The term “digital native” is often used to refer to the two younger, Next Generation demographic groups known as Millennials (aka Gen Yers) and Gen Zers. The older of the two, Millennials, are the demographic group born between 1980 and 1996. The largest demographic group in human history, Millennials are expected to comprise as much as 75% of the workforce by 2025. Their youthful counterpart, “Gen Zers,” born between 1997 and 2012, are expected to eventually supplant Millennials as the largest demographic group. Given their demographic dominance and comfort and facility with digital technology, digital natives are already having a tremendous impact on the business landscape.
NB: Technically speaking, not all digital natives are Millennials/Gen Zers, and all Millennials/Gen Zers digital natives. Some children born after 1980, especially those from less developed countries and members of the underclass, may not have had adequate exposure to digital technology to be regarded as digital natives.
A Window into a Generation
Each generation experiences influential moments in history that separates its members from other generations and binds them as peers. For Millennials, many of these moments revolve around digital technology – the introduction of MySpace, Facebook, YouTube, the iPhone, and just about every other social network and game-changing piece of tech marks a pivotal point in their “coming of age.” While the generation following (Gen Z) also identifies with these digital technologies, they may not “remember when” there was a time before the world was controlled by statuses, shares, and selfies.
Digital natives have been witness to a world of change in their lifetimes. Globalization, the ubiquity of advanced technologies, and the frenetic pace of digital disruption and transformation have all played a role in shaping the worldview of digital natives. These intangibles are worth reflecting on, as they help us gain insight into how digital natives might reshape the workplace when they represent the majority share of working adults.
Digital Natives in the Workplace
This fact was mentioned above, but its significance bears noting again: by 2025, Millennials are expected to make up 75% of the workforce. As Millennials ascend to management positions, Gen Zers graduate from college and find permanent work positions, and Baby Boomers continue to retire, work culture and norms are beginning to shift. Generally speaking, digital natives are understood to be well-educated, tech-savvy, and idealistic when it comes to pursuing passions and incorporating a “do good” ethic into the workplace. So how will things change?
Growing up with advanced technology as an integral part of their lives, here are six ways digital natives will have a profound impact on the workplace.
Changing Consumer Behavior
Digital natives are transforming consumer behavior through their preference for seamless digital experiences. They expect convenient, personalized, and mobile-friendly interactions with brands. This has led to the rise of e-commerce, mobile apps, and social media marketing as essential components of businesses’ strategies. Companies like Amazon have capitalized on this shift, creating an ecosystem that caters to the preferences of digital natives, offering fast and convenient online shopping experiences.
Rise of the Sharing Economy
Digital natives have embraced the concept of sharing economy platforms. Services like Uber, Airbnb, and TaskRabbit have gained popularity among this generation due to their convenience, cost-effectiveness, and flexibility. Digital natives value experiences over ownership, and the sharing economy allows them to access products and services on demand without the burdens of ownership. This trend has disrupted traditional business models, prompting companies to adapt and find new ways to engage with these consumers.
Digital natives are highly influenced by their peers and online communities. Influencer marketing has emerged as a powerful strategy to connect with this generation. Influencers, who are often digital natives themselves, have built large followings on platforms like Instagram, YouTube, and TikTok. Brands collaborate with influencers to promote their products and services, leveraging the trust and authenticity these influencers have established with their audience. This form of marketing allows businesses to reach digital natives in a more relatable and engaging manner.
Remote Work and Collaboration
Digital natives have played a significant role in the adoption of remote work and collaboration tools. Their comfort with technology and desire for flexibility have accelerated the shift towards remote work models. Platforms like Slack, Zoom, and Trello have become essential for facilitating virtual teamwork, communication, and project management. The COVID-19 pandemic further accelerated this trend, with digital natives leading the way in adapting to remote work setups and driving the demand for digital collaboration tools.
Emphasis on Corporate Social Responsibility
Digital natives place a strong emphasis on corporate social responsibility (CSR) and sustainability. They seek brands that align with their values and actively contribute to social and environmental causes. As we note in Chapter 14, fully 70% of Millennials support a culture of CSR and are willing to spend more on brands that support their causes. Patagonia, an outdoor apparel company, is a prime example of a brand that resonates with digital natives through its commitment to sustainability and activism. The company’s efforts to reduce its environmental impact and support social causes have attracted a loyal customer base, demonstrating the influence of digital natives on businesses’ sustainability initiatives.
Given their impatient nature and growing influence on commercial trends, brands will have to be diligent and responsive when trying to create worthwhile customer experiences for digital natives. As heavy social media users, digital natives can be a brand’s greatest advocate and worst critic. Not afraid to express their opinions, it’s imperative that brands engage in the conversation and listen and learn from the online chatter to foster authentic relationships that convert prospects and consumers into brand advocates and champions.
Digital Natives as Catalysts for Change
Saying digital natives are idealistic is an understatement. Causes, innovation, and social responsibility are three of the largest forces shaping the generation. As Millennials are more likely to purchase from companies that support a cause, i.e. TOMS, etc., it only makes sense that members of this generation want to work for companies that want to help shape the future.
Digital natives believe the success of a business should be measured in terms of more than just its financial performance; a focus on improving society should be among the most important things it should seek to achieve.
How does this translate to their role in the workplace? Digital natives appreciate when a brand is philanthropic but desire to include their own passions and inspirations in their identity at work. With the coming of the Next Generation take-over, businesses will be expected to pursue social goals, not just profits.
In many ways, digital natives have an “out with the old and in with the new” mentality with respect to the workplace. Ready to shake up the business world as they know it, digital natives will bring their expertise in technology and appetite for social good into this new era of work.
While Millennials especially are often defined as one of the most self-confident generations (not surprising given their size) they retain a healthy respect for their elders. By acknowledging that older generations are known for their work ethic, moral values, and respect for others, Millennials understand that they still have much to learn. In these transitional years, as Millennials rise in the ranks, many would greatly benefit from mentoring by their Gen X and Boomer superiors. By supporting open, transparent, and inclusive leadership, the next generation of leaders can learn from the example of the current generation.
Digital natives are the driving force behind the transformation of the business landscape. Their preferences, behaviors, and expectations are reshaping industries and pushing businesses to adapt and innovate. As this generation continues to mature and become the dominant consumer group, companies must embrace the digital-native mindset to thrive. By recognizing and leveraging the unique characteristics of digital natives, businesses can create meaningful connections, deliver personalized experiences, and stay ahead of the evolving demands of the digital world. Embracing technology, sustainability, and social responsibility are key to attracting and retaining digital-native customers and shaping a successful future for businesses.
- What do you think the shift to digital natives in the workplace means for the future of business?
- What are some other ways digital natives are impacting/will impact the workplace?
- Is it possible to have a strong work ethic and maintain a work-life balance? How does technology aid or hinder this?