Gen Z in the Workplace

By:  Claire Sweetman

Generation Z, which includes individuals born between 1997 and 2012, is now the largest generation on earth.[1] In the United States, Gen Z constitutes more than a quarter of the population and is the most diverse generation in the nation’s history. As Gen Z joins the workforce, they are proving themselves to be unique in their work styles and needs. Unlike millennials, who prefer their employers to offer perks such as remote flexibility, greater social and environmental flexibility, and more time off – Gen Zers demand it.[2] Although Gen Zers have been dubbed anti-work or even lazy, they’re not: they are willing to work hard for the right employer.[3] Some believe that Gen Zers have the potential to usher in meaningful change to the workplace along the way.

The top priority for Gen Zers in the workplace is higher pay, according to a 2022 survey by US job site CareerBuilder.[4] This represents a significant shift in values compared to millennials. According to a 2011 global survey, millennials entering the workplace valued career progression and personal development over financial reward.[5] Meaning, millennials search for employers who can advance their careers rather than those who can offer the highest starting salary. Gen Zers, on the other hand, are steadfastly focused on earning a comfortable wage. It is critical to note that Gen Z’s preference for higher pay is likely based on perilous economic conditions, such as a rising inflation rate that outpaces salary growth and the seemingly unfeasible housing market.

The COVID-19 pandemic has also affected Gen Z’s views on the workforce. Half of all American Gen Zers who are old enough to work witnessed someone in their household lose a job or take a pay cut due to the pandemic, according to the Pew Research Center.[6] They have also largely watched older generations, such as millennials, survive multiple recessions and incur enormous amounts of debts. Gen Z is, by and large, unwilling to go through those types of hardships, and are seeking high-salary jobs to compensate for recent economic downturns.

Studies have shown that Gen Z is also focused on a more humanistic type of labor. According to research conducted in 2022, 82% of Gen Zers supported mental health days.[7] 74% would opt for either hybrid or totally remote work.[8] When asked what they believe would be the top factors in a decision to leave an employer, Gen Zers answered burnout and lack of work-life balance (after an unsatisfactory salary). Millennials, on the other hand, were more willing to sacrifice these benefits for corporate social responsibility. Gen Zers’ lack of trust in the corporate system has made them averse to putting the desires of the company before their own.

Gen Zers are also more likely to job hop rather than continue to work for a company that is not meeting their needs. According to a 2021 study, 77% of Gen Zers surveyed were actively searching for a new job, compared to 38% of millennials in the same stage in their careers.[9] Gen Zers by and large spend less time in a role than millennials. This is due in part to Gen Z’s focus on earning higher wages and intolerance for inequity. The UK’s Office for National Statistics found that higher wages were a key perk of job hopping for all workers.[10]

What really separates Gen Z from former generations in the workforce is their focus and insistence on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) work. According to 2022 research, 77% of Gen Zers consider it important that their company supports DEI work.[11] Another survey found that over a fifth of survey respondents say that their own personal experiences with racial inequalities and discrimination have influenced their career choices.[12] An employer’s commitment to DEI includes: hiring a more diverse workforce, helping employees of color advance through the ranks, giving them more decision-making power and facilitating uncomfortable conversations about systemic racism.[13] It is no longer sufficient to include racial justice in the mission statement or post prompt responses to current events on the company website. Gen Zers are also hyperaware of issues of intersectionality and sexual identification and orientation.

The available data shows that Gen Zers in the workplace are by and large thoughtful, compassionate, and hard-working. They are curious and fast learners, who can quickly navigate technology and use it to their advantage. They are also unwilling to put up with improper treatment by employers and are paving the way for a more humanistic American workplace. In order to make Gen Zers happy in a working environment, companies should try their best to cultivate a diverse, supportive, and inclusive workplace. This includes: an emphasis on work-life balance, a true commitment to DEI work, competitive salaries that reflect a harsh economic reality, and a mission that is focused on the future.



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