For employers struggling to fill open positions, Gen Z provides a potentially valuable pool of talent — one that has a great deal to offer in terms of potential engagement, tech skills and sheer size. Like any generation, members of Gen Z have grown up in a unique time that has shaped their views and expectations. As a result, employers wishing to attract and retain these individuals will be well served to understand some of their needs and expectations regarding work.
What Makes Gen Z Important for Employers
Gen Z provides a unique blend of qualities that many employers will find valuable.
For starters, they are a sizable and growing part of the global labor population. Within two years, members of Gen Z (which includes those born between 1997 and 2012, according to Pew Research Center; ranges from other organizations differ slightly) is predicted to make up 27% of the workforce in countries that are part of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Given that the youngest members of Gen Z are only about 11 years old, they are positioned to become an increasingly large and important part of the workforce.
This generation also has an entrepreneurial spirit, according to Ben Siegel, co-founder of Abode, a software development company that connects employers with Gen Z talent.
“Gen Z has a different mindset about how they will live their lives compared to prior generations,” Siegel said. “They’re entrepreneurial and value flexibility.”
In addition, Gen Z has an innate comfort level with technology that is hard to match, having grown up exposed to technology and digital tools, said Siegel.
“Their entrepreneurial mindset coupled with the fact that they are the most technically savvy generation makes them an incredibly valuable asset to any company,” he said. “They’re willing to figure things out on their own and have the technical know-how to do so.”
Culture and Values Are Key
Organizational culture and values are important enough to members of this generation that they factor these into their decisions about which jobs to accept or reject. Two in five responses in the Deloitte Global 2022 Gen Z and Millennial Survey revealed young employees have previously rejected a job offer due to a mismatch between a company’s values and principles and their own.
When a match occurs, employers are likely to see enviable loyalty: In these situations, younger employees are more likely to stay at the company for more than five years, the same Deloitte survey found.
A mismatch in values is a factor that contributes to job hopping among Gen Z employees and may show that employers are not paying enough attention to — or placing enough emphasis on — workplace culture, said Kathleen Schulz, global innovation leader for organizational well-being at Gallagher. To retain members of Gen Z, employers must focus on “creating a culture that is flexible, where Gen Z (employees) feel recognized, appreciated, and that the organizational values and their personal values are aligned,” Schulz said.
Such an approach has an added benefit in that it likely will appeal to other generations, as well.
In addition, the importance of culture and values manifest themselves for Gen Z in another way: Members of this generation will not tolerate a transactional relationship between employees and their employers. Instead of a simple work-for-currency exchange, Gen Z workers want to partake in an exchange of thoughts, opinions and ideas within their workplace, according to Maia Ervin, chief impact officer at JUV Consulting, a Gen Z founded, Gen Z led consultancy firm.
“Gen Z looks for an employer that actually cares about them as people, not just their output,” Ervin said. “Gen Z is the most diverse generation yet and expects to be able to come to work as their full selves with all their intersections (as they should).”
Unfortunately, data suggests that members of Gen Z are not getting the kind of workplace experience they seek. A Gallup survey among Gen Z and millennials found that this age group is far more likely to feel ambivalent, or disengaged, while at the workplace. In fact, 54% are not engaged, a higher rate than other generations.
“Gen Z looks for an employer that actually cares about them as people, not just their output.”
Wellness and Stress
Workplace well-being may be especially valuable to Gen Z, given their increased rates of mental health challenges. A McKinsey American Opportunity Survey revealed:
- Fifty-five percent of 18- to 24-year-olds report having received a diagnosis and/or treatment for a mental illness. Respondents aged 55 to 64 years old, with decades more time to have received a diagnosis or gone into treatment, report this is the case 31% of the time.
- A third of 18- to 24-year-olds report believing that their mental health has a negative impact on their future job prospects.
- Over a quarter of 18- to 24-year-olds say mental-health issues significantly impact their ability to perform at work (compared with 14% of all employed respondents).
Reports suggest that Gen Z may be the most stressed generation in the workplace. According to a Deloitte survey, 53% of Gen Z employees agree that while their organization now talks more openly about mental health, this has yet to result in any meaningful change or impact.
To help alleviate the stress felt by Gen Z and others, Ervin suggested quality, candid discussions regarding employees’ stress levels and their ability to handle their current workload.
“I meet with clients frequently regarding changing their company culture, and I am often surprised at how many folks don't even offer surveys to their employees to express how they feel,” she said.
Gen Z may often feel overwhelmed, underappreciated and overlooked at work, which leads to a decrease in productivity. Ervin said implementing check-ins with Gen Z employees regarding these issues is essential, whether it be in the form of a monthly engagement survey or one-on-one meetings between management and direct reports. That last item, however, is scarce for employees of every generation: Only 17% of employees report having weekly meetings with management, according to Cigna International Health’s 2023 survey.
Gallagher’s Schulz suggested that employers help employees manage their stress by addressing the following issues:
- Unsustainable workloads.
- Perceived lack of control.
- Insufficient rewards/recognition for effort.
- Poor relationships.
While many employers are attempting to address mental health with “programs,” Schulz said strong resources are a key component to a comprehensive well-being strategy.
“Real progress is made by addressing (the system) through a re-evaluation of work, cost, access to care, leadership competencies and cultural inclusiveness,” she said.
Money and Opportunities
According to the Deloitte survey, money is a key source of anxiety for Gen Z, with 39% of respondents stating it was their lead cause of stress. That was a higher percentage than groups in other age ranges.
Many Gen Z employees are terrified they might fall into some kind of financial upset, and some already have. According to the Deloitte survey:
- 46% of Gen Z live paycheck to paycheck and worry they will be unable to cover their expenses.
- 30% don’t feel financially secure.
- 43% have taken on either a part- or full-time paying job aside from their primary job.
The McKinsey American Opportunity Survey revealed that only 37% of Gen Z respondents believe that most people in the United States have economic opportunities. And a Cigna study found that 24% of Gen Z employees worried about a lack of learning and jobs, compared to only 14% of 35-49-year-olds and 9% of 50-64-year-olds.
Perhaps concern over money and opportunities should be no surprise, given that so many Gen Z employees entered the workforce during a global pandemic and a shaky and unpredictable economic environment.
Adam Gefkovicz, a Gen Z entrepreneur, said his generation has become more hardened by the crises it has encountered throughout its youth, including an apparent lack of opportunity for people from low-income families. (He created a company called Untapped to produce more opportunities for aspiring tech professionals who come from humble, less-connected backgrounds.)
If money is a cause of stress for Gen Z, job hopping seems to be a source of relief. The McKinsey survey found that 77% of Gen Z respondents are actively seeking a new job, a rate that is almost double those of other generations. Research showed that members of Gen Z who switched jobs in the past year had an average pay raise of 30%.
The implication: Employers that don’t address the needs of this generation will risk losing them.
So, how can employers hold on to their Gen Z talent? Geofkovicz said employers can start by offering their younger employees the chance to decide whether their current position within the company is the one they would really like to advance in.
“Give them the opportunity to try other positions,” he said. “Horizontal internal mobility, the ability to try new things within your organization…(otherwise), they’ll try new things at a different organization.”
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