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Speaking Gen Z

Understanding the most empathic generation to date.

Key points

  • Not knowing life without the internet, Gen Zers are the most digitally savvy and diversified generation.
  • Social media has changed how people connect and sped up the shift in linguistic trends.
  • Gen Zers are more likely to exhibit psychological concerns compared to previous generations.
  • They are also more vocal about mental health concerns, reducing the stigma of seeking help.
Viktoria Hnatiuk / iStock
Viktoria Hnatiuk / iStock

Who are Gen Zers?

Gen Z refers to post-Millennials born between the late ’90s and early 2000s. Not knowing a world without smartphones and access to the internet, they are considered to be the most digitally savvy and diversified generation.

Prior to the internet, human relationships and access to culture were limited to proximity; however, post-internet, especially post-pandemic, the scope of exposure to different worldviews has widened significantly. Gen Zers, who were born into a world with social media, have had the opportunity to learn about different cultures across the globe at an early age and have relied on diversity during their identity-formation years.

Global platforms of connection have allowed them to witness the experiences of marginalized communities, which has promoted their ability to think outside the box and be more accepting of differences. Based on the research done at Stanford University, Gen Zers tend to care about authentic, non-hierarchical, diverse, and collaborative social values. They have a pragmatic attitude about climate change, racial unrest, and political polarization.

“I believe that art should challenge societal norms and push boundaries in order to provoke thought and spark conversations.” — Timothee Chalamet

Gen Zers’ impact on language

Social media changed how people connect and how we learn about one another, sped up the shift in linguistic trends, and created a global youth culture. As chat groups, instant messaging, and video platforms became a dominant form of communication, text talk, consisting of abbreviations, has bled into daily conversation. Gen Zers are also considered the “copy-paste” generation, incorporating recycled phrases from viral videos and memes.

The Baby Boomers were the first generation to embrace increasingly causal linguistic trends, often using words such as cool, man, and dude, even in professional settings; however, as the internet significantly altered the access, speed, and style of communication, Gen Zers adopted various linguistic mannerisms from previously marginalized groups.

As many conversations happen online, within the presumed safety of the environment, call-out culture has become much more prevalent among Gen Zers. Speaking one’s mind and being transparent about one’s point of view has been easier compared to previous generations whose activism took place during in-person debates and protests, which were more open to physical altercations and legal retrocessions.

Gen Z in the workplace

As a group faced with the crushing economic burden and job insecurity imposed upon them by prior generations, Gen Zers have defensively adopted a more casual perspective around employment while asserting control in finding their way around the professional world.

From the gig economy to becoming influencers, Gen Zers rely on digital social and financial transactions at a greater rate. The digital world, dominating our social and economic lives exponentially, created employment for Gen Zers that involves assisting previous generations in managing these platforms. Jobs include web design, social media consultation, and content creation, allowing for them to make greater demands on flexibility, hybrid work environments, self-guided work schedules, and casual attire.

Gen Zers have also changed the formality of language in the workplace, as instant messaging trends have been blended into daily conversations within professional settings. Slang commonly used in social media platforms has crept into the workplace, with words such as unserious, sus, or basic.

Gen Zers use text talk in their professional exchanges, often incorporating abbreviations such as thnx (thanks) or causalities such as ngl (not gonna lie) and signing off emails with xx rather than previously used phrases such as sincerely or warmly.

Mental health and Gen Z

Born into a world drenched in economic inequality, climate crises, geopolitical strife, and multiple “once-in-a-lifetime” events, including the pandemic and various recessions, Gen Zers have more unmet social needs than ever. Disrupted access to education, employment, and healthcare have contributed to an unprecedented level of reported hopelessness and fear compared to prior generations.

Gen Zers are more frequently diagnosed with behavioral disorders, addiction, and mental health conditions compared to previous generations. On the positive side, they are more comfortable sharing their stories online, joining mental health forums, and using self-help apps.

According to a study published in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology, between 2009 and 2017, depression rates increased 47 percent among adolescents 12–13 years old, 60 percent among teens 14–17 years old, and 46 percent among young adults 18–21 years old.

A study by the American Psychological Association found that Gen Zers are 27 percent more likely to report anxiety and depression. While they are more likely to exhibit psychological concerns compared to previous generations, they are also more likely to be vocal about their mental health concerns and seek help.

Gen Z is also the first generation to be exposed to potentially harmful content through social and digital media at a young age, such as explicit sexuality, substance use, violence, and self-harm. Social media trends also contribute to the sense of loneliness and isolation, as well as poor body image and eating disorders. Cyberbullying and online harassment are increasingly common as well.

Significant downsides notwithstanding, social and digital media have allowed for transparency in connection with others’ stories, including celebrities, influencers, and strangers. It also made clinical service providers, mental health advocates, and thought leaders more accessible. Exposure to discussions about mental health has decreased the stigma, normalizing these conversations, which are seeping into mainstream media and changing the public perception of mental health struggles.

What Gen Zers contribute to future generations

Gen Zers appreciate brands and messaging that stand for something and tackle social issues such as race, diversity, and gender equality. They have influenced how brands incorporate mental well-being, self-care, and inclusivity. Gen Zers tend to prefer brands that feature an array of body and sexuality types, influencing the fashion industry to promote body positivity and feature models on the periphery of previously held beauty standards.

Gen Zers are empathic and know they can make a difference in the world. They connect with brand values and messaging that prioritizes the bigger picture. They stand for interconnectedness, broader perspectives, promoting tolerance, and celebrating differences.

The perspective of every generation is rooted in the conditions of their environment, leading to coping mechanisms unique to the stress of their era. Regardless, change is the only constant and is an adaptive requirement for evolution. What might feel troublesome or insufficient to you today very well may be the norm tomorrow.

“I’m in love with my future. Can’t wait to meet her.” Billie Eilish, My Future


Beresford Research (2023, November). Generations defined by name, birth year, and ages in 2023.

Bhaimiya, S. (2023, September). No more ‘yours truly’: Gen Z is speaking a whole new language in the office.

Brown, C. (2023, March). The Rise of Mental Health Awareness Among Gen-Z: What This Means For Brand Marketing.

Cuncic, A. (2021, March). Why Gen-Z is More Open to Talking About Their Mental Health.

De Witte, M. (2022, January). Gen Z are not ‘coddled.’ They are highly collaborative, self-reliant and pragmatic, according to new Stanford-affiliated research.

Grelle K, Shrestha N, Ximenes M, Perrotte J, et al. The Generation Gap Revisited: Generational Differences in Mental Health, Maladaptive Coping Behaviors, and Pandemic-Related Concerns During the Initial COVID-19 Pandemic. Journal of Adult Development. 2023 Feb 16:1-12.

McKenna, M. (2023). Gen Z: Smashing the Stigma of Mental Health.

McKinsey & Company. (2022, January). Addressing the unprecedented behavioral-health challenges facing Generation Z.

Shoicet, C. (2023, September). Does Gen Z struggle more with mental health than millennials? New polling shows signs of a shift.

St. Bonaventure University (2022, September). How Gen Z is Changing the Conversation on Mental Health.

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