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How Gen Z’s Preferences Can Increase Citizen Engagement in the Public Sector

Amidst all the pandemic disruption, 52% of Gen Z didn't believe the government had the necessary tools to help them.

line of casually dressed people: increase citizen engagement
How does the mentality of Gen Z affect the public sector and the success of its post-pandemic future? [Malte Müeller/ Salesforce]

Born after 1996, Generation (Gen) Z is a diverse group of post-millennial young adults on track to be among the most well-educated, racially and ethnically-diverse generation we’ve seen thus far, according to a recent Pew Research Center report. Gen Z shares many similarities with millennials; however, this generation has been impacted by a vastly different world. This shift has led to notable changes in opinions, behaviors, and outlooks for Gen Z individuals.

Gen Z and the public sector: A relationship in peril?

The pandemic has caused a massive overhaul of government services — which could be beneficial for Gen Z’s interactions with government processes. In a 2021 Salesforce Industries Index, U.S. survey respondents ranked the public sector as one of the lowest-ranked industries in its ability to deliver a satisfactory customer experience. This same research shows Gen Z doesn’t believe finding government information online is easy or intuitive.

The public sector is all about mission-critical services — and making an impact through citizen engagement.

Gen Z is passionate about aligning to the social impact, mission, and values of an organization. The public sector is all about mission-critical services — and making an impact through citizen engagement. So, how does the mentality of American Gen Z’ers affect the public sector and the success of its post-pandemic future? This new, generational information on Gen Z can help the public sector reassess its systems, services, and experiences in several ways.

1. Make processes and information sharing as accessible as possible to increase citizen engagement

Gen Z’s use of technology is a unique characteristic compared to other generations. Millennials got to experience the uprising of technology and social media, while Gen Z was born straight into a world overwhelmingly filled with tech. They have immediate access to information and a digital lifestyle is the norm.

28% of Gen Z’ers surveyed said they turn to social media to seek out information about public services.

The use of tech influences Gen Z and their opinions in many ways. On one side, the abundance of available information makes them quick and savvy users of technology, unlike any other generation. Twenty-eight percent of Gen Z’ers surveyed said they turn to social media to seek out information about public services. Conversely, a digitally-dominated life can lead to assumptions and expectations regarding how all processes, experiences, and interactions should be and what they should offer.

For example, when managing tax returns, 33% of Gen Z respondents completed the process online via a laptop or desktop computer, while another 16% did so online via mobile device or tablet. Gen Z’s digitally-driven mindset means they’re more likely to opt for completing processes and sharing information digitally; however, they do continue to explore other options. Investing in digital service delivery, while still providing in-person options offers this generation the accessibility and simplicity that they crave.

2. Rebuild trust with Gen Z through promising digital interactions

Trust in government services has been a hot topic in the last year. Governments worldwide are facing a trust deficit with constituents. While there are many causes for the lagging confidence, one thing is clear: rebuilding trust with the public is essential to getting communities back on track following the global pandemic.

Seventy-two percent of American Gen Z believe the public sector industry changed the way it delivers services as a result of the pandemic — 38% say that it has changed “a lot.” Gen Z constituents are no strangers to digital transactions and services. And they’re gravitating more and more toward completing government-oriented tasks like applying for a passport online via a laptop or desktop computer (20%) or paying a fine online via a laptop, desktop computer, mobile device, or tablet (57%) versus other interactions.

Providing more reliable services in their preferred method, enables governments to rebuild trust with their constituents, specifically Gen Z, and increases citizen engagement.

3. Bring on change and disruption

The pandemic showed organizations around the world a necessary tool to thrive: adaptability. From updating how and where we work to adapting to new organizational values, cultures, and outlooks, change is a constant. Amidst all the disruption, though, 52% of American Gen Z’ers believe the government did not have the necessary tools to help them during the pandemic.

As it stands, only 55% of Gen Z’ers feel that it’s easier to get help from the government online than in person.

Gen Z’ers have a lifetime of expertise with technology and social media. With this comes an openness to more technology, more changes, more adaptations. They expect the government to embrace the latest technology to be more productive and efficient. Despite their digital fluency, Gen Z’ers aren’t finding online government properties much easier to navigate. As it stands, only 55% of Gen Z’ers feel that it’s easier to get help from the government online than in person.

Invest in Gen Z to increase citizen engagement

Gen Z is the bellwether for future habits and behaviors. This current generation and how they’re accessing services will determine and impact how governments need to provide them — and meet them where they are.

To meet this generation’s expectations and increase engagement, public sector organizations will need to invest in the right technologies that enable rapid, agile, and effective responses to entice, engage, and retain Gen Z’s attention. Public sector and governmental agencies must take the time to navigate potential barriers, level up technology, and reset expectations to open up opportunities with Gen Z — and set them up for future success with generations to come.

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