The Legendary Gen-Z… Are Generational Differences Real?


murat ulker

The letters X, Y and Z… defining the generations never ends. For quite some time now, “get ready, the new generation is coming” articles have lost their impact on me. In this regard, over time, I have reached a conclusion compiled from various sources I’ve read, experts I have contacted, and academicians I’ve consulted. By reading more on this subject in recent weeks, I am putting forth my idea to get your opinions. After reading my article, we understand that we call people born at the same time, or living in the same years, a “generation” or “breed”, but is it actually correct to claim that they are the same? Let’s see what you will say to my answer to this question…

Let us start with an example: The legend of the Generation Y, that is, the millennium generation is now over, and is anyone talking about it anymore? More than two years ago in 2018, based on considerable effort, Fatos Karahasan in her book, Make way, The Youth is Coming proposed the question: ‘What Type of World will the Y & Z Generations Build?’; starting from Siam’s Research with youth in 2000, “Turkey Youth Survey”, together with similar research reports in Turkey and abroad (1). In the same book, the commonalities between Turkey’s Y Generation (those born 1980-1998 a.k.a. the Millennium Generation) and the Z Generation (those born after 1998-2000) were listed as follows:

1.    Family is in the center of life.

2.    They are generally happy.

3.    They are concerned about the source of unemployment and financial opportunities.

4.    They prefer living in their own cocoons.

5.    They stay away from politics and NGOs.

6.    They are distant from foreign countries.

7.    Education is important to them

8.    They use the Internet for entertainment and social purposes.

9.    They are prejudiced regarding gender equality in living together.

10. Unemployment anxiety and work dissatisfaction are at an extreme.

It has not yet been two and a half years and nobody talks about Generation Y anymore today. Generation Y could not make the expected changes. One can even say that the age of 35 is already similar to previous generations! Maybe they weren’t different, and what was said to be the difference was what appeared on the tip of an iceberg. Now, there is the legend of Generation Z. They changed the birth years for this generation until 2005, meaning they are only 16 years old and they are our hope for change.

Karahasan’s book was also based on a popular book of the time, The Gen Z Effect (2), and the characteristics of the generation born after 2000 were given as follows: They were born into the digital age, they are the first global generation; they are children of a troubled world, with helicopter parents, and the first generation in which technology has introduced new behavioral patterns.

In this same book, those born after 2010 were named the Alpha Generation and 5 predictions were made:

1)   They will be the most entrepreneurial generation.

2)   Those who cannot do without technology will want everything to be arranged according to them.

3)   They will shop online. They will be lonely and will have psychological problems.

4)   They will be pampered.

5)   They will be self-sufficient and well-educated.

6)   They will deal with the world’s problems.

Two years later, those who called Generation Z. The “Alpha youth” had decreased even more. New sources call more Generation Z. It should also be noted that; this generational issue is not a topic whose conceptualization is discussed in peer-reviewed journals and qualified publications. It is a topic mostly discussed in books written by people from the business industry, industry bulletins, special reports from research companies and consulting companies as well as blogs. In David Stillman and Jonah Stillman’s book titled “Move over Millennials; Generation Z is Here”, those born in 1995-2012 are considered Generation Z. It is unclear where and how they found this information, but they list the 7 basic features of Generation Z as follows (3):

1)   Phigital: Generation Z is the first generation born to a world where everything that has a physical aspect has a digital counterpart. The virtual world is part of their reality. It is said they will prefer companies that use technology well.

2)   Excessive personalization: They are used to being treated personally. There is a high expectation that their behavior and wishes will be understood and treated accordingly. They demand personalization of everything from job title to career. It will be difficult for the business world that is used to treating everyone equally. They even want to write their job descriptions themselves.

3)   Realistic: Generation Z is much more realistic and utilitarian in preparing for the future.

4)   Fear of missing out: They have an intense fear of missing out on something. They will follow new trends, and they will not be able to stand still because they constantly feel that they are not going in the right direction. Most will want to have different roles in one workplace.

5)   They are Economists: Since sharing economies such as Uber and Airbnb are in their lives, they will impose more cost-effective and comfortable ways of collective action on the business world by destroying the closed structure inside and outside the workplace. They will try to correct the mistakes they see in the world. The power of the company they work for in creating social awareness is very important for them.

6)   Do it yourself: They think they can do everything by themselves since they grew up with YouTube showing that they can do everything by themselves. They adopt a do-it-yourself culture instead of a collaborative culture.

7)   Ambitious: Ambitious, more competitive, and ready to roll up their sleeves. They want to win.

Later, the authors interviewed hundreds of CEOs, and Generation Z youth try to tell us that theabove characteristics are true, completely anecdotally and without any theoretical basis.

Gregg L. Witt and Derek E. Baird in their book The Gen Z Frequency (4) describe how brands can tune in to Gen Z and gain their trust. In this book, those born between 1996-2011 are called Gen Z. The authors first interviewed nearly 200 high school students, then tested their findings in a follow-up study with 6000 samples every year. Accordingly, the 7 characteristics of the Z generation are as follows:

1)   Independent: They work harder for success.

2)   Open to differences: Open to all racial, gender, and ethnic differences.

3)   Activist spirited: Those who want to work in organizations that are politically aware, wants to make the world a better placeand that try to make a difference in the world.

4)   Pragmatic: They want a more pragmatic career because they were raised by the X generation who grew up under difficult conditions, so being a good lawyer is more important than being a good YouTuber. They are financially conservative and do not want to share data on social media.

5)   Personal Branding: They don’t want to overexpose themselves on social media like Generation Y (The Millennium generation). They manage themselves like a brand.

6)   Collaborative: Talking to a student from another country on Skype in the classroom, playing e-sports on Twitch, or playing another game together taught Gen Z physical and virtual collaboration at an early age. Generation Z is the first generation where access to information through status updates, messaging, selfies, social networking, and mobile devices is now at their fingertips. They talk with emojis.

7)   Hyper-customization norms. They are mobile communicators. They want a clear brand history. They want a brand that will make them reach their dreams, and they chase after this brand. They look for a brand that will make a community feel a sense of belonging.

That’s all well; however, in this book there is no information about why they are like this, where they come from, or any figures supporting such evidence.

We move to another study from Turkey. Evrim Kuran also has many articles and videos on this subject. She makes a lot of effort to understand this subject. When it comes to her book: Understanding Generation Z (5), Kuran states “While 33.7 percent of the world population is Gen Z, 31 percent of Turkey’s population is in the Z generation. In other words, there are more than 25 million individuals under the age of 19 in our country“ and then the author attempts to show that Generation Z is different from other generations. Here, the resources used to support this are interviews with 2,764 Generation Z’s in Ankara, Istanbul, and Izmir. I would like to know how the sample group was chosen. The research results also explain the differences in an anecdotal flavor. We cannot say that she fully clarified the subject. Again in Kuran’s Study, it is said: “In the Dreams Survey we conducted with Generation Y in 2016, almost half of the youth stated that they did not believe that they could make their dreams come true”. But Generation Z is hopeful about their dreams, regardless of where they live. 75% of youth located in the back neighborhoods and 70% of the young people in the upper group believe that their dreams will come true, I think it is not possible to say that this is a generational difference, and the validity of the study can be questioned because a comparison is made with a single question.

The Maya Foundation claims that it has done neuroscience research with Smartlook Analytics Laboratory and solved Generation Z. Even news of the research topic is titled: “Turkey’s most comprehensive research”. However, when you read the news, it is not possible to understand anything. In this study, how many people were included for the research remains unclear, Generation Z was solved by detecting brain chemicals, body reactions, and 12 mood states. Findings: They are not afraid of being defeated, they prefer to interact via video. They care about their university department but do not believe that a degree will provide them with a comfortable life, their purpose is happiness rather than money, they want to socialize and work voluntarily, they favor face-to-face education, their biggest problems is materiality, their future anxiety is more than other generations, they are not apolitical, they do not believe in slogans, fathers are at the center of their lives, and they want their political leaders to be hardworking and reliable. To be frank, I wonder how these results originate from a neurological or biometric research.?

In the meantime, via Google, you can find many reports by research and consultancy companies on “Generation Z”. They mostly say similar things, but they all have one thing in common. The samples of their research are either inadequate in number or not done with the right method. Most of them recite the same words about Generation Z: they use technology well, they want the world to be a better place, they want everything to be personalized, they are used to the game culture, they want to win, and they want to keep their private lives protected.

For example, according to Deloitte’s interview with 1531 subjects from Generation Z (where and how they were selected is unclear) (7), they want to work in a job they interact within their personal lives, they want to work in a diverse and entrepreneurial company and if they do, they will be loyal to it, not by team play, but by individual action. They prefer companies not only with product services but also with high moral and social effects, they want financial security rather than personal satisfaction, they question the benefits of graduated education, and they want to learn new skills on online platforms.

Deloitte has also published a Global Millennial Survey 2020 report. They call Generation Y and Z “resistant generations” due to Covid. According to the report, these two generations have felt fear of unemployment and fear of the future more. But at the same time, the long-term effect of Covid on these generations is currently unknown. But it is necessary to focus more on these generations because they will establish the future. I wondered if Deloitte wanted it to be like this and if he was trying to attract our attentionin this way (8).

As a matter of fact, all these sources say: Generation Z is fundamentally different from previous generations in terms of personality, values, and working styles, and therefore they will change the places they work with their work habits! In fact, the same things were said about the previous generation, the Y Generation. This is a myth, and this legend has been observed to have great effects on the hiring, promotion, and management of people. However, little evidence has been found by businesses to support fundamental generational differences; researchers state that there is more evidence to show that there are more priority factors to consider in workplaces. In short, as we have discussed above, let’s go with the takeaway that the atmosphere of change brought on by Covid19, a report, a chapter, or an article about the differences between generations is definitely published in the special reports and books of consultancy and research companies that target the business world directly. Generally, it is thought that generations can be separated from each other according to factors such as “attitudes and values” and they are shaped by the events that occur in a period of time in which they grow up (9).

Growing up in a particular time and place often has a very strong impact on people in certain situations. Societies, groups, families, and schools try to teach their members a certain belief and values about important issues and appropriate types of behavior. They instill judgments and attitudes about things that are right/wrong, good/bad, just/cruel, or right/wrong. Those who propose the differences between generations take their ideas about the differences further and assume that everyone born at a specific time frame, such as 20 years, shares the same experiences, values, and characteristics. Whereas, this approach is typically stereotyping of a person of a different age group over another generational category. Isn’t it a bit like fortune-telling? In other words, everyone born on the same day looks the same and shares the same fate. Is this something that really happens?

However, it is always easier to see the wide range of values, motivations, personalities, and careers within one’s age group. Is it possible to compare a generation with another generation by simultaneously asking the same question to two age categories. Probably more in-depth research is needed. When Generation X is 20 years old, you will ask the same question, when Generation Y is the same age, you will ask the same question, when Generation Z is the same age, you will ask the same question and then compare your answers. In this way, such a study would reveal if generational differences are in fact real.

Others are normal age segmentation differences, and all kinds of social, political, and technological events in the normal course of history have different effects on ages. However, the results of this type of research over the years can only be used by the next generations.

Generational differences categorize people overly simply, dividing them into “us” and “them”. Generational differences are nothing new. Different generations have always been brought to the agenda by seeing them as different tribes or different cultures as if there was a magical intercept between them. If the generations are different from each other, they must be managed differently and need different working conditions (10).

The most commonly used generation terminology to describe generation differences originates from the USA and belongs to Strauss-Howe (11). I hope that those who speak of this terminology today benefit from Strauss-Howe’s book. The most repeated patterns of this model are:

The generation known as Baby Boomers includes those born in 1943-1960 and raised after the Second World War. There was a tremendous population explosion in the USA with the post-war demobilization and peaceful environment. Baby Boomer defines it. It is valid for America and partly for Europe. But what happened in the defeated world or Eastern Europe? Turkey did not partake in the Second World War, so we cannot speak of such. In those years, Turkey’s single-party diverged into a multi-party transition and there was the 1960 coup. In the Strauss-Howe model, those born 1961-1981 constitute the X generation. Generation Y was born between 1982 and 2004. Generation Z, which was born after 2004 and whose first representatives will gradually join the workforce, is technically known as the “Homeland Generation” in the USA and according to Strauss-Howe has properties similar to the “Greatest Generation”. that fought in the Second World War between 1925-1942. It is as if the generation cycle is in question.

The character of the Baby Boomer generation was shaped in the turbulent atmosphere of the 60s and by reading the median of the events they saw as unfair in the world. These are civil rights, Woodstock, moon landings, sit-ins, hijackings, and a nuclear energy belt. They don’t like traditional hierarchies, they are expected to act against rules. Trying new things makes this generation happy.

Generation X has been affected by the events of the ‘70s and ‘80s. The worst economic depression experienced since the Great Depression of the 1930s. It grew with the environmental movements, the women’s movement, the decline in production, and the rise of the service sector. They have a bad reputation at work for being unfaithful to those who are loyal to them. They were told that “greed” was good, and this generation was criticized for their selfish “yuppie” material culture and self-righteous attitude.  

Generation Y started to join the working world in the 2000s. Lived in the ‘90s; The end of the U.S.S.R., the unification of East and West Germany, the increasing integration movements in Europe, and the globalization movement have shaped the Y generation. The typewriter era is over in the world of this generation. Information technologies have risen rapidly. Machines and technology are rapidly replacing people in the workplace. The Home office era has begun, flexible working has begun, and shared office sharing has begun.

Here again, let’s see how the definition of a generation originating from the USA may differ in other cultures with an example. When the restriction of having only one child per family in the People’s Republic of China has created a generation of three parents (one pair of parents and one pair each by their mother and father), who are seen as the heirs of the family, spoiled and almost emperor-like, it has been immediately abandoned. Otherwise, China would have to import brides for these little emperors of its own creation within twenty years.

It is said that the emojis and selfies of the generation, called Generation Z, born in the 2000s, changed the world more than previous generations. However, for this to be true, events in the world must have a stronger effect on children’s development levels than their surroundings (12).

Does parental behavior affect the child’s development or does the China-US tariff war? Are peers influencing a child’s development or are NATO Security Council decisions? Feb 28 decisions or 2-years older brother? The quality and personal development of someone’s education certainly has more impact than UN resolutions. People remember the same politicians at the same time, but they don’t automatically have the same views as people of the same generation. It should not be forgotten that, in these new generations, perhaps for the first time in human history, children do not grow up emulating their fathers, fairy-tale heroes, and historical figures. New generation Japanese children’s cartoons are also a separate factor in this, but now future tales are at least as popular as traditional tales.

When describing the aforementioned Strauss-Howe model I gave an example of how Turkey’s political transformation was different. This was from a model in a scientific study of Generation Political Transformation in Turkey (13), that Turkey has adapted based on the reviews it states, and my initial response I wrote in capital letters beside each point:

·     Baby Boom Generation (1946-1964): Multi-party period, 60 coup, 61 Constitution (Altruistic, Obedient, Serious, Optimistic, Prescriptive, Idealist) I WONDER?

·     Generation X (1965-1979): 1971 coup, 1968 worker and student movements, Economic distress, Arabesque culture, Rise of Cinema (Skeptical, Result Oriented) REALLY?

·     Generation Y (1980-1995):  the1980 coup, 1982 Constitution, neoliberal policies, consumer society (Process-oriented, Weak Patience Tendency, Prone to Depression, Open to Communication, Individualistic Structure, Family Focused, Self-Confident, Complainant) SO FEBRUARY 28TH IS THE RESULT OF ALL OF THESE?

·     Generation Z (1995….): February 28, April 7 Memorandum, 2001 Crisis, AK Party Power, Gezi Events, July 15th uprising, Internet, iPod, iPad, mobile phone (Self-confident, independent, introverted, dissatisfied, social media Communicating, knowing what they want, wanting to keep control, expressing themselves well) SOCIETY IN THE HANDS OF TROLLS!

To reiterate, the claim is that each society has a different political, social, economic, and cultural structure and that these structures are effective in shaping the character of individuals. I believe it too. In any case, isn’t the political trend in our world developing like this? In the elections where Y and Z generations predominantly vote, will the policies with higher votes be more nationalist or more individualist? Even so, this does not show us that the similarity in political behavior will lead to the same in other behaviors. Growing up in similar geography at the same time means you have a lot in common. But there are at least 3 reasons why the myth of intergenerational diversity is misleading:

1) Aging: Quite simply, the aging person changes. All people learn from experience, become more disciplined, and make more personal choices. Some of us are precocious and some of us have never grown up. Young people are impulsive and need time to get used to the work environment. For centuries, from Socrates to Dostoevsky, the younger generation has been described as anti-authoritarian, rude, and disrespectful. This is not a generational feature. Most young people thrive and mature in the business environment.

2) Social Experience: Factors affecting more than intelligence, education, experience, age, and generation. If all young people are the same, they will show the same performance in job interviews. However, some people have poor impulse control, some are narcists, and some are social media addicts. But there may be such people from all generations.

3) Random discrimination points: It is subjective to categorize generations by year. Just as it is unreasonable for a historian to use the period ruled by a ruler to describe a historical period, it is also illogical to divide people according to their age.

Most popular books on generations are enjoyable to read, entertaining but of low scientific value. They just affirm our prejudices. It is as if there is a “Generations in the Workplace Industry” that tries to take advantage of this fleeting enthusiasm. With institutional change and environmental transformation, the way people work also changes. It has always been experienced in history. It will be experienced after that. The important thing is to anticipate what will happen and adapt to change beforehand. For example, computerization was like that. Mobile communication, remote work, e-commerce are like this. Now is the time for digitalization and personalization, as the printing press was invented and widespread. I still do not understand that the media is not digitalized enough. Perhaps it stems from the charismatic personality of the capitalist or the generation in charge. But when the new generation comes to power, change will be inevitable. I think there is no need to comment on digitalization as nobody wants to stay away from this comfort. When it comes to customization, I think differently from the current mainstream and I think new generations will behave like that. In other words, who does not prefer that those who know you well do not provide you with the needs you prefer just in time. I think the new generation will promote their preferences (personal data) on the contrary to be considered by the vendors.

Much of what has been written about generational differences is general advice specific to human resources. They are repackaged and now Z, soon after under the brand name of a generation… In other words, we will ask Generation Z “to explain the vision of the company, provide training and professional development, explain your job expectation” and will we not ask those questions above a certain age? I think we should care about everyone. Creating a good EMPLOYER BRAND is one thing, guiding social development and behavioral models with the THEORY OF GENERATIONS is something else.

So what to do? The answer is from Lindsey Pollak‘s book, Remix, which advocates that companies manage different generations together and meet the needs of all generations (14). Pollack says: stop being ashamed of your age or generation, empathize with each generation, try to find out what values it comes to work with. Give up the idea of “either that or that” and come to the idea of “this and that”. Properly define what the “box” is, so people learn to think “outside the box”. If something works, don’t change it, but improve it. As a leader, think about the origins of yourself and your organization and think about the things that slow you down and get rid of them. Be transparent. Because of social media and the internet, executives no longer have options other than being democratic and transparent.

It is not just important for members of a generation to be successful and happy at work, everyone needs to succeed and be happy. If everybody knows the purpose of the work, knows the functions of the work, knows where everyone contributes, and is crowned with good communication, everyone wins. Inviting Generation Y and Z children to see the business and get to know the company does not hurt other generations, namely their parents, rather it makes them happy. The most effective type of leadership to get the most from all generations is coaching. Explain the “why” to everyone. All employees wonder the reason behind a decision. This has nothing to do with either age or generation. How to communicate may vary depending on age categories. This is the point to be aware of. The solution is to produce valid content and publish it in short/long, formal/non-formal, and video/audio/text wherever possible. In this way, company employees overcome all problems with surveys, forums, chats. Use the online/offline hybrid method in education and make flexible programs according to everyone’s learning speed. Organize your workplace not as “one size fits all” but also for more flexible, modular workplaces and remote working. Workplace preferences are not related to generational differences, but to personality differences, physical preferences, and the quality of the work to be done. Corporate culture should no longer be formed from top to bottom, but from bottom to top with practices every day. Offering benefits to employees based on their needs attracts more qualified staff. Yes, the companies and their employees that have done all of these have suddenly seen that what they call generation difference has decreased. Because the old generations will immediately adopt the features considered as the advantage of the new generations. Like me, remote working, mobile communication only, using emoji, it’s all part of my daily use.

For me, these generation definitions mean my new generation consumers. Our goal is #makehappybehappy, with the determination of new consumption occasions from the fashionable human lives that are shaped according to place and time and/or the fulfillment of new needs that awaken or can awaken depending on this lifestyle.

Finally, like all of us, I have lived together as a family with several generations for a long time. My father, mother, and even my father-in-law and mother-in-law, although our table was separate, we were in the same building for a quarter of a century. The generational difference was not just about understanding, lifestyle, acceptance, prohibitions, and vetoes, there was an exchange of culture and traditions. Today, as I get older, I compare young people with myself and I give them positive points as I look at their lifestyle, kindness, and the tolerance they show me.

Ultimately, we managed to be a very nice family and be happy. Most of our differences were due to our personalities. Experience and fast learning from age differences have helped us learn from each other. Did I feel a generational difference? Of course, in terms of trend technologies, even the reverse mentoring program I received at Yıldız Holding contributed a lot to me. But in a short time, I came to the same level in many subjects. Am I considered as young as them now? So do I have to enjoy the same music as they do? By the way, are tastes and colours,  a period including music culture, a trend businessor a lasting leap generational difference? I’ll leave this for you to discuss…

Note: This article, which is open source, can be cited by mentioning the author. Does not require copyright.


(1) Karahasan F., Make way, the youth are coming, CEO Plus, 2018, pg. 200.

(2) Koulopoulos T, & Keldsen, D., The Gen Z Effect: The Six Forces Shaping the Future of Business, Bibliomotion, Inc., 2014, pg. 256.

(3) Stillman D. & Stillman J., Move over Millennials; Generation Z is Here, İKÜ Yayınevi, 2017, pg. 224. (Jonah Stillman was 17 in the year the book was written, now 21, he introduces himself as a “Generation Z expert”).

(4)Witt L. G. ve Baird, E.D., The Gen Z Frequency, Kogan Page, 2019, pg.235.

(5) Kuran. E., Z: Understanding a Generation, Mundi, 2019, pg. 124.

(6) Önder, Nafizcan, Turkey’s most comprehensive study on Generation Z, Marketing Turkey, 1/6/2021,

(7) Private correspondence:

(8) The Deloitte Global Millennial Survey, 2020.

(9) MacRae I. ve Furnham A., Motivation and Performance: A guide to motivating a diverse workforce, 2017, Kogan Page, London.

(10) MacRae I. ve Furnham A., Workplace Myths, Bilgi Publishing House, 2018, pg. 165.

(11) Strauss W. Ve Howe, N., The Fourth Turning, Crown Publishing, 2009.

(12) Costanza D. P., Et. al., “Generational differences in work-related variables: a meta-analysis, Journal of Business Psychology 27, 2012, pgs. 375-94.

(13) Yılmaz, B. (Ed.), Generations of Political Transformation in Turkey, Ekin Press Release Distribution, 2019, pg. 123.

(14)Pollack. L., the Remix: How to Lead and Succeed in the Multigenerational Workplace, 2019, pg. 280.