I wrote this enterprise story for a class final in April 2019. It has been edited and improved after being graded.
The diversity of ideas, personalities and beliefs people have continues to grow as millennials solidify their adulthood and a new generation is introduced. The generation after millennials, Generation Z, is entering the work force as students born in the late 1990s are finishing college.
According to Pew Research Center, the oldest of Gen Z were born in 1997. Millennials were born from 1981-1996 as Generation Y. Pew Research Center named the new generation Gen Z because it appeared in online searches more than other generation terms like iGeneration and post-millennials.
Various websites define the generations with different years. Generations may not be universal because people have different perceptions of each generation. Gen Z doesn’t have a concrete cut-off yet because its members are still young.
Gen Zer and junior Megan Bua thinks defining generations is an interesting concept, but she thinks the cut-off for a certain generation should be a range of years rather than a specific one.
“There’s no real cut-off,” Bua said. “There are different places that define the year differently which is why I think of it more like a gradient. You have older millennials that would almost identify with the generation before them; then you have the strong millennials right there in the center. Then they kind of fade into Gen Z. I would not necessarily put an end year (that says) ‘this is where one starts and one stops’.”
Each generation comes with a set of shared characteristics that further separates them from the previous generation. Common characteristics of Gen Z are being cynical, private, entrepreneurial and technology-reliant, according to Growing Leaders.
Graduate student and millennial Bailey Weese is wary of stereotyping people with the generation to which they belong.
“I think I see the point (in characterizing generations), but I think it’s important to also allow for nuance,” Weese said. “With any sort of category, you run the risk or putting people in boxes. There’s always outliers… So I think it’s dangerous to categorize people and not leave any room for an in-between or gray area.”
University archivist and Northwest alumna Jessica Vest is a millennial. She didn’t know whether or not she identified with the characteristics of Gen Y.
“What is the millennial definition?” Vest said. “I actually abhor that sort of thing.”
Vest doesn’t see much of a difference between the two generations other than the higher level of tech-savviness Gen Z students have.
Junior and Gen Zer Kati Steinman has similar sentiments about the generations; she thinks the attitudinal differences between millennials and Gen Zers is simply due to the age difference. She doesn’t correct people when they call her a millennial because she was born two years after the cut-off, and she doesn’t think it matters.
“Personally, I don’t see a difference between the generations,” Steinman said. “I feel like we’ve grown up similarly… We’re at different developmental periods in our lives. There’s not much of a difference between our generations except the fact of where we are right now. In the future, we’re just going to be the same as millennials. They’re too close to define (differently).”
With the majority of seniors being 22 years old, millennials are the minority in the student population. However, many staff members are millennials, Assistant Director of Career Services Hannah Christian said.
“We were talking (recently), and with the exception of one person, all of us full-time staff fall into that early ‘80s frame of reference,” Christian said.
Conversations about generational differences are common in the Career Services office. Christian sees technology as the biggest influence on a generation’s characteristics and behavior; Gen Zers grew with technology while millennials had to adapt to it as adults.
Vest agrees that technology is the main difference between the generations.
“There’s more reliance on not face-to-face communication,” Vest said. “The library, for example, has chat staff so you can either chat with the library staff on your laptop or through texting. That never existed when I was a student... We have professors who say technology can make you more reliant on it with things like spell check and autocorrect. You don’t really need to know how to spell something if you can just type some semblance of it into Google. That technology piece, as new things emerge, it can make you—I don’t want to say lazier—but you don’t use those muscles and brain power as much.”
Bua said Northwest utilizes technology to minimize the differences between the generations.
“Northwest lends itself to bridge the gap because everyone has an equal playing field, as far as technology goes,” Bua said. “We are a very technologically focused campus which I think helps bridge the gap between the two generations we have right now in college.”
Weese doesn’t like how dependent people are on technology. She works in the B.D. Owens Library office where there’ll be times when she’ll be sitting next to someone, and they will communicate via email rather than talking to each other.
“It’s just so digital, and I don’t like it,” Weese said. “I miss that face-to-face communication, and I think it causes so many conflicts because there’s not that face-to-face (mentality of) ‘let’s solve this together’…I’m not sure how productive that (technological) communication is. It’s certainly increased the amount of people we can communicate with because I can talk to someone in another country on Instagram, but I’m not sure I’d count that as real quality communication. It’s kind of surface level to me. I don’t know that it’s possible to have genuine communication with technology.”
Christian is concerned about how Gen Z’s reliance on technology is going to affect their future in the work force.
“Working in a university and working very close with those Generation Z students, we have a better understanding of how they communicate, and we tend to adapt to their styles of communication,” Christian said. “I think a Gen Z student going out into the world is going to find it a little bit harsher because the world is not going to adapt to them. They’re going to have to adapt to what’s happening in the world… I think it’s tempting for Gen Z to stop when they see no answers or (job) openings. They can rely on the digital tools too heavily. What Gen Z lacks is the initiative and the knowledge to say, ‘hey just because this is closed, it doesn’t mean there’s no opportunity’.”
Although Weese doesn’t like how much Gen Z relies on technology, she believes having unlimited access to the internet makes the new generation more accepting.
“They are so accepting of all of these other types of people,” Weese said. “They’re more liberal and less conservative with their beliefs and the ways they look. You can just really tell with their appearance, creativity and self-expression how much that’s changed. That’s what I really love about the new generations; they’re more outwardly expressive because I think that’s okay now. Those stereotypes are getting broken down a little bit.”
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