Commentary & Opinion

Another Generation Rises: Looking Beyond the Millennials

By Max Mihelich

Apr. 12, 2013

A new generation without an official moniker and relatively unknown to the larger corporate society of the United States is trudging through the American education system just like millions of others before them, and they are just starting to think about what they want to do with their lives.

In the meantime, though, some marketing companies and consultants across the country are trying to capitalize on this rising generation by studying them to help companies determine what products this generation will consume and how.

And more recently, some companies and consultants have begun to study this next generation to help businesses prepare for them as professionals. One marketing firm in Iowa coined the name the “Pluralist Generation” in reference to its tolerance for diversity. Others call them “Gen Z,” though that name seems unlikely to stick as critics argue using “Z” implies an end of some sort.

Still, others tout the “Homeland” generation when discussing the group succeeding the millennials. And finally, a fourth name has been given to this new cohort by one consultant—the “Re-Generation,” which is a nod to the group’s apparent commitment to environmental responsibility.

No matter what they end up being called, there is one thing businesses can count on from this generation: like all those that have come before them, this generation will surely impress its own unique needs upon the workplace.

Tammy Erickson has studied this new generation extensively. And based on her Carlisle, Massachusetts-based consulting firm’s findings, she and her associates have named the next generation the “Re-Generation”, or “Re-Gens” for short. The first members of this group were born around 1995, according to Erickson. “This generation has been steeped in reality and is living within finite limits,” Erickson says. “They’re very concerned with environmental issues, very conscious of looming energy shortages, water shortages.” This level of environmental consciousness has instilled within the generation’s collective personality a higher sense of responsibility to be more egalitarian and thoughtful with shared resources.

Erickson says the Re-Gens’ most pressing concern is the economy. The first members born into this generation entered their formative years (between ages 11 and 13) during the beginning of the Great Recession, which has given this group a desire to do more with less. In contrast to the millennials, the ReGens are a fiscally conservative group that’s more open to compromise, she says. “They’re unwilling to incur large amounts of debt,” Erickson adds. “They’re willing to defer gratification. They’re not a ‘buy now, pay later’ kind of group. They’re more willing to save up to buy something when they can afford it.”

Re-Gens are also much less likely to have a need for ownership. Erickson calls them a generation of renters, which is a characteristic stemming from their fiscal conservatism. For this generation, “Investments in homes don’t necessarily result in increased equity,” she says.

An interesting generational characteristic Erickson has noticed is that the Re-Gens are relatively indifferent to technology when compared with the millennials. Erickson says they have an “unconscious reliance on ubiquitous connectivity.” Essentially, the Internet has always been around for the Re-Gens, and consequently it’s played a larger role in their lives than for those of previous generations.

Echoing Erickson’s opinion about this group’s attitude toward technology is Penelope Trunk, founder and author of the workplace blog Brazen Careerist. Trunk, who refers to the group as “Gen Z,” says they aren’t “absorbed in technology like the millennials. They grew up with it.”

And it’s because of this relative indifference to technology that ultimately this generation may usher in an era when companies no longer supply employees with laptops, Erickson says, and instead turn to bring-your-own-device policies. “When I first started working, companies gave you calculators. Nobody hands out calculators anymore. I think that will be the case with computers in the future. I think companies will stop buying the technology they are buying now, like laptops and iPhones,” she says.

The consumer habits and collective personality traits of the Re-Gens could be indicative of what they’re going to be like as professionals—especially their apparent fiscal conservatism and commitment to the environment, Erickson says. However, not many businesses are thinking about this rising generation as professionals—yet.

“If there are any businesses thinking about this generation as workers, they’re most likely fast-food chains and other places that hire high schoolers,” Erickson says.

Erickson and Trunk are not the only voices contributing to the generational studies conversation, though.

Neil Howe, president and co-founder of Lifecourse Associates, a Fairfax, Virginia-based marketing firm, uses the term “Homeland Generation” for the next generation. The term is meant to reflect Howe’s prediction that this generation will be more likely to stay home in the wake of domestic and international turmoil.

When Howe talks about the Homeland generation, he isn’t talking about the same group of people as Erickson or Trunk. While Erickson believes the Re-Gens are poised to enter the workforce relatively soon, Howe doesn’t see the Homeland generation entering the workforce until the early-2020s at the earliest. In Howe’s opinion, the last millennials were born in 2004. Howe considers the oldest “Re-Gens” to be late-wave millennials instead.

These millennials are not distinct enough to be regarded as an entirely new generation in Howe’s opinion. He says all generations experience slight changes over time. The changes in millennials are the result of trends in the cohort. For instance, late-wave millennials were born around the advent of attachment parenting, also known as “helicopter parenting.” This overbearing style of parenting has led to late-wave millennials being emotionally attentive to the needs of others and also very good at working in teams on account of their many after-school activities, Howe says.

Despite the differences in opinions expressed by experts about the group of people born in the 1990s, there are some overlapping similarities concerning their collective characteristics.

Trunk says millennials are a group that tries to avoid conflict. Similarly, Howe says risk aversion increases as each generation progresses over time. The late-wave of millennials, then, will likely display an innate desire to dodge conflict.

“These are kids who are well-behaved, trusting, smart, high-achieving and well-oriented to the needs of others,” Howe says. “Kind of like the generation of the late 1940s and early 1950s.”

All three experts agree that this group of people born in the mid-1990s is more worried about the economy than people born in the 1980s. They also agree that this is a group of people who are concerned with the “big picture,” as Trunk calls it. These concerns will make companies that are fiscally conservative and environmentally responsible attractive to this generation, Erickson adds.

Big institutions and big brand names will also be attractive to this group. “A well-known employer brand equals security for these people. It equals long-term stability,” Howe says.

Rachel Maynard, a 19-year-old college student who works at Pizza Port, a restaurant-brewery in Solana Beach, California, says working for a big company isn’t that important to her. “I just don’t want to do the exact same thing every day. And I never want to sell stuff,” she says.

The Re-Gens are “a little more savings-oriented” than millennials, Erickson says, which means they may be expecting businesses to offer more financial advice perks than they do now.

As the last trickle of early millennials are just about to graduate college and make their way into the U.S. workplace this summer, the re-gens could be looking to start their careers as early as this year as well. And within five years, the first wave of this cohort will be graduating from college. Then from there, members of this still-unnamed generation will be flooding into the business world, bringing about another round of change to America’s broader corporate culture.

For now, though, any predictions about what kind of professionals these kids will be are simply that—predictions—because a good deal of time still needs to pass before this new generation’s impact on the workplace is truly felt.

Max Mihelich is Workforce’s associate editor. Comment below or email Follow Mihelich on Twitter at @workforcemax.

Max Mihelich is a writer in the Chicago area.

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