Gen Z’s Experience During the Great Recession Will Guide Them in the Time of the Coronavirus

people sitting at a table smiling and writing with nbc logo above

My chat with Lawrence Jackson of NBC News to Discuss Gen Z and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic

  • Uncertainty about the future will change how Gen Z works, learns, and spends money going forward
  • Gen Z’s experience as children during the Great Recession foreshadows their frugality with money
  • Remote work relationships have the potential to impede promotions and upward mobility for Gen Z’ers already in the workforce

In this time of uncertainty surrounding economic, health, and mobility, it is crucial to learn how people are coping with the coronavirus pandemic. As a generational researcher who has led more than 65 generational studies around the world, it is clear that this pandemic is the Generational Defining Moment for Gen Z. So, what does that mean?

Lawrence Jackson of NBC News and I recently talked about the tremendous impact the coronavirus pandemic is having on Gen Z. Generational attitudes, habits, and expectations are significantly affected by traumatic world events, as I said in the interview, “That’s what makes it a Generation Defining Moment as it creates uncertainty towards the future which gets you to change how you think about your own future. And that plays out on everything from spending to education to family planning and all the way to employment.”

Gen Z is already more frugal than Millennials

The national research my team at The Center for Generational Kinetics conducted has repeatedly revealed that the hard times of the Great Recession had a lasting impact on Gen Z. The oldest members of Gen Z saw their families and their communities grapple with troubling economic times beginning in 2008, from their parents losing their jobs to a staggering amount of home foreclosures. These were vivid memories and life-long lessons to the oldest members of Gen Z, who recognized what was happening but could not take action to help because they were still too young.

As I told NBC News: “Gen Z is much more practical, much more frugal with their money than Millennials are because Gen Z saw the Great Recession and they learned from it without having to be in it. When it comes to money and to jobs, they really want stability. For example, we did a national study before COVID-19 that showed 12% of Gen Z were already saving for retirement. They want to know what the [job] benefits are … that’s really unusual.”

Education and Employment Will Dramatically Change for Gen Z

Already, every generation—from Gen Z to Baby Boomers—is seeing dramatic shifts in how daily life operates. Even when the worst threats of COVID-19 are past us, life will not go back to business as usual. Grade schools and universities are embracing digital learning (some better than others) and using tools such as Google Classroom and Zoom.

As I mentioned in the interview, “[Students are] going to be looking for more cost-effective learning options … you’re going to see that at community colleges, you’re going to see that at state colleges [and] state universities.” Many students will likely delay college for a full year due to the direct cost of education. In addition, there is the economic reality of not wanting to start a long-term financial commitment if their parents are out of work or their job prospects look bleak.

Workers of all ages who are still employed are either working while doing their best to comply with new social distancing and safety rules or working remotely from home. However, there can be unexpected consequences to account for working outside the office.  Answering a question about remote working, I said, “People who work remotely sometimes don’t get promoted as fast, and the reason is they don’t have those sort of accidental experiences where you end up going to lunch with your boss [or] you get pulled into a project last minute because you’re the one who’s nearby.”

What Can Leaders Do Now To Best Help their Organizations Emerge from This Crisis?

For any leader, the pandemic creates a crucial time to take smart action to understand precisely how all generations are experiencing this challenging time through their own generational and life stage lens. Leaders then need to know exactly what strategies and approaches work best for a work-from-home or hybrid work scenario and how to drive sales, marketing, and employee performance across generations.

At CGK, we are undertaking several studies that dive into the impact of COVID-19 and how to lead organizations through it. I am also delivering virtual presentations and executive briefings every week for clients around the world. By filling in the missing insights gaps with research-based actions and strategies, you can quickly make smart, informed decisions to come out of the pandemic with as strong an organization as possible.

Contact my team here to learn more about our research and the resources we provide to lead and engage different generations during COVID-19 and post-pandemic. We are all in this together, and at CGK, we’re ready to help.

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