If you’re still struggling to figure out how to reach Millennials (even if you are a Millennial), take heart — there’s (already) another generational cohort entering the workforce.
This new cohort is called Generation Z (at one point, Millennials were referred to as Gen Y, so…) — they are, generally speaking, children of Gen X — born in the mid-1990s, and separated from Millennials by their lack of a memory of 9/11.
Gen Z is, in fact, already entering the workforce — and, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, they currently comprise a quarter of the population. They are seen as being more “realistic” when it comes to life and working than Millennials, who have been characterized as more “optimistic.” Gen Z is said to be more independent and competitive in their work than the collaborative Millennials, more concerned with privacy (Snapchat versus Facebook), and are said to have a preference for communicating face-to-face. It’s said they’ll eschew racking up big college debt, and are said to be interested in multiple roles within a single employer, rather than multiple employers (role-hoppers versus job-hoppers). They have been called a generation of self-starters, self-learners and self-motivators — and they’ve never known a world without the Internet and a smartphone to bring it to their fingertips wherever they are.
Unlike previous generations, whose parents didn’t mention money or focus on financial topics with their kids, more than half (56%) of Gen Z have reportedly discussed saving money with their parents in the past six months. The result, according to researchers, is a young generation that “behaves more like Baby Boomers than Millennials,” is making plans to work during college, to avoid personal debt at all costs, and… to save for retirement. Indeed, 12% of Gen Z is already saving for retirement, according to a recent research report.
Now, as different as individuals in various generational cohorts can be, I’ve never been inclined to assign those behavioral differences to their membership in any particular cohort. Rather, I think there are things that younger workers are inclined to do (or not do) that workers in every cohort were inclined to do (or avoid) when they were younger. Do Millennials change jobs more frequently than their elders? Sure. But they didn’t invent the phenomenon; for a variety of reasons, younger workers have long been more inclined (or able) to pull up stakes and seek new opportunities (American private sector job tenure has actually been remarkably and consistently “short” running all the way back to WWII). Similarly, younger workers tend to put off saving (certainly for something as far away and obscure in concept as retirement), and when they do start saving, tend to save less than their elders. This was true of the Boomers, of Gen X and Millennials, and – despite their more rapid savings start — will almost certainly be true of Gen Z, left to their own devices.
That last part is a potentially critical difference, of course, in that today plan design differences like automatic enrollment were a relative rarity when the Boomers were coming into the workplace. Some of it is that — at least supposedly — their parents didn’t need to save because they had defined benefit pension plans to secure their retirement. But, even for those who were covered by those plans (and most weren’t) — the DB promise was of little value at a time when 10-year cliff vesting and 8-year workplace tenures were the order of the day. Moreover, Boomers would typically have had to wait a year to start contributing to their DC plan when they entered the workforce.
Headlines tout today’s improved behaviors — more diversified investments, an earlier savings start, a greater awareness of the need to prepare for retirement — as evidence of refined education efforts, or a heightened awareness of the need to save by generations who are more attuned to financial realities. Those are indeed welcome and encouraging signs.
Still, it seems to me that many in these newer generational cohorts are, as are their elders, really the beneficiaries of innovative plan designs — things like target-date funds, as well as automatic enrollment and contribution acceleration, and a heightened focus on outcomes, developed to overcome the behavioral shortcomings of human beings regardless of their generational cohort.