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What Can We Learn From Comparing Gen Y and Gen Z?

Millennials are the largest cohort in the U.S. labor market, surpassing Generation X as of Q1, 2015, according to the Pew Research Center. And hot on their heels is Generation Z, those born between 1996 and 2010. The oldest Gen Zers are therefore in their early 20s and starting to just starting to enter the workplace.

Elizabeth Segran, writing for Fast Company, notes that to many – particularly Gen Xers and baby boomers – it might seem like there is little difference between Gen Y and Gen Z. Aren’t they both tech savvy and big into social media, etc.? “At 60 million strong in the United States, they outnumber millennials by 1 million,” she writes. “It would be easy to assume that they are just an exaggerated version of the generation that came before them, spending even more of their lives on social media, doing even more of their shopping online, and demonstrating an ever greater collaborative nicer nature,” says Segrans.


While there are certainly many similarities between Gen Y and Gen Z, there are some important differences as well. The time period in which these cohorts grew up has a lot to do with their personalities and their outlook on life and work. “Generation Z grew up in a starkly different historical context than millennials, which has given them a distinct outlook on the world,” says Segran. “Millennials were internet pioneers. They invented Facebook, shopped from their smartphones, and smoothly transitioned from satellite TV to Hulu and Netflix. Generation Z, meanwhile, doesn’t remember life without these basics of 21st century life.”

Taryn Oesch, writing for Training Industry agrees: “Not only are they digital natives, but almost three-fourths of 2017 college graduates have taken a digital or computer science class, according to Accenture. In an interview with SHRM, researcher David Stillman pointed out that “this is the first time we have the youngest generation as an authority figure on something really important.” Generation Z’s expertise in technology can and should be leveraged by organizations using knowledge-sharing tools.


The economic environment the two groups grew up in also has a lot to do with their outlook on establishing and maintaining a career. “Millennials came of age during a time of economic expansion and were shocked to find a diminished, unwelcoming job market after college,” says Segran. “Generation Z has been shaped by the recession and is prepared to fight hard to create a stable future for themselves.”

While it will take time to see how Generation Z deals with company loyalty and job-hopping, a diligent commitment to getting and holding a job might help them shed the stereotype of entitled job-hoppers that their older brothers and sisters in Generation Y have endured.


One of the best ways to gain an understanding of different generations and their world views is to consider the cultural and societal environments they grew up in. As Segran points out, millennials helped to elect a black president and legalize gay marriage. Gen Z, consequently, views these milestones as the norm.

Generation Y is now the largest cohort in the U.S. workforce, and their impact is predicted to continue to grow. They’ll be in our workplaces for many years yet to come. Nevertheless, as Generation Z begins looking for jobs, it’s important to understand how they compare and contrast with the most recent cohort to precede them. Importantly, we need to remember that this new generation is more different than many assume.

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