Generation Z: We Work Hard For The Money

Posted by: Jeff Fromm

It’s time to say goodbye to the habits of the Millennial “Trophy Generation.”

With the entrance of the Pivotal Generation, we are witnessing a major pivot back (see what we did there) to the practical and aspirational goals of working hard, overcoming failure and finding success on an individual level. Reminiscent of Baby Boomers and Generation X, Gen Z’s beliefs and value systems are rooted in traditional views of achievement regarding education, career and income. They are responsible, determined, dependable and independent.

As Lucie Greene, worldwide director of the Innovation Group at J. Walter Thompson, put it:

“If Hannah Horvath from Girls is the typical Millennial – self-involved, dependent, flailing financially in the real world as her expectations of a dream job and life collide with reality, then Alex Dunphy from Modern Family represents the Gen Z antidote. Alex is a true Gen Z: conscientious, hard-working, somewhat anxious and mindful of the future.”

In our latest research, our team found that more than half of teens agree that personal success is the most important thing in life. That’s nearly 10 percent higher than the agreement rate of Millennials. Success is even more important than saving money. Pivotals also ranked higher than any other generation regarding the belief that success is a matter of hard work – not luck – and winning individual awards is important.

We see this proven even further when we asked teens to rank the topics that are most important to their lives today. Eighty-five percent of Pivotals ranked getting good grades as an important part of their lives, closely followed by college/getting into college at 79 percent. These two topics ranked significantly higher than their smartphones and even relaxing and hanging out with friends.

While this might be reflective of life stage, we believe it is an indication of a new mentality shaping our youth today – one that values hard work and personal achievement and dismisses the idea that success is driven by luck.

In addition to being raised during the 2008 Recession, Pivotals witnessed many Millennials fail even when they were told that they could do anything they set their minds to. This has caused a social environment in which teens are expecting to have to work hard to attain success rather than having it handed to them. We also have to consider the parents of Pivotals are Gen Xers, who are typically known for their more cynical view of the world and their logical approach to work and success.

“I want to be the smartest of the smart and prove to others and myself that I am capable,” said one of our focus group participants.

When asked about what influence her parents have on that mentality, she responded, “My mom is realistic with me. She never tells me I can’t do something but is real about the amount of work and effort it will take.”

This further accelerates the Pivotal Generation’s motivation for personal achievement and desire to stay grounded.

So, now what?

Brands aiming to connect with this generation will need to understand this entrepreneurial and traditional nature that defines them. Rather than running away from a challenge or assuming that a little luck will get them by, Pivotals dive in headfirst. They aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty and work as hard as necessary in order to achieve their goals.

With this in mind, the message brands communicate should change from “we can get you there” to “we can help you get yourself there.” By promoting this and moving from a leadership role to one of support, brands will find resonance.

Download the latest Gen Z research now

Want more on Gen Z? Stay tuned for Jeff Fromm & Angie Read’s new book, Marketing to Gen Z, coming Spring 2018. Pre-order here!

About Jeff Fromm

Although not a Millennial as defined by his age, Jeff Fromm is the Millennial Marketing Guy. Jeff is President of FutureCast, a marketing consultancy that specializes in Millennial trends, and is a contributing writer at...See Jeff's full bio.