Judgment Call

Unraveling the enigmatic, confounding Gen Z

Lilibeth Frondoso

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Unraveling the enigmatic, confounding Gen Z
Is it an easy-to-figure-out generation? Nope. For one, they like things out of synch, raw, unpolished.

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A recurring question in our work in Rappler’s video production team is this: Will Gen Z watch this?

Hi, I’m Beth Frondoso and I lead Rappler’s video production team. 

The latest study on the youth in the Philippines says a whopping 74% of respondents “watch videos for entertainment,” with 71% of those coming from the National Capital Region (NCR). Another telling data from the study says that 27% of the respondents look for news on social media platforms. That’s a solid one-third.

“The State of Filipino Youth” survey was done in 2021 among Filipinos aged 15-30, roughly those we call Gen Z (13-26 years old). They’re digital natives, the first post-analogue generation to grow up with a gadget in their tiny, chubby hands. That brings with it all the negative effects of increased screen time. 

As a generation, they are spending more time on devices than books. (You’d say it’s not really a big deal, since previous generations did spend more time on TV than books.) Screen time impacts their attention spans, vocabulary, academic performance, and arguably their mental health; Gen Z has the highest diagnosis of mental health conditions.

Still, it also brings with it all the advantages of knowing when to scroll, double click, long press, how to navigate a search engine, and this sixth sense of theirs – how to SEO (Search Engine Optimization).

Other data to mull over regarding Gen Z: there are fewer teen pregnancies (at least in developed countries), they are better at delayed gratification than their Gen X and late Boomer parents (I would say that’s about right looking at myself and my sons), and they supposedly consume less alcohol. (While I’m skeptical about the last one, there’s some anecdotal proof when my friends and I compare notes – we certainly consumed more booze when we were our kids’ age.)

Overall, sounds like an easy-to-figure-out generation, right? WRONG.

Let’s look at the traits that drive us crazy, as parents, and definitely, as managers.

This Christmas, a team member in Production did a tiktoky short video of Gen Z in the office and asked some Rappler staff: What do you want for Christmas

I expected the usual answers: gadgets, concert tickets, clothing items, but boy, was I in for a surprise. A third of the respondents gave this enigmatic reply: “Peace of mind.”

I was so thrown off that I became the inquisitor-incarnate in our exclusive g-chat thread: “What do you mean by ‘peace of mind?’ Are you guys stressed?” They said no. “How could ‘peace of mind’ dominate your Christmas wish?” (5/15 answered “peace of mind.”) They took pity on me and replied that it means they wanted demands on their attention to be “manageable” this Christmas, and for “things to not continue to pile up.” And they hastened to add, it’s not just about work but about “everything” in their lives.

For a minute, all I could think was this: They DO LIVE in another multiverse. For context, this is the first Christmas in a long time when we are not running on fumes to deliver year-end wraps. It’s the first Christmas after a brutal 10-year anniversary celebration in January 2022, as Rappler continued to battle legal cases. In other words, it is the first laid-back Christmas since the arrival of the real-life equivalent of Freddy Krueger in our journalistic existence – a foul-mouthed, misogynist ex-president that led the apocalypse of extrajudicial killings.

While I took the answer “peace of mind” to be a super-subtle hint that they were stretched in the workplace (we were on skeletal shifts for Christmas), I also marveled at the roundabout way this “I’m inundated” signal reached my radar. They had absolutely no intent to give feedback like normal whining adults. It just leaked out.

Leadership guru Simon Sinek captures the hair-pulling that managers experience with Gen Z. He says they are not at all good in dealing with stress and on top of that, are extremely conflict-averse. He adds they would rather ghost someone instead of doing a proper relationship break-up. They will quit rather than ask for a raise in the company. 

In another brainstorming session, we asked the Gen Z in our team to define what their generation likes. 

The reply was rather quick and succinct: Gen Z tends to not be issue-specific but rather, execution-specific. They like memes, especially those steeped in dark, dry, or self-deprecating humor.

Wow, I didn’t think it would take a PhD in stand-up comedy to get to these guys – but what could be more difficult than “dark, dry, or self-deprecating humor?”

To illustrate their point, they recalled a TikTok video that our business reporter Ralf Rivas produced. “Let’s ask Ralf to re-voice this,” was my verdict. 

The Gen Z in my team stopped me, all the while laughing at my cluelessness. I asked: You think this IS funny? They chorused, “Yes!” I protested, “But it’s awkward, cringey – and for a rap execution – woefully out of rhythm.” Silently, I reviewed Lin-Manuel Miranda’s freestyle-rapping in my head and wondered, “Isn’t that how it’s done?”

True enough, the comments on Ralf’s explanation of the Philippine peso were mostly sympathetic. One said, “Ayan kasi, hindi kayo nagbabasa.” (He is forced to do this because you don’t read.)

Gen Z likes, even admires, cringey and corny. They like things that are out of synch, unpolished, raw, hence, authentic and unfiltered. They reject over-burnished, big, elaborate, staged productions. 

Well-shot, well-composed photos and videos are passé. They like their digital images a bit blurry, even grainy – inscrutable and enigmatic for us who must live on another planet.

And while my kuwento might make you feel more detached from this generation, here are things that will endear them to you.

According to the survey above, Filipino Gen Z’s top aspiration is to help parents and siblings. They are very housetrained and church-going: 76% spend their time doing household chores while 54% do religious activity. Respect is their top Filipino value. Humility is their top individual value.

This younger generation is more activist but in a “citizen of the world” way, not really nationalist or patriotic, and they shun political if they can help it. They are passionate about climate change – think Greta Thunberg – and they can be counted on to be just as incensed as their Boomer parents about human rights. One of my guys summed it up this way, “We care too much.”

They tend to wear loose clothes – killing the bodycon trend – and are into the ukay culture not for money-saving reasons, but to reduce their environmental footprint. They are not irreverent and respect the institutions that reflect their values. A lot of them don’t want to go into corporate not because it’s not cool, but because it’s a place where they see themselves dying.

Which brings me back to the question: what video will appeal to them? Make it fun and funny – but forget the bells and whistles, do it raw, even cringey, and don’t hesitate to lay it out there. 

I tell myself, “Ha! Tall order. We’ve got a lot of unlearning to do.” – Rappler.com

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Lilibeth Frondoso

She currently heads Multimedia Strategy and Growth in Rappler.