Gen Z has had it with the negativity and division—and wants important issues addressed

by | Oct 31, 2019 | Public Relations

Incivility runs rampant in American politics, and although the party rift is widening, this is nothing new. However, party-line posturing for the sake of electioneering may be part of modern-day politics, but using partisan divisiveness to avoid tackling important issues in society is another entirely—and according to new research from comms giant Porter Novelli and partner agency Cone, today’s young people are well aware of the dangerous difference, and are frankly fed up with the unyielding negativity.

Nearly nine-in-10 (87 percent) of Gen Zers are worried for the environment and the planet, the newly released 2019 Porter Novelli/Cone Gen Z Purpose Studyfinds. Tired of the divisive narrative that has taken over the national news on climate change and other issues, 94 percent of Generation Z believes our country needs to come together to make progress. In fact, 85 percent would rather focus on the positive progress we’ve made rather than the negative.

The new study, surveying Americans ages 14-22, examines this emerging generation’s expectations of and attitudes toward company involvement in social and environmental issues—and the actions they are willing to take to positively impact topics they care about.

Gen Z has had it with the negativity and division—and wants important issues addressed

“The events of the past year show the steadfast determination of Generation Z to make their mark,” said Brad MacAfee, CEO of Porter Novelli, in a news release. “This research not only reinforces what we’re seeing in the marketplace, but also how companies can engage this generation that is so driven to change the world for the better.”

This generation feels profoundly influenced by events that have impacted them directly in recent years. Eighty-six percent of Generation Z says events like the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting have made them care more about issues affecting them. This cohort feels they are the key to change moving forward. Nearly nine-in-10 (87 percent) are inspired when their peers like Emma González and Greta Thunberg take stands on issues and just as many (88 percent) say their generation has the power to change the world for the better. And even up against nearly insurmountable problems and increased urgency, Gen Zers remain hopeful—with more than three-quarters (76 percent) stating they believe in five years’ time we will have made advancement on important issues.

Gen Z has had it with the negativity and division—and wants important issues addressed

Looking to align with purpose-driven companies

While they feel personally responsible to make a difference, the vast majority of Gen Zers (90 percent) also believe companies must take action to help social and environmental issues. And they’re holding these organizations accountable. More than nine-in-10 (93 percent) say if a company makes a commitment, it should have the appropriate programs and policies in place to back up that commitment and three-quarters (75 percent) will do research to see if a company is being honest when it takes a stand on issues.

Companies that demonstrate authentic Purpose to this astute demographic will be rewarded, as Gen Zers use Purpose as a core filter in deciding which companies to associate with. Eighty-three percent consider a company’s Purpose when deciding where to work and nearly three-quarters (72 percent) factor in a company’s Purpose when shopping.

“In the ever-increasing war for budding talent, companies must understand that Purpose is a strong filter for Generation Z,” said Alison DaSilva, EVP Purpose & CSR at Porter Novelli/Cone, in the release. “Gen Zers are not willing to check their values at the workplace door, so companies need to clearly communicate how they are making an impact to appeal to this driven but discerning generation.”

Gen Z has had it with the negativity and division—and wants important issues addressed

Priority issues among Gen Z

While Generation Z feels unprecedented urgency around many pressing issues, the environment (26 percent) is the top priority that they want companies to address. This issue superseded poverty and hunger (19 percent), which led in 2017, as the one issue they want companies to solve for. Other ranked issues include:

  • Human rights (19 percent)
  • Economic development (14 percent)
  • Health and disease (13 percent)
  • Education (10 percent)

When looking specifically at the hot-button issues gracing headlines today, Gen Zers feel companies have a role to play in solving for myriad topics. Although environment is a priority, it is not exclusive. Job creation (91 percent) remains the top news-worthy issue Gen Zers want companies to address, following by racial equality (90 percent), sexual harassment (90 percent) and women’s equality (89 percent). Other topical issues include:

  • Climate change (85 percent)
  • Religious freedom and tolerance (83 percent)
  • Immigration (81 percent)
  • Gun control (80 percent)
  • LGBTQ rights (74 percent)
  • Fake news (67 percent)

Notably, the research saw a significant jump among two specific topics. The percentage of Gen Zers who saw gun control and LGBTQ+ rights as priority issues for companies to engage around both grew roughly 15 percent from 2017 (from 68 percent to 80 percent for gun control and 65 percent to 74 percent for LGBTQ+ rights).

“As a generation that sees a school shooting every twelve days on average and the rights of their LGBTQ+ friends become compromised, it’s no surprise they are looking to companies to engage on and influence these issues,” said DaSilva. “Gen Zers are seeing the impact of many of these issues first-hand, and they are determined to change the course.”

Taking action for impact

Generation Z does not expect companies to go it alone, they’re willing to roll up their sleeves and participate. Around three-quarters of Gen Zers stand ready to support companies that care in a variety of ways, including: sharing their positive opinion about a company doing good (85 percent), buying a product with a social or environmental benefit (84 percent) and learning what they can do to make a difference (84 percent). Engagement spans both on- and offline actions:

  • Volunteer (83 percent)
  • Sign a petition (82 percent)
  • Donate (81 percent)
  • Boycott/refuse to buy from a company (77 percent)
  • Research if a company is helping or hurting society or the environment (77 percent)
  • Share social or environmental information with social networks (77 percent)
  • Take an online action to trigger a donation (76 percent)
  • Protest (67 percent)

Gen Z has had it with the negativity and division—and wants important issues addressed

Social media as a change driver

As truly digital natives, Generation Z uses social media not only to learn about issues, but to make a meaningful difference. More than nine-in-10 (91 percent) Gen Zers say they use social media to learn about and participate in issues they care about. They feel so well-informed, in fact, that more than three-quarters (77 percent) say they know more about important issues than their parents or guardians.

This generation sincerely feels social media engagement can drive change. Eight-in-10 (80 percent) feel they can have an impact on issues by using social media, so much so that 64 percent believe supporting issues online is more effective at making a difference than doing something in their communities. They view their engagement on their social channels as a powerful way to motivate others to care (35 percent). They are less motivated by more self-serving reasons such as making themselves look like a good person (7 percent). Other motivations include:

  • It shows others what they care about (17 percent)
  • They want to be a part of the conversation about the world around them (15 percent)
  • It shows they are informed (9 percent)

Over the past two years, Generation Z’s habits and preferred social media platforms have changed. While Facebook remains relevant (61 percent vs. 66 percent in 2017), it dropped in importance. Now Gen Zers are more likely to turn to YouTube (64 percent vs. 50 percent in 2017) as the priority channel, followed by Instagram (63 percent vs. 51 percent in 2017). Other channels include:

  • Snapchat (47 percent)
  • Twitter (38 percent)
  • Pinterest (21 percent)
  • Reddit (15 percent)
  • LinkedIn (9 percent)

“Generation Z has seen the effectiveness of social media to amplify one single voice into a movement, and they’re using it as a powerful lever to make their demands heard,” said MacAfee. “This generation is empowered, committed and driven, so let’s help them amplify their impact by giving them more tools to change the world for the better.”

Download the full report here.

The 2019 Porter Novelli/Cone Gen Z Purpose Study presents the findings of an online survey conducted by Toluna from August 12-15, 2019 among a random sample of 1,026 American consumers ages 14-22, comprising 500 males, 515 females and 11 other. The margin of error for a sample of this size is ± 3 percent at a 95 percent level of confidence.

Richard Carufel
Richard Carufel is editor of Bulldog Reporter and the Daily ’Dog, one of the web’s leading sources of PR and marketing communications news and opinions. He has been reporting on the PR and communications industry for over 17 years, and has interviewed hundreds of journalists and PR industry leaders. Reach him at richard.carufel@bulldogreporter.com; @BulldogReporter


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