse. As I shared in the article, “[Gen Z] were old enough to see and hear their parents struggle [during the Great Recession], but young enough to impact their views and beliefs about money.”

In fact, CGK’s research shows that 69% of Gen Z sees saving for retirement as a priority, and 66% are worried about paying off debt. Keep in mind, the oldest members of this generation are only 24! Along with my co-author, Dr. Denise Villa, we wrote extensively about this topic and more in Zconomy: How Gen Z Will Change the Future of Business—and What to Do About It.

I shared more on this point with CNBC: “The pandemic impacts decisions on everything, from where [Gen Z] live, to cars and the type of company they would go to work for. We are seeing them become more risk-averse. [They are] choosing not to move across the country, choosing not to move far away from what they know right now.”

Career Reconsideration and Unexpected Long-Term Benefits

While these economic, social, employment, and learning times are far from ideal, the pandemic has upended how we work and live. Already, we see college students rethinking industries and careers that no longer seem stable or ideal.  Not only could that mean Gen Z is looking for jobs closer to home or where remote work doesn’t hinder career progression, but also seeking out employers that are offering solid benefit packages amidst the uncertainty.

For the youngest members of Gen Z, the ways society is likely to adapt will be substantial and be a part of their experience for years to come. At the moment, younger members of Gen Z often say the greatest impact on them is their inability to see friends in person and at school. In the future, they may look back and see something different.

As I shared with CNBC, “By the time [Gen Z] enter the workforce, they are going to have seen employers adapt, the education adapt, the credit system adapt. They are going to be the beneficiary of what that change is.”

The unexpected benefit to younger members of Gen Z may be greater adoption of online learning, collaboration, and other tools—which bodes very well for them and their future employment. The same goes for skipping going to a bank’s branches or shopping for groceries in-person, all of which may be part of a bygone era when the youngest members of Gen Z enter adulthood.

How Can You Engage Gen Z Now?

With all of the current pandemic-related challenges, leaders must have the most important insights about Gen Z to ensure that their organizations can engage this influential generation of employees, customers, and trendsetters.

My team and I at CGK are constantly researching Gen Z and their mindset, behaviors, and priorities. This includes how they think about jobs, spending, brands, the economy, family, social media, and much more. We are providing these insights as part of our strategic advisory work,  webinars, and virtual keynote presentations to help leaders have the research-based insights they need to make key strategic decisions.

Contact my friendly team here to set up a time to talk about ways we can be your trusted generational resource during this period of rapid change.

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