By: Michael McQueen
Oxford Dictionary have announced their word of the year, and you will be forgiven if you have no idea what it means, if you have even heard it at all. The word of 2023 is, ‘Rizz.’
If you haven’t heard of it, ‘rizz’ is a slang word derived from ‘charisma’, defined by The Oxford Dictionary as, “Pertaining to someone’s ability to attract another person through style, charm, or attractiveness.”
“Rizz” is one word among many proliferated primarily through Gen Z’s social media presence – Gen Z being the 2 billion people born between 1995 and 2009. Other key words in the lexicon include, “slay”, “sus”, “drip”, “simp”, “stan” and “cap”, all commonly used among Gen Zs but completely opaque to the untrained ears of older generations.
With the rapid proliferation of jargon like this made possible via global online networks, it is easy to see how generational language barriers can be created as young people’s language evolves so quickly. As new and generation-specific vocabulary spills over into the workplace, it doesn’t take much for confusions to occur, especially when the newbie is referring to a colleague or superior as “the GOAT” (Greatest Of All Time), or referencing workplace gossip as “the tea”.
Language barriers don’t only exist in verbal form, particularly since much of Gen Z’s lexicon is emoji—based. While other generations use emojis, the meaning they attribute to them is completely different to that of Gen Z.
In her book Digital Body Language, Erica Dhawan examines the dynamics involved in this generation’s very different use of emoji’s. “People over 30 generally use emojis to convey what the images always did, she said, while younger digital natives ascribe sarcastic meanings to them, or use them as shorthand for an entirely different thought.” The stakes are high when it comes to emoji-based miscommunication – especially in the workplace. “The rise of emoji use at work, such as between remote teams during the pandemic, has created more misunderstanding than ever,” according to Dhawan.
Contributing further still to generational language barriers are the platforms being used to communicate on. Research conducted by consulting firm Creative Strategies has revealed a big difference between the tools and platforms employees prefer to use based on their age group.
For those over the age of 30, for instance, email was the primary tool used for collaboration in the workplace. For Gen Z’s however, email was not even in the top five with younger people instead preferring Google Docs, Zoom and iMessage. The research’s authors also noted that a clear generational bias exists between Microsoft Office and Google Docs with the under 30s preferring to use Google’s tools, and vice versa. Reflecting on this fact, they suggest “Younger people have been influenced by tools they’ve grown up with in the consumer world, and it may not always fit with the most commonly used tools in business. And as these users get older and come to constitute the main part of the workforce, businesses will be forced to adapt their tools to accommodate them.”
To this point, a global workforce survey conducted by Citrix found that only 21% of business leaders use instant messaging apps like Slack or WhatsApp for work purposes, compared to 81% of Gen Z employees. The result of this is that “business leaders are largely inhabiting separate ‘tech bubbles’ from their younger employees,” according to the study’s lead researcher.
It’s not only communication platform preferences that vary across the generational divide but modalities as well. One of the most noteworthy examples of this is Gen Z’s famed aversion to making phone calls. Research indicates that 81% of this young group report that having to pick up the phone is a source of anxiety and often results in nausea, muscular tension or increased heart rate. Instead, Gen Zs gravitate toward using messenger apps. When asked why this is the case, members of this young cohort say they prefer having the freedom and time to compose messages and respond when it suits them.
Having grown up as true digital natives, Gen Z feel most themselves online. In a 2021 by Coefficient Capital, 45% of Gen Zs say they feel most like their authentic selves online whereas 40% say that they are most authentic in the real world. This is in stark contrast with older generations. Amongst Gen Xers, only 22% felt most like themselves online and just 7% of Baby Boomers said the same. For these older generations, they felt much more comfortable and authentic offline (62% for Gen Xers and 75% for Baby Boomers).
All this said, there is a growing awareness within Gen Z of how valuable the analogue world is. Having borne the brunt of COVID-19, 83% of Gen Zs say they have a greater appreciation for in-person interactions and just over half said they felt isolated and disconnected during pandemic lockdowns. Significantly, this figure was much higher than the equivalent data for Gen Xers and Baby Boomers.
The reason these digital trends matter is that, as demographic research business Year 13 suggest, “What Gen Zs do online today is what the world will be doing tomorrow.”
When you consider that Gen Z will be 31% of the working population by 2035 and are set to wield a spending power exceeding $33 trillion over the coming decade, these generational differences are ones leaders and organisations cannot afford to ignore.
Those that embrace them, however, not only allowing for the differences but harnessing them for the greater potential of the company will be the ones that succeed – or, in Gen Z terms, slay.