The following is a guest post by Claire Raines, coauthor of Generations at Work: Managing the Clash of Boomers, Gen Xers, and Gen Yers in the Workplace.
The oldest of them are 13 now, and in three years, the next generation will enter the workforce. Born between 2000 and 2020, they will be a significantly smaller generation than the one before them. Call them Generation Z— for now. They’ll eventually be named for an event or trend that occurs around Year 2020. As with all generations, they will be shaped by their times. The worldview they adopt and the style they embrace will depend greatly on world and national events that occur over the next decade.
We’ve just done a major overhaul of our book Generations at Work. It had become a business classic that was often used in college classes and corporate seminars. But the world has changed since the first edition. Not only has the job market and labor force been transformed, but the Millennial Generation has also come of age and taken their place in the work world. In another 10 years, another revision will be needed as managers and colleagues seek to understand the newest generation in the workplace.
Booms & Busts
The last 80 years in the United States have seen dramatic ebbs and flows in birth rates. From 1932 to 1946, the rate of live births averaged 2.5 million per year—and birth rates remained fairly steady, neither rising nor falling dramatically from year to year. Then, precisely nine months after the end of World War II, rates soared. During the peak boom years, 1954 to 1964, over four million babies were born each year. When it was time to bring little Gen Xers into the world, rates had fallen dramatically, dropping below four million—and staying low for another 23 years.
Then, beginning in 1980, birth rates began to increase steadily, and a wave of immigrant children added to the burgeoning new generation. During the 1980s and 1990s, large numbers of children immigrated to the United States; a record average of nearly 8 percent of new immigrants were children—nearly twice the proportion of foreign-born children who had arrived on American shores when Boomers and Gen Xers were kids. By 2000, the Millennial Generation totaled over 87 million, making them larger than Gen X by 31 million and a full 11 million more than Boomers. Millennials now comprise a third of the population in the United States and nearly a quarter of the world population.
Generation Z will be dramatically smaller. In 2011, the mid-point in Generation Z birth years, population growth in the U.S. plunged. Linked to the recession and hard times, the current birthrate is the lowest since 1920, the earliest year with reliable records. Furthermore, birth rates among foreign born women have declined in recent decades, and net immigration from Mexico has been zero.
Size Equals Clout
When it comes to generations, size matters. Political power depends on how many people sign petitions, contact their representatives, carry signs, and cast their ballots. Buying power, too, depends on size. Madison Avenue first recognized children as a viable market segment when Baby Boomers were kids, and they pursued the Boom Kids directly via television. Those kids could recognize the word “detergent” before they could read. Numbers translate into power.
In the workplace, the Generation Z’s diminutive size may be the one place their numbers work to their advantage. In the 2020s, we’ll likely see another labor shortage similar to the one in the 1990s. Generation Z will be needed, perhaps even catered to.
- In just the way Gen Xers felt they grew up in the shadow of the Baby Boom, Z’s will feel like they’re coming of age in the shadow of Millennials.
- They’ll learn from the school of hard knocks. Z’s will be less doted upon and sheltered than Millennials were as children.
- They will be more independent. This generation will learn to watch out for themselves and will be less collaborative than the generation before them.
- They will be needed on the job market. Virtual learning consultant Adam Renfro, who studies Generation Z as students, says that 65 percent of them will work in jobs that don’t even exist today.
- Racial, ethnic, and gender boundaries will be invisible to them as groups once considered minorities become the majority.
- They will be a less powerful generation that the Millennials.
- They will be forced to develop thick skins as they deal with criticism from older generations.
- They will rebel against the Millennial way.
- They will live in a less youth-oriented, more adult-focused, world.
- They will be saddled with economic responsibility for a huge aging population.
Claire Raines is one of the leading experts and a pioneer in the field of generations in the workplace. In 2012, she introduced the Values and Influence Assessment®, a new tool based on four generational profiles that identifies an individual’s values regardless of birth year. Her company, Claire Raines Associates, delivers interactive speeches and workshops that focus on creating environments that engage employees of all ages.