The GEMZ enigma | The financial express
By Srinath Sridharan
As a member of the Boomer generation, I watch today’s society with curiosity as we see the “beta” generation merging with the “meta” generation. The binary between the physical and the digital world is diminishing, and we (constantly struggle to) navigate these two worlds simultaneously. Indian demography has more than 65% under 35, constituting the digital native generation. This essentially means that the greatest productive workforce in decades to come would be today’s youth. This should take into account their “influence” in society, social media, politics, etc. Can technology be used as a tool for social development? Aren’t we (non-digital natives) living in their generation and trying to set rules for their future?
We are in a crucial phase in India where Gig Economy, Millennials & GenZ (GEMZ) are playing an important role. The gig economy is a free market system in which companies work with freelancers, instead of hiring full-time workers. India’s live music industry is expected to reach $455 billion by 2024, at a compound annual growth rate of 17%. A 2021 millennial study found that 64% of full-time millennial workers globally want at least some participation in the gig workforce. Has the pandemic lockdown and resulting societal behavioral shifts accelerated this? As millennials move into mid to upper management positions and GenZ gradually become part of the workforce, we are relearning what constitutes a “job”. But the unasked question is: does gig work promote flexibility, empowerment and entrepreneurship at work, or is it really a form of opportunistic exploitation? ?
Young consumers are also those with the disposable income and the attitude to spend on consumption, whether it’s vanity products, experiences, home buying, vehicles, dining, healthcare health or self-preservation ideas like spa, salons, etc. to new business models to serve these consumers. Imagine a financier giving the EMI option for bridal makeup or botox or Buy Now Pay Later for the holidays. Isn’t that instant gratification in extended payment mode?
Generation Z (estimated at one-third of the population) is choosing skills over pay levels, experiences over career, and reshaping societal norms and the concept of corporate etiquette. This is a hypercognitive generation, comfortable bringing together diverse sources of diverse information, at the intersection of virtual and offline experiences. What do our young people want? To begin with, they are looking for experience and exploration, rather than just a certificate of experience. They are looking for memories instead of just getting services. They seek instant joy rather than long-term stability. Learnings from previous generations may not be able to provide a context for the GEMZ generation to emulate or even hold their attention. They aspire to everything “better than what they have or don’t have”.
If we use this context and add the complexity of living in a VUCA world, how do we design organizational structures to productively employ the younger generation? Conventional command management structures will not work, and modern businesses must transition to a framework of impact and accountability. How do we learn about their motivations, aspirations, interests, and design roles to keep them engaged and empowered, and not just feeling empowered?
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The total Internet user base in India, as of January 2022, stood at 658 million, with plenty of room for growth. “Jiofication” – the launch of the Jio network in 2016 and its subsequent large-scale rollout across India – led to pricing that nearly made internet access an inclusive phenomenon across India. Rural India, previously unspoken, has woken up to the opportunities of such connectivity.
India has embraced social media smoothly. With over 467 million social media users, India has the second highest number of social media users in the world. A third of India’s population uses social media. Facebook, YouTube and WhatsApp dominate the social media space in India, while Instagram is also very popular among urban youth. The basis of “narcissism” and “voyeurism” works well for social media platforms. “What I do” and “what someone else does” are two important aspects that they offer with great economic success. Our millennials and GenZ are the most active social media users. Potentially, internet access and social media platforms provide them with opportunities for learning, articulating and experimenting with new ideas and creativity, networking with online communities of interest, e-business and access to (more recent) markets and services.
Young people use social media to have fun, share interests, explore their own multiple identities and develop relationships with family. However, different segments of social media users use it differently. Indian digital-savvy millennials post stories on Instagram, share memes on Facebook, watch videos on YouTube, post opinions on Twitter and chat with each other on Facebook Messenger. For older Indians, WhatsApp is the ultimate social network! Photos and selfies from your recent vacation won’t go on FB or Insta. Videos don’t go on YouTube, and jokes and clever statements don’t go on Twitter. WhatsApp is an extension of their offline and face-to-face interactions! Conversations range from mindless interactions to mindful intimacy. We inform, without engaging.
So any communication with young people, whether from the organizations they work in or with, or the communities they are part of, must take this into account. It is important for companies to learn how new modes of digital interaction affect socializing habits in general.
Social media offers young people the opportunity to connect to the world, express their opinions without inhibitions and learn more. Even though social media platforms “connect” more people, they still seem to increase feelings of “isolation”. This reduces the number of face-to-face interactions among young people as they normally spend most of their time on these online social platforms. Are these “connections” sustainable and productive? Do we see where companies struggle to get young people back into the office?
The fine line between content consumer and content creator is blurring. The key attribute of such a format is that it allows them to converse with their community as a whole. Where do you draw the line between privacy and privacy?
With these challenges of communication, connectivity, convergence of human interaction and digital interface, the future of businesses requires a deeper understanding of GEMZ. If we still haven’t learned anything about our young people, when will we? Because they already dream and desire in digital.
The author is a business advisor and independent market commentator