The restless generation on their search for meaning
An interview with millenial activist Monika Jiang
If you had to describe Generation Z and millenials in three words, what would they be?
Open, purpose-seeking, adaptable.
These younger age groups have recently been christened the ‘Restless Generation’. What makes them restless?
They reflect on the unsteadiness of the modern world that we live in. Having grown up in an age of rapid advances in technology, globalisation, climate change and an economic system that works according to the principle of ‘higher, faster, further’, GenZ and millenials have an extremely uncertain perception of themselves and their surroundings.
Where do these disturbances to their self-perception come from?
Through social media such as Instagram, Snapchat and YouTube, they have access to unfiltered insights and supposed truths that pile even more pressure onto individuals, belief systems and expectations. ‘What do I want? What can I achieve? How will I be successful, and how do I live my life in the way I want to?’ These questions reflect inner restlessness and uncertainty, which, considering the limitless possibilities nowadays, result in a general sense of disorientation.
In one of your recent blog posts you address companies and say that they now have a great opportunity to take on more responsibility, even towards the younger generations. How should they do that, in your opinion?
In most schools, teaching is much the same today as it was 50 years ago. Yet in that same period the demands of living and working, especially due to the influence of digitalisation and globalisation, have changed dramatically. That’s why I’d like to call on companies to accept the hidden talents of the younger generation - after all, they are the leaders and clients of the future.
And thereby put down an indicator of how we might live tomorrow.
Exactly. The purpose-driven attitude of the world of work, ever-changing consumer behaviour with regard to sustainability and awareness, using digital and social media as a source of information and means of communication, and an interdisciplinary approach to problem solving are all indications and catalysts for the future direction of companies and markets and therefore society as a whole.
How do businesses benefit from GenZ?
On the one hand, young generations make businesses re-examine their purpose by questioning the status quo and demanding stronger societal engagement. At the same time they try to solve problems more holistically and in the context of globalisation, rather than considering each challenge individually. Businesses can profit from these and other ‘raw’ qualities and approaches, which future employees, managers and consumers all perceive as relevant - and how sustainably effective innovations can be created.
Established companies can take younger employees by the hand and help them to develop universal skills for the future such as emotional intelligence, problem solving, critical thinking, conflict resolution and conversational skills - through and alongside their professional skills.
How can the character of GenY best be summed up?
As I mentioned earlier, the question of meaningfulness that arises from inner uncertainty is a crucial feature. But there is also a desire to participate and to share. This generation wants to make its contribution towards a common mission, and practices adaptive learning and open-minded knowledge sharing. Interdisciplinary collaboration goes hand in hand with open communication. Even if the focus is on personal development and growth, a desire to belong to a community of like-minded people remains.
E-commerce in the limelight - what is the value and significance of consumption and commerce for young people?
Young people in their early twenties have grown up with Ebay and Amazon, and is therefore accustomed to a sense of constant availability of consumer goods. In the same way that status has evolved to be judged by the number of countries you’ve visited instead of what car or house you own, as far as consumption is concerned it is convenience and accessibility that are now key, not luxury brands and exclusivity.
We can also add in to the equation a shift towards a sharing economy and sustainability, whereby comfort and flexibility take on greater value in lieu of owning a product oneself. If we consider Germany’s affluent society, for the e-commerce market this means confronting and presenting answers to such critical questions as ‘Does our target audience actually need and use this product?’, ‘What value does it have?’, and ‘How can it be integrated as seamlessly as possible into the lives of our target audience?’.
Do retail companies bear a particular responsibility in this regard?
From both an employee’s and a consumer’s point of view, retail companies should take a good look at demands, values and the associated causes. These days, a decision to hire a particular employee or introduce a new product is no longer based purely on profit or performance - above all, there must be a satisfactory answer to the question of whether I can identify with the values of the company or brand. In retail this relates to the entire chain from production through distribution and marketing and right up the purchasing. As a retail company, I should therefore know how to make the values, and thus the overarching meaning and purpose of my economic activities, completely transparent and visible.
A decision to hire a particular employee or introduce a new product is no longer based purely on profit or performance - above all, there must be a satisfactory answer to the question of whether I can identify with the values of the company or brand.