Nihilists? We’re just realists. After experiencing the Great Recession, COVID-19, and social unrest, Gen Z is losing faith in traditional paths. They are ditching 9 to 5 jobs and are less interested in buying cars and homes. Instead, Gen Zers are making meaning for themselves and finding joy on their own terms.
Mortgages are out, YOLO is in. Gen Zers are focused on living in the present and radically re-imagining their lives — both in their careers and otherwise. Their mantra of “you do you” reflects a desire to express themselves and a drive to blaze their own life paths.
Slaying gender roles and subverting the status quo. Gen Zers aren’t afraid to disrupt established labels and norms to be themselves. When it comes to gender, sexuality, and relationships, they embrace fluidity and are open to the unconventional.
The commodified self and its discontents. While Gen Zers reject airbrushed ads in favor of pursuing authenticity, social media can sometimes lead to the commercialization of the self. Gen Zers constantly scroll through highlight reels of others’ lives and influencer posts peddling weight loss products, shaping their self-perception and outlook.
They’re spiritual, but are ghosting organized religion. Gen Zers are more skeptical about organized religion and its role in their lives. To them, finding meaning is a more personalized pursuit that is increasingly conducted online, with Gen Zers discovering spiritual practices via social media and building their own tenets of faith.
“I always say that gender is fake just like time and money is. We only have value on it
because we put value on it.
I feel like things can be more gender neutral and we can just live life without having to be gender first. We can be human first instead.”
What businesses can do
Recognize and normalize their individualism. Businesses need to respect Gen Zers’ fluid perspective on gender and identity. But rather than think of it merely as new boxes to check, they should understand that it’s part of a broad spectrum of expressions. In the workplace, employers must understand the signifiers of inclusivity that Gen Zers expect not only at the leadership level, but cascaded down to each manager. And Gen Zers want employers to be on the same page as they are about bathrooms and pronouns, in the office and elsewhere. Gen Zers want inclusivity to be so normalized that no one needs to discuss it.
Serve them a communal online experience. Gen Z’s online persona is about more than just memes and clap-backs. Online is where they find their tribe, interact with the world, and select the parts they like to incorporate into their own lives. Businesses should understand that Gen Z uses these digital destinations as personalized portals for interactions and discoveries — and they should aim to provide them something of value.
Capitalize on Gen Z’s nontraditional search for breakthrough opportunities. Gen Zers expect less from traditional paths, but they seek new options for fulfillment that are unique to each individual. Businesses have an opportunity to help Gen Zers find their own path by tailoring solutions to their personal interests — and as other sections of this report illuminate, this has major implications for how organizations treat Gen Z employees and customers.
“We’re risk takers. Before us, people were just following the previous generation’s path: You go to school, you get a job, then you retire. I’m actively doing something that they weren’t doing at my age. They see me making money. But they still won’t open their minds and still say, ‘Oh, she should go back to school.’”
— 21, auto repair, she/her, New York
A new era of authenticity
Captivating Gen Z customers with #nofilter marketing. Gen Zers are experts at sniffing out inauthenticity, and they’re holding businesses to a new standard. If brands don’t adapt, they’ll lose Gen Z’s interest, or even worse — they’ll be written off as cringe.
In this landscape, few celebrities have captured Gen Z’s attention like Doja Cat. So when she announced a partnership with speaker brand JBL, it was no surprise that she took to TikTok to do so. The video is short — only 15 seconds — and features Doja Cat filming herself up close. She holds up a bedazzled JBL speaker, says “Jibble, jibble, jibble,” and then opens her mouth to receive a forkful of food.
The video has almost six million likes. Along with Doja Cat toting the same bedazzled speaker onto the Grammys red carpet, the “Jibble” TikTok generated two years’ worth of social engagement in two days for JBL.
JBL chalked this success up to Doja Cat’s creative freedom with their partnership, allowing her to connect with her fans in a genuine way. It didn’t feel like she was selling a product — she was being herself. Gen Z felt that and welcomed it, even if Doja Cat wasn’t even pronouncing the name of the speaker correctly. Her TikTok audience loved it.
So let this be a lesson to brands: Don’t market to Gen Z in the same way you market to everyone else. The unfiltered, messy content might just be exactly what Gen Z wants.