How Gen Z will lead the way in doing business and conducting life

By Michelle van Schouwen

Born between 1997 and 2012, Gen Z is readying itself, consciously and not, to change the way businesses small and large conduct themselves, and how western countries respond to their citizens. From a small business owner’s perspective, the imminent influence of Gen Z will serve as a powerful nudge into a future that is much different than the past. This article bases its theories on Gen Z research including major studies from Stanford and Pew Research as well as a range of other sources. And while no large group is all one thing or another, common characteristics of Gen Z will be key to hiring, working with, and leveraging the power of this new generation.

Digital natives: Gen Z grew up using technology, and for most, it’s second nature. Even those who are mostly consumers rather than producers can handle a wide range of tech problems undaunted, and the producers will bring a new level of expertise that will benefit businesses from tech startups to administrative offices and beyond.

More educated, more diverse than previous generations: Demographically, Gen Z is diverse. It is also, at least in the United States, the best educated generation we’ve seen yet. These two characteristics combined lead, by and large, to a more inclusive and accepting view of others, including the ability to include rather than exclude, and to understand rather than condemn. For small businesses that have struggled with marketing to, or creating an attractive place of employment for, groups outside their own, Gen Z can offer one key to enriching inclusion and outreach. As the U.S. itself becomes more diverse, such inclusion and outreach will be critical.

Collaborative, communicative: Having grown up enveloped in nonstop digital communications, Gen Z tends toward working cooperatively and learning from those around them. They are frank in their communications, and less apt to revere top-down cultures.

Stuck with inherited problems, weary of the status quo: Gen Z as a whole feels that Boomers and Gen X have made a mess of the world, particularly regarding climate, the environment, and international relations. They understand that they are tasked, perhaps unfairly, with finding solutions to “ticking bomb issues.” It follows that they will not be satisfied with business as usual – in the workplace or out. (Exemplifying the demand to “do better” is the 2022 election of central Florida progressive Maxwell Alejandro Frost, 25, who will be the first Gen Z member of Congress. He ran on “issues especially important to young voters: ending gun violence, addressing climate change, protecting abortion rights and supporting Medicare for all, according to CNBC.)

Living with an uncertain future: Climate change, the COVID pandemic, and an ever-increasing cost of living loom large for Gen Z. Already, their education and socialization have been impacted by COVID restrictions. They often feel misunderstood by older people (“Gen Z doesn’t work” – “Yeah, we go to school for longer;” “Gen Z doesn’t rush out to get their driver’s licenses” – “Ever heard of rideshare and public transit, or BIKES?”). Given Gen Z’s need to create major structural change, it shouldn’t be a surprise that they’ll make life decisions that look unlike previous generations’.

Not buying into workaholism or the culture of overwork: Gen Z sees living fully as key to happiness. Spending ten to twelve hours a day at work, only to retire late and die shortly thereafter, definitely has lost its appeal. Gen Z is more likely than previous generations to insist on balance including remote work and adequate time off, including employer support for leave, whether for parenthood, pet care, or mental health.

Opposed to unfettered capitalism: More politically progressive by and large than previous generations, Gen Z tends to believe that the federal government should do more, not less, for the public good. Climate change mitigation, marriage equality, body autonomy, and national health care are among their demands. Progressive employers will do better than right-of-center in hiring and keeping the best and brightest of Gen Z.

Pragmatic and directed: Having been through COVID, facing potential environmental meltdown, observing political strife and home and abroad, reacting to the actual and potential rescission of human and civil rights, and experiencing the anxiety and other emotional health issues that came along with these situations, Gen Z has, to its credit, readied itself to face what comes – and to thrive.

As an employer, you know what’s best for your company, sure, But moving into the future successfully demands approaching and adopting necessary change with openness, particularly when that change either benefits your company or simply allows it to survive in new times. And frankly, any of us reading this from the vantage of an earlier birth year (be it Millennial, Gen X, or Baby Boomer) may recognize a bit of ourselves in the mindset, concerns, and longings of Gen Z. I know I do.


Michelle van Schouwen is principal of Q5 Analytics, providing advocacy and communications for climate change mitigation and adaptation. For 32 years, Michelle was president of van Schouwen Associates, LLC (vSA), a B2B marketing company. In 2017, van Schouwen Associates was acquired by Six-Point Creative Works, Inc. of Springfield, MA. Michelle is available for speaking engagements on topics including her work on climate crisis mitigation and Florida coastal water issues. She speaks to business and student groups about marketing launches and entrepreneurship and works with start-ups to support their development.

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