A Special Being 20® Series Release
“It’s honestly insane. Sometimes I feel like my generation can’t catch a break. Something is always going on, but I feel like we are handling it well.”
We interrupt our regular Being 20® series for a special report based on a qualitative survey on how Gen Z is dealing with and emotionally processing the “new normal” brought about by a COVID-19 world. What’s it like for them? What aspects of their lives have been impacted most? What have they been doing with their time at home? And what’s their perception of how the world is dealing with a pandemic? We are happy to share a more detailed presentation – contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
“One day we were hanging out with our friends, enjoying college, enjoying life, and looking forward to our future plans. Then the next day we’re separated from each other in our home states, not allowed outside, and having to adjust our life for the betterment of humanity.”
We all recall the mid-March 2020 spring break Florida beach photos and news videos where cavalier college students are proclaiming their commitment to partying without a care if they contract the virus: “This virus ain’t that serious”; “We’re just livin for the moment. Whatever happens happens”; “If I get corona, I get corona…it’s not gonna stop me from partying.” Some of the students interviewed expressed a frustration with all the bar closings and a disbelief in the severity of the illness, “I think they’re blowing it way out of proportion.”
Well, fast-forward a few weeks and it now appears as if this younger group knows the party may be over, describing it as a “standstill” and “a big halt of life.” In fact, nearly two-thirds of our Gen Z respondents agreed that closing the bars and restaurants was “totally right. We need to understand the seriousness of the virus.”
Our first question in the survey sent to Gen Z’s asked straight out – What’s it like being in your early 20’s in a COVID-19 world? Open-ended responses varied, of course, but coding helped us determine that the sample’s answers coalesced around three areas:
- It’s scary!
- It’s uncertain/different/odd.
- I’m worried about my job/work/income.
There’s a lot of fear among Gen Z-ers about the virus itself, its consequences, and the myriad of unknowns:
- It’s terrifying, I am a 1st year teacher and I am constantly worried about all of my kiddos. You never know what news will be announced.
- Scared, no wages, uncertain, no end in sight.
- It is very scary, as the virus feels like it is looming everywhere you go.
- Scary because of the terrible economy and unknowns.
- At first, I was not concerned about the outbreak. But seeing the fear from my older peers, I am feeling quite uneasy.
- It’s scary to think I am capable of contracting the virus if I’m not careful.
- It feels scary that so many people are being diagnosed and dying. I’m worried that someone I know will be affected.
Life is not the same. It’s different, odd, strange. And the uncertainty and unpredictability of it all is stressful.
- It’s strange not being able to really go out anywhere, go to restaurants and different places because I’m so used to doing those things.
- It is… odd. Not only is this an unprecedented time in many people’s lives it’s also at the peak of mine and to have to adjust to this as well as the niceties of young adulthood is very complicated. It feels like chaos.
- The uncertainty of life at the present moment has me in a whirl of emotion right now.
- COVID-19 is a big scare for communities near and far to me. It has me questioning a lot of my past decisions that have led me up to this point in time and whether they would have made a difference in my current situation.
- It’s scary not knowing what’s going to happen next.
“I’M WORRIED ABOUT MY JOB/LOSS OF INCOME “
In fact, when asked to rank six aspects of life they expected to be impacted the most – job/career came in #1.
- I am now out of a job I held in the service/hospitality industry, with no real answer to when we are all able to return. I feel sort of lost.
- My life is at a standstill because I can’t work.
- Having to deal with paying bills and rent with no income coming in is extremely stressful.
- I cannot work. I cannot save for my future because I am not getting paid. Money is going out, but no money is coming in.
- It’s scary to think about what comes after this and how our early careers will be affected.
WHAT ARE THEY DOING WITH ALL THEIR STAYING-AT-HOME TIME?
Not surprisingly, the students were spending a ton of time attending classes online. And watching TV/movies is now an even more regular pastime for everyone. And likely similar to the rest of us, Gen Z-ers are spending their time keeping in touch with family and friends via text, phone, and Zoom calls.
AND WHAT ARE THEY DOING DIFFERENTLY TO ADJUST TO A COVID-19 WORLD?
Likely similar to the rest of us, Gen Z-ers have adjusted to the reality of a COVID-19 WORLD by staying at home, washing their hands, and, if/when they go out, engaging in the all-too-familiar concept called “Social Distancing.”
IMPORTANTLY, WHAT ARE PERCEPTIONS ABOUT HOW THE WORLD IS HANDLING THE VIRUS?
We asked what they’ve learned so far about how six specific aspects of their life (employer, family, school, media, government, and people in general) are handling the COVID-19 crisis. We got a lot of great response in each area but found some of the more insightful comments related to “people in general” (contact us for more depth on the other 5 areas), about whom they expressed much frustration, calling them “stupid”, “selfish”, “scared” and “not taking it seriously.” Interesting, given where they started…on the beaches in Florida a month ago.
AND YET – THEY SEE THE LIGHT…
But even considering their frustrations with “people in general” about how the crisis is being handled, some Gen Z-ers are still optimistic. We asked them about their “crystal ball” prediction for what they think life will be like in March/April of 2021. And while most of them replied with some form of “back to normal”, this was often combined with a sentiment of hope and positivity for lessons learned that can benefit the world moving forward.
- I’ll be working the same job, living in the same place with summer 2021 plans in the works!
- I believe that the virus will be gone by then and it will be just about business as usual.
- Everything will be back to normal and there will be a vaccine.
- Everything will go back to normal even though it will have taken a toll on the economy.
- Life will be back to normal, but people will be more aware of life and their surroundings.
- I believe things will return to normal and we will have been brought closer together.
- I think things will be more like how they were before the virus. I also think people will have learned from this and we can use it as an opportunity to be better prepared in the future.
…BUT REMAIN CAUTIOUS
Other respondents expressed a sadness and concern that society might be so much “back to normal” that it leaves behind the valuable lessons and the opportunity to improve in the future. Even so, there is still hope that this pandemic will have brought people closer together and that it means better preparation for what’s to come next.
- This will have blown over and society will go back to normal, forgetting about the things they were forced to learn during this time.
- In a year’s time I think this will all be settled. That doesn’t delegitimize the current or future impact of this disease, but in a year’s time I believe we will overcome this.
- Quite honestly, I don’t think much will change. Some people may be a bit cleaner, but it won’t play a very large role in the future.
- The biggest implication from this event is the idea of biological warfare and its ability to take out a nation more quickly than a military threat.I think the situation will have settled down tremendously and things will be similar to how they were before the virus. Maybe people will begin to account for situations like this in the future and better prepare based on what has happened.
AS MARKETERS, WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR US?
Given the situation is changing daily, it may be challenging to keep up in the present. The key learning may be how we as marketers move forward and how we address Gen Z’s when we get to the other side. For now, Gen Z-ers are at once upset, concerned, frustrated and optimistic. And understanding the very real emotional ebb and flow of this generation’s world, that what is true for them one day can change quickly, and that as a group they have some diametric viewpoints underscores the message we’ve heard from them over and over: that even amid a global pandemic, they will not be corralled into a single definition or a box of any kind!
Next quarter, we will continue our regular “Being 20®” Series, launching “The Best and Worst of Being 20®”
Gen Z-ers give a candid revelation about the ups and downs of being who they are and why they are different from those Millennials who came before them.
This COVID-19 qualitative survey consisted of 15 questions and was conducted among 64 respondents between the ages of 20-24, over the weeks of March 30 and April 6, 2020.