The Swinging Sixties. You can conjure your own images, either from media or memories. The Mini, The Beatles, Malcolm X. A decade later, the Seventies were far from swinging, and all that free love had come at a huge cost. Those two decades were the backdrop to what we now call GenerationX. The key point here? They were the parents of GenZ.
This is of course a generalisation – quite a few GenZers have Boomers as parents and some even Millennial parents. But the generalisation holds true, as do so many generalisations about GenZ. So how do GenZ compare to GenX?
What do you do with your parents? You copy them while at the same time rebelling against them. Copy the wild Sixties, copy the start of the massive rise in divorce? The heavy drinking, the poor lifestyle choices? No thanks. Their children only had to look at the Seventies, the Decade of Discontent, to see how that worked out.
So they rebelled against that. Teenage pregnancies, under-age drinking, fighting – they’re all way down on what they were. For example, across 25 European countries the number of young people held by the police dropped 42% just between 2008 and 2014.
One of the reasons for GenX behaviour was their increasing freedom, as more mothers went back to work than ever before. The sexual revolution meant that two incomes started to become the norm. These GenXers saw the crack epidemic start in the US when they were children – parents were lost and your chances of a violent death soared. Between just 1984 and 1989 the murder rate for young black males aged 14 to 17 doubled. Then AIDS came along.
Again, GenZers reacted to that, and they’re avoiding drugs as much as they’re avoiding alcohol. Between 2000 and 2016, the number of youngsters (13-15) who tried alcohol effectively halved.
But one thread that clearly joins GenZ to their parents is the attitude to so many subjects that were once considered arguable. The rise of working women, feminism, civil rights, gay rights and so many others. The acceptance of those who were ‘other’ has moved on with GenZ a long way. To the point where GenZers genuinely don’t seem to notice skin-deep differences in people and are happy to accept that person as an individual without making huge judgements on them. What a great piece of progress that is. However it comes with a risk.
Many organisations now like to shout about their equality and diversity initiatives like they’re something wonderful. Viewed through the prism of history they may be, but viewed through the prism of GenZ they’re just posturing. Because to GenZ these attitudes are totally normal - like someone making a big fuss about employing a woman would seem hopelessly antiquated to us now.
And to make a huge song and dance about such initiatives will cause more suspicion among new GenZ arrivals than confidence. Why are you making such a big deal out of something like that? Are you going to get excited about showing us how the lights go on and off?
Smart organisations still need to have these policies in place, and to show that they’re more than words. With GenZ you’d better walk the walk as well as talk the talk or you’re toast. Faintly daunting huh? And you can’t even get them on-side by taking them to a strip club and filling them with alcohol like you could back in, well, your day.
With GenX as senior management now, they’re going to have a hard time dealing with GenZ. Maybe leave that up to the Millennials then.