With the collapse of the healthcare system and go-to structures, apart from the obvious impact on life outcomes itself, Gen Z is coming of age in the midst of huge socio-economic tumult. Platinum Guild International's Sujala Martis sheds some more light...
Every generation has had that one big social, economic or political event that becomes a defining marker. It defines their outlook, their view of the future, impacts behavior and consumption. For Gen Z, COVID-19 is poised to serve as that 'big moment’. From institutional shutdowns and quarantines and social distancing. Financial insecurity to recessions. A fuelling of nationalism to varied political agendas across countries & witnessing inequity like never before.
The Gen Z's world changed radically overnight from reveling in the abundance of opportunities, possibilities, and access to being confronted with the ravaging impact of the crisis taking a toll on how society functions & human life. However, it was during these trying times that this generation discovered something special – unity that binds them; values of kindness and compassion that they embraced as part of their culture; and resilience that kept them standing even when everything around them seemed to collapse.
Unable to live out the best years of their life and left to cope with the myriad economic, social, and health-related side-effects of the pandemic, Gen Z finds themselves more stressed and worried than generations before. The older ones are graduating amidst an economic downturn, with reduced job opportunities and fears of financial insecurity leading to much anxiety. Concerns about their family’s welfare, career prospects, and long-term financial future are the primary causes of stress. Even for the younger Gen Z, education has become more exclusive in its current online format, accentuated by the digital divide, and doesn’t carry the same impact of learning as before.
All of this will take a toll, making them lag behind when it comes to key life milestones, such as homeownership, marriage, wealth accumulation as compared with older generations.
The carefree days of youth, its rites of passage is something they can’t experience to the fullest given encouraging isolation. Even the thrill of romance and dating has been snatched away to be replaced by various virtual formats that don’t quite cut it as the offline world did.
Rising To The Occasion
For many, the rude shock of the crisis has been an awakening & meant growing up overnight. They have never witnessed this level of loss and collapse before. While for many it led to them becoming a caregiver at home and handling a level of responsibility, they had no experience with it. For others faced by job loss within the family, it has meant taking the kind of calls they never had to earlier, giving up on many dreams & aspirations, living with financial pressure. Even for those better off, it has meant the guilt of living a relatively sheltered life and the helplessness of not being able to make a significant enough difference.
While Gen Z processed the enormity of grief, they also realized the power of unity and kindness. This tech-savvy generation, used the power of technology to create virtual support centers, amplifying the need for medical support or supplies as well as verifying leads and sharing them on social media. 15-year-old Aanya set up a COVID-19 helpline, Help Reach, with the assistance of her school friends. Prakhar Goel a 10th grader from Mumbai, set up a website called COVID-19helpinghands.org, which lists verified resources for COVID-19.
A generation that was often ridiculed for its inability to survive without technology, was able to combine the power of technology with compassion to serve as the biggest and sometimes the only hope of survival for many. They experienced the impact of perseverance & collectivism literally resulting in life and death consequences. This generation found resilience and resourcefulness in the face of adversity making them even more determined to drive positive change in their communities and around the world. Gen Z successfully changed the narrative of fear and helplessness to one of courage and hope. Even the younger Gen Z took to donation drives to help the school support staff for example. Responsible in action and united in isolation emerged as the Gen Z mantra of this time.
Also Read: Opinion: Get REAL With Your REEL Consumer
The Silver Lining
This younger cohort received a crash course in living, dreaming, and surviving in an environment of extreme uncertainty. They quickly adapted to the new realities of life and found opportunities for personal and professional improvement. From leading better, healthier, and more holistic lives to embrace the mental health fallout, to learning new skills, Gen Z focussed on preparing for a more dynamic Post COVID-19 world.
The crisis has been a true inflection point enforcing an introspection of what truly matters. Spending quality time with family, craving that personal connection in a world of social distancing, highlighted the desire for human connectedness and interdependence even for this ‘digital first’ generation. The pandemic also sees values of compassion, kindness, and empathy take center stage amidst them.
Driven By A Sense Of Purpose And Cause
Gen Z has always been interested in meaningful social change, associating themselves with a variety of causes. Unintentionally perhaps but this crisis has exposed the many invisible battle lines drawn on issues of poor governance, existing inequities, poverty, climate control, etc.
Challenging the assumption that most can afford to stay insulated from this pandemic & its lockdown, this cohort has advocated the cause of many who could not. The severity of the second wave has led to a sense of disillusionment with today’s operating systems. They seem eager to take control and lead change where necessary, whether it's toxic work cultures or expanding the gamut of self-care to mental care, or driving inclusiveness. Having witnessed a lack of empathy for marginalized & vulnerable sections of society, they have attempted to correct for it by providing better access to health, vaccination, and other humanitarian causes. Operating in the favour of collective consciousness & community over individualism. They believe their generation has both a voice & a responsibility to speak up & be heard.
They are critical of brands and individuals who are not able to walk the talk. For instance, influencers who displayed sensitivity towards the pandemic on social media but were then seeing holidaying were immediately called out for the discrepancy in their actions. Brands like Nike, with campaigns like ‘For Once Just Don’t Do It’, have carefully contextualized their narrative to this time – reflecting a sense of purpose above all.
Personal journeys are important to this audience, overcoming personal blocks, fears, insecurities, pushing oneself to step out of a comfort zone. Being brave & bold in response. Learning the new. Much of the lockdowns & responses to the crisis have been guided by these principles. This also fits right in with them being members of a gig economy, norms of new expectations only having accelerated with the pandemic, to be constantly learning and upskilling. With technology-related shifts having accelerated, they will have to face the upheaval of constant retraining. The pandemic reinforced the importance of being adaptable and being able to pivot, it’s a code they have definitely learned to live with.
Authenticity is more critical given a crisis where all forms of pretense are shed. This crisis therefore only emphasized that. They seek genuine emotion & expression given an already shaken up mind. They connect to individuals & brands who they feel are real. Social media is rife with examples of influencers they adore being the ones who expose their vulnerabilities, flaunt their flaws, showcase their journeys of discomfort & overcome personal limitations. Even celebs that earn their adulation today are the ones who are more authentic - they show their real lives, journeys, their vulnerabilities, their imperfections, and quirks
What becomes clear from their responses is that while the pandemic is sure to be their ‘defining moment’, Gen-Z has no plans of sitting back and riding the wave. Many of these behavior traits whether it’s the affinity towards mindfulness and purpose or the pursuit of authenticity or the outlook towards personal journeys – the pandemic has only served to entrench them further. Gen Z has clearly taken this moment by the reins and fully intends to use it - not just to their advantage but also to the betterment of their world and those around them.
The piece has been authored by Sujala Martis, Consumer Marketing Director, Platinum Guild International (PGI), India.