Written by: Barbara Green // Jun 22, 2021
Last updated: Jan 17, 2023
The oldest members of Gen Z, known colloquially as Zoomers, have already entered the workplace. Over the next decade, 60 million members will follow suit, transforming the workforce with their values, expectations, and goals. Read on to understand the shifts that lie ahead with Gen Z in the workplace and get out in front of the changes.
Who Is Gen Z?
Born after 1996, Gen Z is the first true generation of digital natives. They have been immersed in the world of smartphones, internet, and social networks since their early youth. They’re also the most diverse generation the U.S. has ever known, with just 52 percent identifying as white non-Hispanic – and that figure is expected to fall in years ahead, according to the Pew Research Center. Raised during a recession by skeptical Gen X parents, this generation is known for being pragmatic and practical while also valuing financial stability. They’re also highly educated so far, with older Zoomers finishing high school and enrolling in college at higher rates than previous generations.
So how will these traits and experiences play out in the workforce?
A Growing Emphasis on “DEI”
Gen Z grew up in a far more diverse world than their predecessors. For them, a commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) is not just a “nice-to-have” in the workplace; it’s a necessity – and something they will actively work to achieve on the job.
According to a Gen Z survey by Tallo, 67 percent of working-age respondents said they had witnessed discrimination in the workplace based on race, ethnicity, gender identity, or sexual orientation – and 44 percent said they had experienced such discrimination personally. For Gen Z, a lack of diversity and inclusivity can be a dealbreaker when it comes to recruitment and retention. Roughly one-third of Tallo survey respondents reported opting not to even apply for a job because they feared unfair treatment or discrimination. Conversely, 69 percent of Gen Z respondents said they’d be “absolutely” more likely to apply to a job with a company whose recruiters (and marketing materials) reflected a more racially and ethnically diverse workplace.
Remember, for Gen Z, diversity and inclusion is about more than race and ethnicity. Gen Z values free expression of gender identity; they’re more comfortable with gender fluidity and non-binary identities, and they want their employers to be, as well. Toward that end, a whopping 88 percent of Gen Z survey respondents said it’s important for employers to ask about preferred gender pronouns. However, an underwhelming 18 percent said they had actually ever been asked themselves.
The Takeaway: At a bare minimum, our workforce will become progressively more diverse over the coming decade as older Boomers retire and are replaced by their younger Gen Z counterparts. While this represents a shift and a growth opportunity in itself, it will also run hand-in-hand with cultural change. Expect a more robust focus on diversity, equity and inclusion as companies look to attract and retain top Gen Z talent.
Social Impact and Authenticity
While Zoomers are known as being pragmatic and practical and desiring financial stability, they also care deeply about ethics, activism, values, and authenticity. So while salary and security are important to Zoomers, they may not be sufficient to recruit and retrain top-notch talent.
A poll by Deloitte and NEW showed that 77 percent of Gen Z respondents said it was important to work for an organization whose values aligned with their own. As consumers, “Gen Z no longer forms opinions of a company based solely on the quality of their products/services but also now on their ethics, practices and social impact,” according to Deloitte. The same is true for potential employers – and talk alone isn’t enough. Gen Z expects the organizations they work for to show their values through action on issues like climate change, sustainability, inclusivity, and equity.
This gets at the authenticity Gen Zers crave. Raised in the digital information age with a series of social issues front and center, this generation has a well-developed sense of when a company is being authentic. Companies that do well with Gen Z understand how to match their ethics to their mission and live their values in a way that is sustainable and true to their company brand.
In addition to concrete actions, communication is also key to building trust and loyalty that can help companies retain younger employees. Strong two-way conversations help employees understand a company’s mission as well as its values and how it exemplifies them – and this communication also helps companies understand their employees’ passions and ethics. Remember, today’s digital world has helped shaped Zoomers' ideas about access to key leaders, flattening hierarchies, and heightening communications expectations. Employers may also benefit (and improve job satisfaction) by empowering Gen Zers to pursue their own activism and passions through things like pro bono work and volunteering.
The Takeaway: Expect organizations to continue becoming more vocal about their values and ethics in the coming years. While older generations may have viewed ethics and trust as an issue of personal or individual character, younger employees take a broader and more action-oriented view. They will seek out companies whose values match their own and may push for employers to support causes they believe align with the company’s brand – or to support employee activism through service.
What Zoomers Expect – Tech and Beyond
Much has been written about Gen Zers being the first true digital natives, growing up in the world of smartphones and instant news and messaging. Certainly, this is a group that expects a seamless online experience as well as the ability to communicate with colleagues and check work tasks from their mobile device. In fact, 91 percent even report that the technology offered by an employer would impact their job choice.
As companies continue to evolve and figure out how to best incorporate technology to their advantage, expect Gen Zers to help lead the way. But Gen Z doesn’t just expect – or thrive on – digital-only communication. In fact, one national study showed that 84 percent of Zoomers prefer in-person communications, especially with supervisors and mentors. Part of this may get at Zoomers’ desire to gauge authenticity and find trust. Another part may reflect their desire for mentorship and a more customized work experience.
With their desire for financial stability, entrepreneurial nature, and competitive spirit, Gen Z workers are looking for ways to grow and advance in their careers. They crave training and development opportunities, the potential to advance, and also mentorship from a trusted supervisor. Raised in the digital age as well as the Great Recession, Gen Z are independent learners, eager to make their mark. Mentoring instead of managing this generation may prove a more effective path to helping them grow and develop their potential.
The Takeaway: Expect companies, with the help of Gen Z, to refine their online presence and digital workplace experience. As Gen Z continues to enter the workforce, we’ll continue to see the adoption of new technologies – but not the loss of in-person touchpoints. As tech savvy as Gen Z is, their appetite for in-person interactions may help forge bonds and understanding between team members across ages, especially if companies encourage the types of mentoring opportunities that Gen Z craves.
A Flexible, Well-Balanced Life
As the pandemic hastened the arrival of a more remote and flexible work life for many Americans, the rise of Gen Z may help refine it. One of the things Gen Z craves most in their working lives (in addition to financial stability) is flexibility and balance. As tech savvy as Zoomers are, we know Gen Z is not necessarily looking to work 100 percent remotely.
Rather, they’re looking for a more flexible balance between their work and the rest of their lives. As digital technology has allowed freedom of movement in new ways, Gen Z is pushing to redefine work as something that doesn’t need to be confined to a fluorescent-lit office and an 8-to-5 schedule. While Zoomers have expressed in surveys a willingness to work hard (even on weekends and evenings when needed) in order to advance their careers and find stability, they also recognize that they are more than their jobs – and they want their employers to do the same.
The ability to make time for taking care of their personal lives during the day – or to work remotely at times, sometimes with shifted hours – appeals to Gen Z’s independent nature and desire for more customized, individual experiences. As technology makes so many aspects of work seamless, it can also make jobs flexible, allowing employees to make time for things that help maintain their health and quality of life: exercising, volunteering, caring for animals and family members, or continuing their education.
The Takeaway: In the wake of the pandemic, and in light of younger workers’ desire for a flexible work-life balance, companies may increasingly embrace a more nimble approach to work in the future. One of the challenges will be harnessing the appropriate technologies and structures to keep workers connected and engaged when not in person. It will also require building trust so that employers can embrace the idea that a desire for flexibility is not a desire to avoid work but, rather, to approach work differently.
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