GenerationZ are the present and future, but to better understand them we could usefully look at the past – their past.

True, they may have rather less ‘past’ than older people in the workplace and, true, they may well be influenced by their peer ‘influencers’, but what happened to them before they entered the workplace is pivotal to understanding their drive and motivation.

The global crisis of 2008 hit as early GenZs were hitting their teens – old enough to see and understand the effects on not only their country but also their families and friends. In the UK there were job losses, homes repossessed, industries hollowed out and fathers and other older relatives tossed on the workplace scrapheap.

In the US the effects were harsh. By 2012, 11m homeowners were in negative equity – a Tumblr site called ‘America Underwater’ was the online meeting place for those whose houses were now worth less than the mortgage. It wasn’t just the parents on the site, it was also traumatised teens telling how they were waiting for their house to be taken away, and for them to be shipped off to relatives.

That’s pretty traumatic. After that they watched the generation ahead of them, full of ideas and ideals about how to change the world, run into the rusty iron buffers of a workplace where many industries and job levels were in decline, from media to middle management.

As the Millennials struggled and railed against the surprising unfairness of it all, Gen Z watched with grim horror. Even now there are Millennials who haven’t found their career path or meaningful employment. GenZ have few illusions about what lies ahead for them.

They see a world in flux, a world of impermanence, a future that is far from certain. So they react by trying to make their world a safer, more stable place. Pensions, portable skillsets, constant learning – they’re trying to ensure their personal survival and success, even at an age when previous generations were out partying all night.

So, yes, you can point to YouTube influencers, and you can highlight how GenZ are constantly connected online to their peers, both giving and receiving information and opinions. Those are influences on them, definitely, but for the deeper influences look behind the online channels. Look to the past to see how you might influence GenZ in the workplace in the present and the future.

“They are perhaps the most brand-critical, bullshit-repellent, questioning group around.”

Lucie Greene, Worldwide Director of Innovation at JWT

“GenerationZ are Millennials on steroids.”

Lucie Greene, Worldwide Director of Innovation at JWT

“GenerationZ are self-starters, not selfie-takers.”

Lucozade Energy report

“Millennials– Self-centred. Generation Z – Self-aware.”

Ernst & Young

“Generation Z characterises itself by highlighting the need for passion and motivation in their work.”

Claire Stradling, Manager of Charities and NFP