Much has been written about the Millennials generation — those born between the early 1980s to mid-1990s — and what they are like in the workplace. Substantially less has been written about the generation that came after that, partially because the oldest of them are just now entering their mid-20s. Economist and author Noreen Hertz, the keynote speaker of the Royal Fidelity Cayman Economic Outlook conference held on Feb. 28 at Kimpton Seafire Resort + Spa, offered insights into this generation, which she says will make up a third of the global workforce by the year 2022.
Although this generation, which includes people born roughly between 1994 and 2003, is sometimes called Generation Z, Hertz has a different name for them. She calls them “Generation K” based on a film franchise heroine with whom the generation’s members identify: Katniss Everdeen of “Hunger Games.”
“This is a generation that has been shaped by social media,” Hertz said. “They spend a whopping third of their day on social media.” But not it’s not just their online connectedness that defines Generation K.
“They are shaped also by the financial crisis and have grown up in the shadow of financial decline,” Hertz said, adding that the generation grew up with the threat of terrorist attacks, school shootings and climate change.
“This generation experiences danger in a fundamental way, 24 hours a day,” she said, noting the parallels between the world Generation K lives in and that of Katniss Everdeen’s society.
While the Millennial generation grew up being told the world was their oyster, Hertz said that for Generation K, the world is less oyster and more dystopian nightmare. As a result, almost every global study has shown that those in Generation K have higher incidences of mental health problems and higher suicide rates.
“Eighty per cent of Generation K says they are very concerned about climate change,” Hertz said. “They are very worried about the future of the world.” Their worries extend to their own financial well-being, too.
“This generation believes their financial future will be significantly worse than that of their parents,” she said, noting that those in the generation don’t have a lot of faith in the corporate world. “Only six per cent trust big corporations to do the right thing.”
Hertz conducted extensive research over a five-year period on Generation K members, which she defines as those who are now aged 15 to 24. Although her research was primarily focused in the United States and the United Kingdom, she has also conducted limited studies in other western European countries as well. She says she expected a lot of differences in the young people in the different countries, but what she found instead was “remarkable shared traits.” She received similar feedback from parents of Generation K children in the Cayman Islands during her visit here and in the Bahamas, where she also spoke at the Royal Fidelity Bahamas Economic Outlook conference.
“After I spoke, I had parents come to me and say, ‘You were speaking about my child,’” she said.
WHAT THEY WANT
Because the teenagers and young adults in Generation K have been shaped by much different forces, there are real implications on how they view the workplace, and what they want, Hertz said.
“What they care about most is equality,” she said, citing economic, racial and gender equality.
“Gender pay is an issue for them,” she said. “They view it as fundamentally unfair that men and women are paid differently. They are going to demand and expect gender pay parity.”
As a consumer group, Generation K will also be different than previous generations.
“In a world of passive consumption, Gen K puts a premium on things they can co-create,” Hertz said, pointing to the success — and sold-out concerts — of Hatsune Miku, who is basically a virtual reality pop star who performs songs created by musicians all over the world.
“Generation K is a generation of creators and makers,” Hertz said, “It doesn’t want to just buy things.”
The same creating or co-creating mentality will transfer to their work.
“Generation K will want more agency in the workplace,” Hertz said, adding that if they are given the right setting, they will likely be more loyal hires than Millennials. However, employers will also have to accept that some Generation K hires they make will also likely need more psychological care because of their increased mental health issues.
Based on Hertz’s research, Generation K will be, however, a harder working generation than Millennials. In one of the questions in her research, Hertz asked — in statement form — if Generation K members would be willing to work day and night in order to succeed. She said that the large majority of respondents “strongly agreed” with that statement, “which isn’t what you’d see from Millennials.”
Employers may not have to accommodate as many maternity and paternity leaves with Generation K, either.
“Generation K is very unsure if they want to have children,” Hertz said, adding that a full third of her research subjects said they didn’t know if they wanted children.