Are Gen Z-ers addicted to their phones? We’re here to set the record straight.

If you’re reading this and you’re in the millennial generation (i.e., you’re between 24 and 40), you’ve likely had to endure the slings and arrows of misconception from older generations all your adult life. Baby boomers who benefited from riding the wave of booming property prices have looked down their noses at you and decried you as not working hard enough. They see your inability to scrape together enough of a deposit to buy a home of your own in an impossible market and assume that it’s because you’re frittering away your income on soy lattes and avocado toast. You’ve inherited a tanking economy and a world on the brink of ecological ruin. And if you have the temerity to complain about it, you’re branded a snowflake.

But as egregious as the misconceptions about millennials no doubt are, you’ll be dismayed to learn that Gen Z (those born between 1996 and 2015) are subject to just as many stereotypes … and just like those that afflict millennials. While there’s a nugget of observation within them, most of it is exaggeration, over-simplification and intellectual dishonesty. No, Gen Z aren’t anaemic because they’re all vegan (not that vegans are necessarily any more malnourished than most omnivores). No, they wouldn’t rather see society crumble than use a gendered pronoun

Millennials are often described as ‘digital natives’. But Gen Z are described as digital junkies. The overwhelming majority (95 per cent) have smartphones, and a quarter of them have had a digital device in their hands since before they were 10. But living with the yoke of a stereotype around your neck is always unpleasant. Hence, we thought we’d take a deep dive into one of the most enduring Gen Z stereotypes to see what this generation’s relationship with their phones is really like. Whether it’s healthy, and how the stereotypes around Gen Z’s  relationship with their devices can be damaging to their career and their wellbeing.

Gen Z spend all day on their phones

Okay, there’s a lot to unpack with this one. But the common consensus among other generations is that Gen Z have an unhealthy relationship with their smartphones, spending the majority of their waking hours with their faces in a screen.

First of all, even if this were true, is it really all that surprising? Especially in the current climate? The smartphone is, for all generations, how we access the world around us safely at a time when face-to-face interactions are not only potentially dangerous, they’re illegal under certain circumstances.

Gen Z have spent their entire adult lives creating and cultivating online personas. Their phones are more than just a means by which they can idly while away the hours. They’re the gateway to creative expression. To potential career opportunities. To networking and engaging with other people who share their passions.

Still. It’s fair to say that phone use should be kept in its proper place. There’s definitely no argument to be made in favour of ‘phubbing’ (the phenomenon of phone snubbing in the context where face-to-face interactions would be more appropriate, like the dinner table). And while this behaviour can be damaging to relationships as well as detrimental to mental health, is it really that much of a concern? Let’s see what the stats say about Gen Z’s phone usage.

Fifty-five per cent of Gen Z use their phones for five hours or more a day. Females account for slightly higher numbers at 65 per cent while males stand at around 50 per cent. Around 26 per cent spend 10+ hours a day on their phones, and only 12 er cent spend 15 hours or more a day using their phones. While we could debate whether this is a healthy amount or whether 12 per cent is too much, it’s not a good idea to make generalisations over such a small percentage.

Gen Z all wear glasses because they stare at their screens too long

There’s an odd stereotype that persists around Gen Z that’s the same as the one millennials have had to contend with for years. That they are disproportionately glasses wearers because they spend so much time staring into devices. Is this the same logic by which boomer parents were told that sitting too close to the TV would give them square eyes? Or do millennials and Gen Z spend more at because they’re wearing their eyes out on screens?

As a matter of fact, the opposite appears to be true. And this is potentially a problem. Gen Z are statistically less likely than other generations to get an eye examination with a qualified professional, and assume that their doctors will give their eyes the same degree of scrutiny and comprehensive testing that an eye care specialist can provide. One source states that 22 per cent of Gen Z believe that an eye exam from their Primary Care Provider can replace an eye test from an eye specialist, compared to 31 per cent of millennials, 8 per cent of Gen X and 7 per cent of boomers.

Gen Z have warped social skills because they only know how to communicate online

It’s bad enough when members of Gen Z have to encounter this attitude in day-to-day life. When irate parents scold them for spending too much time socialising online and not enough time interacting with friends face-to-face. When they hear armchair pundits deride their social skills with no evidence to support their bold, sweeping generalisations.

But in the world of work, the persistence of stereotypes can actually be an impediment to young people’s careers. And that would be a real shame. Gen Z may only account for a small proportion of the workforce today. But by the end of 2020 they will make almost 25 per cent of the workforce as they leave higher education and begin to pursue their careers. Most firms want more than just skills and qualifications. They want a dynamic social presence. Someone who will be an asset to the social ecosystem of the workplace. They want someone whose company they can enjoy in words, gestures and facial expression rather than text on a screen.

But guess what? That’s exactly what Gen Z-ers in the workplace want too!

According to this study by millennial and Gen Z expert Ryan Jenkins, the overwhelming majority of Gen Z employees are more comfortable interacting face-to-face with both managers and peers as opposed to digital interactions.

In fact, 84 per cent of members of Gen Z prefer face-to-face communication with their managers, and 78 per cent prefer face-to-face communication with their work peers. Not only do they have the necessary social skills to conduct themselves professionally in person, they’re actively keen to use them. While the current situation with the pandemic may necessitate a digital-only working landscape for the foreseeable future anyway, this persistent stereotype definitely shouldn’t give employers pause when it comes to choosing a talented and well qualified Gen Z candidate.

A lifetime spent on mobile devices has made Gen Z lazy

The smartphone is a miracle of communications technology. It enables us to answer any question within seconds. It makes applying for a new job as easy as ordering a pizza. It has essentially put the whole world into our back pockets.

Most of us use smartphones today. But boomers, Gen X-ers and older millennials can still remember living a goodly portion of their lives without them and the conveniences that they represent. Gen Z, on the other hand, will have had their phones for most of their lives, and certainly most of their adult lives. For them, turning to their smartphones for answers is as instinctive as scratching an itch. Indeed, there’s a whole marketing phenomenon geared towards identifying and influencing consumers during these ‘micro moments’ when people instinctively turn to their devices.

But has a lifetime of this convenience really rendered Gen Z lazy?

No more than any other generation.

Because they have spent more time with smartphones, this has given rise to the erroneous belief that they cannot live without them, and that the ‘crutch’ of a smartphone has compromised their independent thought and reasoning skills. But this is another unfair stereotype that could potentially harm their career prospects if employers take it to heart.

Like their millennial counterparts, Gen Z are not afraid of hard work. In fact, research demonstrates that 77 per cent of Gen Z ‘believe they will need to work harder compared to those in past generations to have a satisfying and fulfilling professional life’. After all, this is the generation that has grown up in the shadow of the 2007-2008 economic crisis. They’ve spent most of their lives between economic crises. Many have seen parents lose steady jobs that they’d been in for years.

Gen Z might have grown up with the convenience of phones, but this hasn’t necessarily made them lazy. In fact, growing up in a climate of economic adversity has made them persistent and determined.

As we can see, while Gen Z are a generation for whom digital devices are quintessential, by no means does this make them socially malformed, unhealthy, lazy or entitled. And as soon as we ditch these inaccurate and unfair misconceptions the better!


Image by Anastasia Gepp from Pixabay