It seems like just yesterday millennials were flooding into the workplace, but we’ve already moved onto the next wave: Generation Z. Members of Gen Z, those born between 1997 and 2012, currently make up 13 percent of the workforce, but the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that they will account for one-third of all workers by the end of the decade. Like the generation before them, Generation Zers have their own workplace tastes, preferences and perspectives that are already impacting work spaces across the U.S.
How do you prepare your business for the entry of Gen Z workers? The first step is to understand their perspective and expectations. Next, review your current job requirements, compensation and environment to see if there is a match. Where there is a misalignment, you can modify positions and workplaces to meet the needs of this new generation of workers.
As the first generation to grow up with smartphones and to experience the pandemic, remote and hybrid work at a formative stage of their lives, Gen Z’s experience is markedly different from other generations, even millennials.
Gen Zers are focused on finding a high-paying job because they are worried about the economy, layoffs and paying back their student debt. According to a study by Handshake, the Gen Zers about to enter the job market — the class of 2023 — are applying to jobs sooner and to more positions than those who came before them. When asked what would make them more likely to apply for a job, 74 percent said a high starting salary, with less emphasis on factors that might make a job more fun, such as the number of friends working there or being in a fast-growing industry.
Does that make them selfish? Of course not. If anything, the “money first” attitude of Gen Z might represent a return to the norm, after the “soft and fuzzy” millennial interlude. As choppy as the economy sometimes was for the latter, Gen Z is entering an even less stable job market, with an economy that’s looking more uncertain than at any time in the last several decades. They also have seen their older cohorts struggling with basic milestones of adult life, such as supporting themselves and being able to buy a home. Thus, they are now motivated to avoid these struggles in their own lives.
Gen Zers about to enter the workforce are worried about their ability to get an internship or a high-paying job, with 51 percent not confident about obtaining a position during spring 2023, reported RippleMatch. Compare that to fall 2022, when 85 percent felt confident or neutral about getting the right position. Cost of living is something else Gen Zers worry about, according to Deloitte’s recent Gen Z and Millennial Survey. It is the top concern for 29 percent of Gen Z, with 46 percent living paycheck to paycheck.
Gen Z workers want their bosses to treat them with empathy, not just as cogs in the corporate machine. This means more personal interaction and an awareness of and sensitivity to their emotional states, rather than interacting and assessing them solely via performance KPIs. When asked about the top traits that a boss needs to relate to them in the Deloitte survey, Gen Z respondents ranked empathy second after patience.
In contrast, bosses ranked empathy a distant fifth, so there is a need to close that gap. In practice, this misalignment of priorities is keenly felt by Gen Z workers, since they are the generation least likely to say that their manager treats them with respect. One-third of Gen Zers report that they feel as if work doesn’t care about them.
Nearly half of Gen Z workers feel burned out by their work, while less than half say that their bosses help them maintain a healthy workload, according to Deloitte. They want jobs that do not damage their mental health. They are also more open about their own mental health status and needs than workers in other generations.
One factor behind this preference is that Gen Z sees work as a less important part of their personal identity compared to other generations. While 61 percent of currently working Gen Zers see work as a significant part of who they are, this is a far lower percentage than their bosses — 86 percent of whom feel this way. Because work is a less important part of these workers’ identities, they prefer additional time off as a reward for a job well done or overtime work, and rank it as their top choice for reward or recognition.
For Gen Z, work-life balance is a supremely important consideration, and it should be just as important to their employers. After all, burned-out employees aren’t dependable performers; they’re more likely to take sick days or quit their job entirely.
A GOBankingRates study found that Gen Z has strong preferences about where they work, with less than 29 percent indicating that remote work was a must-have. Baby boomers and older Gen Xers, in comparison, showed the highest preference for not working remotely, at 37 percent. In another GoBankingRates survey, 56 percent of Gen Zers indicated they want or need to work in a nontraditional work setting.
Despite their desire for flexibility, Gen Zers are aware of some of the downsides of fully remote work, especially in terms of training and job preparedness. They feel that online-only training is not only isolating but also ineffective. They want in-person mentorship, and 63 percent would prefer in-person training, according to the National Society of High School Scholars. In general, Gen Z is looking to learn, with 59 percent seeking opportunities to gain skills and 55 percent interested in trying a new industry or experience at their job, according to LinkedIn.
They want an employer that cares about diversity and inclusion and also has similar values.
Gen Z puts a high value on workplace diversity, so any company hoping to retain top Gen Z talent is going to have to prioritize diversity, too.
According to Tallo survey findings, 67 percent of working Gen Zers said they had witnessed discrimination in the workplace based on race, ethnicity, gender identity or sexual orientation, and 44 percent had personally been the target of this kind of discrimination. A lack of diversity in the workplace is a big red flag for this generation. Eighty-eight percent also think it’s important that employers and recruiters ask about preferred gender pronouns, an occurrence only 18 percent of respondents had experienced.
Gen Z cares about corporate ethics, activism, sustainability and authenticity, so it stands to reason that they would want to work for the type of organization that has these values as part of its culture. In fact, 77 percent of Gen Z respondents in the Deloitte study said it was important to work for a company whose values aligned with theirs.
To successfully recruit and retain Gen Z workers, consider implementing these changes.
Where possible, try to make your entry-level compensation competitive in your market. If the additional cash is not available, then consider either adding a performance-based way for Gen Z workers to earn more via commissions or bonuses, or give them a clear career path that allows them to advance to a higher pay grade after meeting certain performance and/or time requirements. You can also give job candidates assurances about the company’s outlook, since job stability is just as important to Gen Z as a good salary.
Your management training, and your corporate culture, should highlight the whys and hows of managing with empathy. This doesn’t mean that managers should be pushovers. In a practical sense, it means being aware of and acknowledging workers as human beings, and also listening and being understanding. If an employee is underperforming, respond with concern rather than judgment, and work with the person to improve their skills.
Gen Z workers aren’t afraid to switch jobs. In fact, LinkedIn data indicated that one-quarter of respondents intended on leaving their workplace within the next six months.
One way to give Gen Zers the flexibility they want is to allow employees to work remotely or on a hybrid schedule. With remote work on the rise in almost every industry, employers are discovering that it not only improves employee satisfaction, it can also increase their productivity. In many ways, allowing employees to work out of the office is a win-win.
An effective way to promote a healthy work-life balance is to limit work hours. Many major corporations have prohibited weekend work, and have found that insisting employees take a few days off increases their effectiveness come Monday. Offering a sabbatical as a benefit is an incentive for employees to stay with the company for the long term. You can also put a greater emphasis on efficiency as opposed to raw time spent. Let your employees know that results matter far more than putting in a certain number of hours.
There are many ways to increase the diversity of your workforce. One way is to actively work to eliminate bias. This can be more difficult than it sounds. One well-known anecdote involves a major bank using analytics to study how their hiring managers selected candidates. The bank found that when the hiring managers were fatigued or stressed, they were more likely to hire candidates that resembled themselves. By tweaking the hiring process, the bank was able to eliminate a large amount of unconscious bias.
Another way to increase your workplace diversity is to be open, aware and motivated. Mandate diversity training for the workforce to make employees aware of any unconscious or lingering biases they might harbor. Attracting diverse candidates to your company is a lot easier if you create a welcoming atmosphere.
While all-online video training may save your company money, it is tedious and not effective. Use in-person and synchronous video training to really engage Gen Z workers and prepare them for their jobs. Continue on-the-job training and pair new hires with a mentor in the organization who can show them the ropes and advise them on how to be successful. Use in-person group training as a reason to bring remote employees together and create stronger connections among coworkers and between remote employees and the company.
Be clear upfront about your company’s values, culture and policies with new recruits. Have an easy, anonymous way to solicit and act on feedback from employees about the company’s mission and vision as well as other policies that relate to company culture. If the company fails to live up to its values, be truthful about this and get employee buy-in to improve.
Although the prospect of preparing your workplace for Generation Z can seem daunting at first, a closer examination of their desires and preferences reveals that they’re more traditional than they might want you to know. Behind their facade of tech dependence, they’re an essentially rational generation, with a healthy self-interest moderated by an innate sense of decency and a striking degree of community-mindedness. Preparing your company for Gen Zers could mean making your company a more decent, just and vibrant workplace.
Ben Mizes contributed to this article.