Generation Z; On the Brink of Adulthood and Facing an Uncertain Future

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By Derek Mutiso

 We Need to Investigate and Understand Why They Behave How They Do 

They’re young, tech-savvy, controversial, ambitious, and crazy about social media. Scoot over millennials, Gen Z-ers are on the move. There’s a lot to be said about the new kids on the block, but one thing that stands out is that they are now the most populous generation in the world. A Gen -Zer is anyone born between 1995-2009. 

The generation now makes up about 23% of the global population. places its population in Kenya at 18,378,493 people or 33.42%. Census experts expect that by 2035, Gen Zers will be up to about 20% of the global population. Sometimes dubbed the TikTok generation, Gen Zers are the first truly “global generation”- a term which was used by Bryan Turner of the Australian Catholic University to describe” ageneration made up of individuals who, while living in different parts of the planet, share experiences, opportunities, and problems. 

Gen -Zers have grown up entirely in the twenty-first century, interacting with social media and staying connected through digital gadgets. This means they are distinctly different from Gen X and Boomers. But is this a good thing? According to a survey conducted in April 2023, 74% of managers and company executives said that working with Gen-Zers is more challenging than working with earlier generations. According to the responses, many business owners have been forced to lay off Gen Z workers. They claim that this group frequently acts lazy, unmotivated, and entitled. These are all common stereotypes about Gen -Zers. 

But how justifiable are they?

Bobby Duffy, one of the UK’s most respected social researchers, is professor of public policy and director of the Policy Institute at King’s College London. He believes that if it’s wrong to judge people based on their gender, religion, race, and sexuality, then making sweeping assumptions about people, solely based on the generation they belong to, ought to be wrong too.He suggests a pivot from this kind of “generational thinking,” rejecting simplistic myths, in favor of a more in-depth examination of the variables that influence long-term shifts in behavior and attitudes. Duffy believes that rather than making blanket judgments about Gen-Zers, we need to investigate why they behave how they do. 

Growing up in Uncertain Times

As in most African cultures, the majority of Kenyan parents expect their children to have attained self-sufficiency and ‘left the nest’ as soon as they hit their early twenties. One thing that cannot be understated is that Gen–Zers are growing up in an inhospitable job market. Faced with unfavorable job prospects, rising costs of accommodation, and no stable income, it’s no wonder they are leaving home later than older generations did. It’s not because they are lazy or less capable of attaining self-sufficiency. The World Economic Forum predicts that by 2025, Gen-Z workers will make up 25% of the global workforce, and they will be powerful players. These young adults are conversant with a wide range of modern technology that includes; social media, software engineering, and artificial intelligence. These are all skills that are becoming increasingly essential in today’s world.

Social media and modern technology influence

Gen-Zers have grown up in an era dominated by digital technology. Social media platforms are an integral part of their daily routines. This influence is evident in various aspects of their lives, including communication, self-expression, and relationships. One notable effect of social media on Gen Z is its transformative impact on communication. LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter have opened up new avenues for connecting with others. Gen Z individuals use these platforms to maintain relationships with friends and family and to forge new connections globally. 

This constant connectivity has also altered communication habits, with many preferring online interactions over face-to-face conversations; and it has led to Gen-Zers being termed as being a lonely generation. Social media platforms have also been known to portray a fake, or  

Chat GPT was launched in November 2022. Its use has grown exponentially since then. This growth has brought into the limelight, the potential of Artificial Intelligence (AI) globally. Most ponderings about this new technology emphasize the critical role that it will play in the years to come. Businesses need to think up strategies to keep up with the competition. 

As Gen-Zers come of age, and enter the labour force, they will be useful assets because of their familiarity with AI; not just as users, but as innovators. Generation Zers are positioning themselves as pioneers in this AI-driven era. Their distinct experiences and perspectives will undoubtedly expand the horizons of AI in inventive and imaginative ways.

Emotional Health and well-being 

In May 2022, American international strategy and management consulting firm McKinsey & Company conducted a survey on Gen-Zers in the USA. They reported “remarkably high rates of mental health struggles”. 55% of the 18- to 24-year-olds who were interviewed in the survey said they’d received a diagnosis and/or treatment for a mental illness. This isn’t entirely applicable to Kenya; firstly because of our relatively limited capability to diagnose and treat mental illness, and secondly because, there isn’t much data available on the mental health of Gen Zers in Kenya, as not much research has been carried out on the issue. There are, however, other ways we could use to try and understand their general state of mind.

Music is a big part of the human experience. Psychologists have found that it influences our mood. We humans also resonate with songs that describe how we are feeling at a particular point in time.

Spotify, a popular global music streaming platform recently released a report that shed some light on the sort of music Gen-Zers listen to in Kenya. It was revealed that the “chill vibes” genre was quite popular, along with these other ones:

Top 5 mellow playlists among Kenyan Gen-Zers: 

  1. Soft Pop Hits
  2. Chill Hits
  3. Sad Songs
  4. Soft Life
  5. Sad Hour

The Gen-Z collective generally favored introspective lyrics, subtle musical rhythms, and emotionally stirring songs, leaning towards themes such as love, emotional pain, vulnerability, and self-examination. Data from Spotify’s report points towards Kenyan Gen-Zers being a generation that prioritizes its mental health and well-being.

Discussing this new drift in listening habits, Phiona Okumu, Spotify’s Head of Music for Sub-Sahara Africa, pointed out that, “Mellow music is a respite from the constant connectivity and information overload of the modern world, offering a space where listeners can find solace, connect with their emotions, and navigate the complexities of life at their own pace.”

“From Lo-Fi and sad melodies to chill vibes and easy listening anthems, the younger generation has wholeheartedly embraced these soothing sounds to navigate life’s complexities in a fast-paced world,” the company said. 

A lot has been written about Gen-Zers being more anxious, and emotionally fragile compared to other age groups; but before jumping to generational conclusions, let’s look at the unique period in which they’re growing up. Most Gen-Zers can remember what it was like living through the global financial crisis that struck the world in 2007–2009, they also experienced the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, and have seen first-hand the difficulties their parents and communities have had finding work and making ends meet, so it’s no surprise that they have more anxiety about the future than other age groups. 

There’s no shortage of negative publicity on this new generation, and it has led to a barrage of negative preconceptions in the minds of society, and employers alike. The concept that people think or behave differently purely because they belong to a certain age group is deeply flawed. Other vital influences known as period effects shape us. These are things like the rise of AI and the COVID-19 pandemic. Coups and wars eventually affect everyone regardless of age, such as war, pandemic, or the invention of the smartphone. 

On their part Gen-Zers need to be proactive in the work place. They need to rise above any negative preconceptions that their older colleagues may have about them, and prove that they too deserve a spot on the team. 

Apart from Tik Tok , social platforms like LinkedIn can also be very useful for networking and seeking out opportunities for career growth. Outside the office, Gen Zers could register for online courses to learn marketable skills that will give them better prospects for economic independence even without formal employment.

Coding, videography and social media management are just a few examples of growth sectors in the Kenyan economy. Seeking out mentors is a good way for Gen Zers to gain as much as possible from the wealth of experience and knowledge previous generations have.

Despite there being different age groups, it makes sense to consider the fact that each group will be or has been the same age as the other. By doing this, we can sit as equals and put our heads together to see how we can improve our communities.

 Rather than dismiss Gen Zers as entitled, flaky, and inexperienced, we should look at what good things they have to offer society, and humanity at large.  

The author is a business writer and project coordinator Omeriye Foundation

Email [email protected]


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