I have the good fortune of having lived four decades and with the age, I accumulated the experiences to give me the benefit of hindsight and some nuggets of foresight. I would not imply that these (the hindsight and foresight) come automatically as a factor of age. One does have to exert one’s thoughtfulness to accumulate them and I like to think that I have.
The crossover generation
Having said that, I recognise that we are living in a vastly new world that is changing the dynamics of how we live in very fundamental ways that we can barely comprehend. I am of the crossover generation that is old enough to have written letters on paper with a pen and that is savvy enough to know what a DM is. It is the generation that saw faxes and pagers and that now can operate in an entirely paperless environment. We sent postcards when we travelled (only to our nearest and dearest) and we have also uploaded our travel pics obsessively on Instagram.
It is my generation that started working in the formal 8-5 job cycle, dressed in ill-fitting suits and ties and cleanly shaven heads. It is us who normalised piercings, tattoos and dreadlocks in professionals (especially in marketing and creative circles), who made it okay to work in jeans an sneakers even in professional consulting jobs and who built the foundation for the gig economy.
I am of the generation that had the benefit of sitting with older people, who inspired fantasies of us being wise sagely elders like them and simultaneously had the freedom to question much of the wisdom. For example, I know that as a young adult, I sat with elders who told me the tribes that were okay for me to marry and the ones that I should stay away from. They also taught me the reason why dowry negotiations need so many visits back and forth. The first example, I questions and discarded for the bad advice that it was and the second, I respect and I am fascinated by.
In a nutshell, we are the generation that drove the classic Peugeot 504 and will own the Tesla.I said this 😁
I am of the generation that has had the privilege of sucking petrol in a pipe so that the carburator could work and that knows how to jump start a stalled car. I am also alive in the age where I can conceivably buy an electric car in Kenya. Afterall, someone already has and Kenya Power are considering putting charging stations so that it becomes possible. Perhaps most significantly, I am of the age that will conceivably experience self-driving cars.
Recently, I was having a conversation with African brainstorm guru and master brand strategist, Wambui JL, and we were reflecting on what role our age group can play in today’s Kenya and Africa. We observed that we are seeing the demise of many flagship businesses that rose and fell in our lifetimes. From the likes of Nakumatt and Tuskys that boomed and changed the nature of shopping in Kenya to the novel Imperial and Chase Banks and most recently the advertising giant Scangroup (still alive, but the legendary CEO, Bharat Thakrar is recently reported to be leaving under a cloud that threatens the survival of the company).
Why, we wondered? After all many of these companies are second generation businesses that were built from the ground up. Nakumatt started as a small shop in Nakuru called Nakuru Mattresses in 1979, one that grew from strength to strength to a behemoth of over 70 branches in East Africa. (read the intriguing story) Tuskys, a pseudo sibling of Nakumatt’s has a similarly riveting story. What the two companies and many others we could see have in common was that the second generation owners of those businesses led them to their decline – and occasionally demise. Look at the Njenga Karume, the Michuki and Matiba dynasties to name a few.
One of the ideas that we thought of was that there is something missing in the generation that is immediately before ours – the 50-60 something year olds, who took over from those in their eighties now. There’s something about inheriting wealth without being taught the mechanics of how that wealth was truly acquired or being taught how to connect with the people who make that wealth possible. Many of those in our knowledge ‘ate life with big spoons’ and never really learnt how to run the businesses in the context of Kenya. Even those that tried, had been so immersed in western business practices that they could not quite connect with the local market.
What is worse, we thought, is that given that these second generation folks were our immediate seniors, who should have been our mentors, didn’t show us very much. Perhaps, we mused, because they didn’t know much beyond the facade. The concept of “fake it till you make it” was popularised by them and our generation simply lived it. It was important to us that we looked the part even before we got to the part – we bought the cars, the designer-wear and our children went to “the right schools” that we could barely afford. The idea that a “boys club” was needed to succeed in business, that who you know and were close with was more important even than the fact that you could do the work.
Enter Gen Z
Recently watching the news on KTN, I marvelled at the remarkably youthful faces I saw conducting interviews on TV. “They are just kids!” I exclaimed, “are we that old?” Thinking on it, I realised that even in my office, many of the very smart and qualified professionals are in that generation that now confounds those us at the help of companies and organisations, the Generation Z.
These ‘youngins’ now own the world and are demanding for space in ways that we couldn’t have at their age. Population-wise, the group between 18-30 form the biggest adult group in Kenya – and in many African counties, far more than the 35-65 bracket. And they are interesting!
In observing them, I find that they are more sure of themselves, more doubtless than their seniors but at the same time they are more unsure of themselves and insecure. “We speak loud and demand to be listened to,” said Sarah Steinman. Members of Gen Z are more racially and ethnically diverse than any previous generation, and they are on track to be the most well-educated generation yet.
Over the past few weeks, I have taken it upon myself to try and listen hard to Generation Z in a bid to understand them and their aspirations. I have talked to them and I have gone on Tiktok and Instagram, which are very much their eminent domains. I read their blogposts (See my assistant, Mukanda’s blogpost) about themselves and read the research that has been done about them, for example, by Pews Research and Berkley. Search as I have, I am yet to find research on Gen Z from Kenya but I am looking for it.
Al Kags goes on TikTok
One of the measures that I took was to set myself up on Tiktok and after a few posts to learn how it works, I asked Gen Z a question.
I really enjoyed the feedback that recieved from the Gen Z on TikTok. The highest majority of them said, “listen to us, we know some things.” A great many of them address the challenges that they have at work. Some of the feedback directly quoted below.
- “We’d love you not to judge us harshly for being in a different generation…I hear a lot of ‘these young people’…”
- “We might know more than you in some areas so we neeI don’t want to start with struggle and mistreatment just because you did. Isn’t it supposed to be better?”
- “I’d you to sometimes seat and listen. Really listen.”
- “Don’t use our appearance (tattoos, piercings, hair) as a means to judge our work ethic. 😏Most of us work hard, smart & well.”
- “Respect is earned not given just because of age…”
- “I don’t want to start with struggle and mistreatment just because you did. Isn’t it supposed to be better?”
- “Burn out is a thing, just because I can’t work from 4 AM to 8PM like you doesn’t mean I don’t work hard. Everyone has their limits…”
- “We are more than our bodies🥺😒gives us jobs and don’t expect anything in return except productivity at work!” (from a young lady)
- “Just because something is “tradition” doesn’t mean it’s the only way things can be done…”
- “We won’t take disrespect – we always choose our happiness and money. So if the job doesn’t give that, we’ll walk out.🥰”
- “We have anxiety ands it’s triggered quite easily actually…”
- “You failed us😂😂😂”
- “Understand that we are a sad generation and we want money(easy money) to make us happy!!”
- “Life would have been a lot easier for us if our fathers would have been more responsible and our mothers alive… don’t make it harder when we come 2 u”
- “I am not here to take ur job y you feel threatened n treat us like job snatchers n yet am there to learn from u.”
- “Let’s please view the world in the change perspective we’ve always been singing of…. 😊.”
- “Don’t ask for 10 years experience boss. Why do you yell at us in front of everyone it is demoralizing”
- “My biggest is how companies expect staff to sit from 8 to 5 in complete silence and sit still and use it as a measure of productivity.”
- “We don’t glorify suffering. whether professionally or personal…”
- “Stop saying this generation is ABC… You raised us.”
- “Leave young girls alone n be faithful to your wives. Thank you”
- “You are the generation that made us hate marriage 😌😌😌😌”
- “You have failed us. We expected you to elicit change but you embraced status quo and now we have to start from scratch. And you don’t make it easy.”
- “We don’t have to suffer/struggle just because you did. I lowkey feel that’s a trauma response for this age group- you glorify suffering.”
- “The idea that, and especially women, can’t be multiple things. Why can’t I rule the boardroom and say twerk on my socials without being stereotyped?”
- “You moi’s kids failed us big time. Mulikula students boom na maziwa ya nyayo mkajisahau, so achaneni na sisi tumwok na tujinauwo😅. That’s watsup✌🏾”
Response by _Medusa001
Response by Polly Wachira
That’s what’s up.
6 thoughts on “What Gen Z want us to know about them”
Al, as a senior executive at a bank, I see these guys all the time. We find that it is much harder to work with them because of their abhorrence for structure. But listening to them, I am starting to have a clue as to why. At our institution, we have to build a system for listening.
Honestly what a call to earth this is: this model of listening without defending or arguing is powerful. I have never been on Tiktok – it never occured to me that that is where I might reach these young people directly.
At one of my jobs I was among the youngest employee in Kenya and Africa as the rest were between the age of 38-67. I know this as I was managing the African Database.
So we had an office rule that for every hour you are sat and working you have to take a 15 min break to do whatever.
I’d use my 15 mins walking as I really had nothing in common with most people because of age difference and hated being asked personal questions.
So when I was promoted a few people questioned what I did and they were presented with all the work I handle and noted I was ahead of schedule for most of my task and others I’d already completed months in advance. If left most infuriated
When it came to my JD since I was in charge of HR in Africa and country HR reported some tasks to me we would do virtual calls and many had not met me. So we did a security training and I had about 300 staff including the HR around for the training. On day one before we got staff tags guys would be asking me who “Karimi HR” is cz they’d never met her. Others sort of dismissed me when we arrived at the venue as they thought I was either an intern or some assistant and because I had a tongue piercing but mostly because I was young. I wasn’t 30 then.
It was even hilarious when the head of Africa who we shared a name introduced me and you should have seen the reaction of most staff that had dismissed me so I hear those posts.
We shouldn’t be judged by hair, tattoos and piercings. Also sitting on a desk the whole day doesn’t mean that work is done. One mostly has to do a lot of planning and organizing themselves and their work because during appraisals it’s just you being measured against your objectives and goals
Thank you for your blogpost, which my colleagues and I have found very illuminating. As one of the largest Telcos in Africa, we have resolved to establish a work process to better integrate our Gen Z employees by seeking to innovate how we work and rest to accomodate their learning. We are also starting a Gen Z team in our product development department to better be responsive to them.
Dear Al, how interesting. That we have failed these young people is not something that could be disputed. They are right. We have become serious predators of them both at work ( hark our unpaid internship programs) and socially as we seek to make sexual playthings of both boys and girls. I would love to explore ways that we could support them that are not trite and not exploitative. We mainly offer them only menial work because we dont think theycan contribute seriously to society. Maybe you could ask them for us?
Dear Geoffrey, this is quite amazing. I would be happy to ask them!