Skip to main

What the Youngest Generation Thinks Is Bad Phone Etiquette

Is iGen, aka Gen Z, really using their phone at all the wrong times, or is that a myth? Our study investigates.

Quick: where is your cell phone right now? Is it in your purse? In your pocket? Sitting on your desk next to your laptop? If you’re a member of Gen Z, also known as iGen, Generation Z, or Centennials, it might be in your hand. In fact, it might be the medium through which you’re reading this article right now.

iGen and Phone Etiquette

It’s no secret that Gen Z is the generation who grew up with smartphone in hand. In fact, Gen Z believes people should get smartphones at a younger age than any other generation. And while older generations have also become accustomed to using their smartphones for nearly everything, the attitudes and behaviors of this youngest generation still challenge, mystify, and frustrate many of us.

In The Center for Generational Kinetics’ breakthrough national study on Gen Z and technology, they asked each generation when they think it is appropriate and when it is not appropriate to use a smartphone for talking, texting, and surfing the Web or using apps.

In many categories and situations, Gen Z is more likely than Millennials, Generation X, and Baby Boomers to think it is acceptable to use their phone in any manner. However, there was one glaring exception: in the workplace.

Smartphones at Work

And while it’s becoming more likely that members of Gen Z may have even found their jobs using a smartphone app, the idea of using their smartphone for leisure during work hours is still a huge no-no.

We found that Gen Z is more reserved about their phone usage in the workplace than any other generation! While 15% of Gen Z, more than any other generation, said that it is acceptable to use their phone during a job interview, only 6% of Gen Z, a smaller percentage than any other generation, said it was acceptable to use their phone in any way while at work. This is surprising, considering that Millennials have been leading the smartphone revolution in the workplace. But there’s a fine line between using smartphones for work-related tasks and posting #workselfies on Instagram.

“Gen Z has been using phones, at least their parents’ and grandparents’ phones, for longer than most of them can actually remember,” says Jason Dorsey, Gen Z and Millennial expert and President at The Center. “Now they’re taking their relationships with phones into situations that other generations cannot believe are acceptable, including their own weddings and job interviews.”

To be clear, none of the generations were emphatically in support of using your phone to talk, text, or surf the web during work hours, but at 6%, Gen Z was half as likely as Boomers (12%) and a third as likely as Millennials (18%) to say that using your phone for non-work-related things was not appropriate.

But perhaps as Gen Z enters the workplace, its members will start to ease up a little on their altruistic ideas about the smartphone’s place at work. It won’t be long before they’re chatting, texting, and surfing away with the rest of America’s workforce.

Smartphones in Society

Work-related phone use aside, Gen Z, at a higher rate than any other generation, said that it was more acceptable to use their phone in any manner. Some of the most shocking results included:

  • Riding a bike
  • Running on a treadmill
  • During a religious service
  • When meeting your significant other’s parents for the first time
  • During a job interview
  • During your own wedding ceremony (!)

As phones become more and more ingrained in every part of society and as technology is created to make communication with these devices more seamless, older generations will start to use them as freely as Gen Z (though perhaps not during a job interview).

But there is good news for those who want to catch up on the year’s buzziest movies before the Academy Awards: according to the study, only 4% of Gen Z feel it’s appropriate to talk on the phone in a movie theater during a movie. You’ll be able to see Cate Blanchett and Leonardo DiCaprio on the big screen without worrying about the teenager next to you talking or texting.

The Takeaways

Gen Z’s attitudes and behaviors regarding their smartphones will have – and already do have – implications for their employers, teachers, and all people they come into contact with.

Concerning a work environment, companies are going to have to accept that Gen Z is going to be bringing their cell phones to work. This is important for Millennials, too, since they are quickly moving into management roles, and what is deemed acceptable phone usage in the workplace could change even if Gen Z doesn’t drive the change.

Furthermore, organizations will need to have clear and visible policies about acceptable phone usage in situations they might not have previously considered, such as in gyms and during religious ceremonies. And though Gen Z seems to respect movie etiquette, it’s probably best to keep those pre-movie cell phone warnings in place for now. Four percent is still something.

When it comes to weddings and other social settings where Gen Z will clearly want to use their phones, try making these experiences smartphone interactive, such as designating hashtags for certain events. This will help turn smartphone use into something contributory and will help the hosts see it as less of a nuisance.

Since the bulk of Gen Z is still in their early teens, we believe their beliefs about acceptable phone usage is likely still evolving. But right now, in some areas, they look more like Baby Boomers and Generation X than Millennials!

Read the three most surprising findings from our national study on Gen Z, aka iGen, and technology here.

Blog Category

Recent posts