What Does Gen Z Think About the Workplace?
Get ready, because Gen Z is coming. These digital natives raised on social networking, TikTok and smartphone apps are part of the latest wave of workers to join the workforce. The number of them entering the workplace remains a trickle, but as with past generations they have the potential to reshape how companies attract, retain and develop the talent they need to succeed.
As with any generation, Gen Z brings its own perspective shaped by the conditions the group grew up in and key events that framed their thinking. So what do they think of today's workplace? Where are their core values, and do those values align with corporations run by older generations? Perhaps the most important question for workplace leaders is can they create a culture that this next generation of workers will embrace.
Who Is Gen Z?
Zoomers, as they are also called, were born between 1997 and 2012. Only the oldest members of the generation have so far joined the workforce, as this generation ranges in age from 10 to 25 years old. Their arrival onto the labor market, however, is giving us valuable information about what will come next.
Gen Zers are digital natives, having had access to technology and the internet their entire lives. According to the Pew Research Center, Gen Z is the most diverse generation thus far in the US, with only 52% identifying as white non-Hispanic — and this number is expected to continue to fall over the next few years. Additionally, 35% of Gen Zers polled said they personally know someone who prefers to go by gender-neutral pronouns, a much higher percentage than other generations.
Gen Z has over 60 million members in the US alone and two billion worldwide, making it the most influential generation when it comes to workforce trends, according to Kayleigh Tanner, emerging workplace trends analyst at enterprise learning company Totara Learning. Tanner said that contrary to popular belief, Gen Zers don't care about what she refers to as engagement gimmicks.
"A ping pong table or workplace massages won't pay their bills," she said. "Like every other generation, they want to be paid fairly for the work they do."
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Values Attract and Retain Gen Z Workers
What sets Gen Z apart from other generations, Tanner said, is their strong desire to choose employers based on their values. That means employers may want to double down on their messaging and clearly communicate their values across all assets, from the corporate website to social media to philanthropy or community outreach efforts — and live them genuinely.
“Empty promises won't resonate with discerning Gen Zers, and in a job seekers' market, it pays to live and breathe your organization's values,” Tanner said.
Gen Z values those who, in return, listen to what they have to say. They want to be seen in the workplace by managers and, not unlike the Millennials before them, want to feel valued, included and empowered.
"They also want a job that allows them to explore and expand on skillsets, rather than a job that can feel stagnant by focusing on one set of skills," Tanner said. "Gen Zers want management and a C-suite that cares about both their personal and professional developments."
Four Key Areas to Attract Gen Z
Summarizing a generation in a few lines isn't fair, but there are four key areas that resonate with Zoomers and rank high on their priorities list:
1. Value Alignment
Broadly speaking, Gen Z places importance on social causes and expects them to be reflected in the values and actions of company leaders. All generations want employers to align with their values, but for Gen Z, this emphasis on values is stronger than any other before it — even Millennials.
According to data from LinkedIn’s Workforce Confidence survey, 80% of Gen Z reported that better alignment with their values and interests was a priority for their place of employment, compared to 59% of Millennials. They also expect employers to speak out about these values.
“When thinking about retaining Gen Z talent, tapping into social causes and amplifying the impact these younger employees are able to have on causes they care deeply about through programs like employee-directed charitable giving can be a good approach,” said Dr. Keith Leaphart, founder and CEO of Philanthropi and chair of the Lenfest Foundation.
Zoomers are also just as willing as Millennials to switch employers if they don't find the right fit, something that should have leaders on alert after the Great Resignation.
“In a recent LinkedIn survey, 25% of Gen Z compared to 23% of Millennials said they ‘hoped or planned to leave their current employers within the next six months,'" Leaphart said.
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2. Diversity, Equity and Inclusion
A recent Tallo survey of 1,400 Gen Z respondents found that 99% rated workplace DEI as important, with 87% of those rating it as "very important." Only 38%, however, said they considered American businesses to actually be diverse, equitable and inclusive. In fact, 37% said they had decided not to apply for a position with a company out of fear of not being accepted because of their sexual orientation, race or gender identity.
Additionally, the research shows that 80% are more likely to apply to work for a company that supports cognitive diversity and provides resources for employees who identify as neurodivergent. While Gen X and Baby Boomers are likely to define diversity as underrepresented racial, ethnic and gender demographics, Gen Zers are more likely to define it as a mix of experiences, ideas, identities and opinions.
This highlights an opportunity for organizational leaders to increase their diversity efforts and communicate their progress publicly. Demonstrating that the organization is committed to DEI and taking action to achieve it is a great way to establish an open culture and attract younger workers.
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Younger generations put flexibility high on the list of priorities for employment, preferring to work remotely over assigned desks at the office. A report from FlexJobs revealed that Gen Z may be the first generation that fits work into their life, and not the other way around. Almost 75% of Zoomers indicated that workplace flexibility is the number one employee benefit they seek.
A Gensler 2021 US summer workplace survey indicated that Gen Z workers value the "work from anywhere" concept, having the opportunity to log on from various places such as coffee shops, libraries and parks. Research also shows that younger generations prefer to think and ideate when they are by themselves and are three times more likely than the Boomer generation to prefer places other than home and the office to reflect or conceptualize.
The reasoning is fairly simple: Gen Z is comfortable building relationships online. One Handshake survey indicated that two-thirds of Gen Zers believe they can build their professional networks without having to meet people in person, and another Handshake survey revealed that 67% of Gen Zers do not believe they have to meet in person to make a professional connection.
4. Mental Health Care
According to a Nudge Global report, 55% of Gen Zers say wellbeing benefits, such as financial education, recognition or mental health support, make them more committed to their employer. More specifically, a survey of 1,200 18–29 year-olds conducted by the Born This Way Foundation, job site Indeed and Benenson Strategy Group revealed that 79% of that demographic say mental health should be a priority in the workplace and, as a result, seek employers that enact policies that concretely support mental health.
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Additionally, 74% indicated that it’s important to have a kind workplace community that prioritizes mental health — with a similar proportion saying that their inability to pay is a barrier to accessing mental health services. Health insurance that covers mental healthcare and access to therapists or mental health experts is high on the Gen Z list of priorities.
With over 60 million members who will be entering the workforce in coming years, Gen Z has the potential and power to reshaped how work happens. For now, they appear focused on social values and expect employers to publicly espouse and live those same values. They also expect that DEI will be a foundation of work, and expect flexibility and better access to mental healthcare.
Workplace leaders who expect to compete would do well to examine their workplace policies to ensure they're not caught flat-footed in the race to attract and retain this next generation of workers.