Having studied Gen Z, those born between the mid-1990s and 2010, the speaker said she can attest that its members are "generally none of the above."
They are, however, different from those who grew up prior to the 1990s, and the reason essentially comes down to the Internet, Ms. Katz said. Unlike older generations for whom engaging online represented a change, Gen Z "grew up 100% in an Internet-dominated world from birth," she said.
"In other words, it is their norm," Ms. Katz said. "Perpetual change is also the norm for these young people."
While the rapid pace of change seen over the past 25 years or so involving things like smart phones, online apps, social media, virtual reality, artificial intelligence and electric vehicles may have seemed normal to Gen Zers, it left their parents' and teachers' heads spinning, she said.
Consequently, as their elders struggled to adapt, two things happened with Gen Z, Ms. Katz said.
"First, the kids learned to turn to each other instead of their parents and teachers for advice about how the world works," she said, adding that, as a result, Gen Z became "very peer oriented." And with parents turning to their kids for help with things ranging from turning on the TV to understanding social media, the traditional parent-child relationship model "was being turned upside down," Ms. Katz said.
While such early influences help explain why Gen Zers differ from earlier generations, it's also important to understand how they are different, she said. She cited three Gen Z behaviors that seem most relevant to the workplace: a sense of self-agency and self-reliance; comfort with collaboration; and skepticism regarding hierarchy.
"So, this sense of self-agency is one of the reasons Gen Zers can seem so unwilling to take at face value what their superiors at work tell them," Ms. Katz said. "Their experience as self-directed users of online resources has given them a perceived right – even sometimes a perceived duty – to question what doesn't make sense to them."
For older workers who were taught to do as they were told, such self-confident Gen Z behavior can come off as disrespectful, she said.
"But the young people don't really see it that way," Ms. Katz said.
The research also revealed three of the values most relevant to Gen Z, she said. One involves flexibility, another authenticity and the third involved self-care.
"We heard through our research that being flexible is one of the highest values of Gen Z," Ms. Katz said.
Gen Zers have grown up with constant change and put a premium on being nimble. Whether that entails learning a new skill, moving to a new job or moving to a new place, Gen Zers "expect and want to be ready for change," she said.
"So, what that means for loyalty to the workplace is something that employers now need to think about," she said.
When it comes to authenticity, Gen Zers want to see actions that match words, Ms. Katz said. Gen Zers weren't alive when leaders and institutions seemed more trustworthy and "only know broken trust as the norm," she said, which has left them "always on the lookout for when they can trust someone."
Self-care is also a key Gen Z value, Ms. Katz said.
"As steeped as they are in technology, Gen Zers are actually quite protective of the human side of their lives," she said.
At Stanford, they now see students who, if they feel they can't get a paper done on time, will just tell the professor it's OK to give them a lower grade, Ms. Katz said.
That marks "a huge change from the past when we would see kids pull all-nighters," she said. "They were going to go for the A no matter what."