Gen Z at Work: How the Next Generation is Changing the Workplace
Known as the digital natives, Generation Z was born between 1996 and 2010, and many Gen Zers are still entering young adulthood. As the Great Resignation continues, largely led by the younger generations, the world is waiting intently to see how Gen Zers decide to situate themselves in the workforce.
The Gen Z Experience
As the youngest working-age generation, Gen Z grew up during the Great Recession of 2008 and this experience played an important role in shaping their world perspective. The vast majority of Gen Z children witnessed their parents’ struggle with money and learned early on that life is difficult. As a result, Gen Zers are determined to work hard and find careers that are recession-proof. In 2018, the American Psychology Association surveyed more than 3,458 respondents aged 18 and older and found that more than 81% of Gen Zers aged 18 to 21 reported that money was a significant source of stress, in contrast to 64% of adults overall. Gen Zers have also experienced challenges with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and have had to learn how to manage their own finances during this tumultuous time. In September 2021, well into the pandemic, Charles Schwab reported that 44% of Gen Zers said financial stress has impacted their ability to do their jobs, in contrast to 38% of Millennials, 20% of Gen Xers, and 10% of Baby Boomers among a sample of 1,100 total participants.
Gen Z also experienced the 2016 Presidential Election firsthand and witnessed all the political turbulence that has since ensued. Beyond politics, Gen Z has encountered increasing awareness around social issues such as climate change, economic inequality, racism, and the #MeToo movement. Considering that Gen Z is the most diverse generation to date, it should be no surprise that Gen Zers hold more progressive views and are more concerned with diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives than any other group. Even more importantly, they expect the same views from their employers. For example, in a survey conducted by Tallo in September 2020, 69% of 5,063 Gen Zers stated that they would “absolutely” be more likely to apply to a job at a company that emphasized a racially and ethnically diverse workplace in recruitment materials.
The last major event that has defined Gen Z’s worldview thus far is, of course, the COVID-19 pandemic, and not just because of the health and financial implications. With all the misinformation that has been circulating, the polarized political viewpoints, the often-poor transition to remote work, and the lack of empathy from certain organizations, Gen Z has become more cynical. And yet, Gen Zers are also aware that enough disruption can compel an overdue change. Gen Zers tend to want to work for companies they believe in and that recognize their value. Among the 200 Gen Z respondents surveyed by Washington State University’s Carson College of Business in August 2020, 70% said they desire to work at organizations whose values align with their own, 83% want to work for an organization where they can make a positive impact on the world, 63% expect gratification for a job well done, and 63% also expect to be able to move up the ranks quickly. Furthermore, among the 500 US college students surveyed by Robert Half in 2018, 95% cited career advancement opportunities as the top factor when choosing an employer, 93% said “a manager they can learn from,” and 91% said professional development and training opportunities mattered most.
Gen Z Values and Beliefs
The Gen Z persona is often conflated with that of Millennials by older generations, who tend to perceive their younger, technologically savvier counterparts as one group. However, while Millennials are known as the digital pioneers, Gen Zers are the digital natives. As such, they tend to have a more natural knowledge of technology than Millennials. While Millennials idealize the ways in which technology can be used, Gen Z instead recognizes the ways in which technology is, in fact, disadvantageous and could be improved.
For instance, the LinkedIn 2021 Workplace Learning Report revealed that more than 76% of over 2,000 Gen Z professionals surveyed understand that the skills necessary today are different from the skills required from past generations. Further, 59% of Gen Zers do not believe their job will even exist in the same form 20 years from now and, ultimately, about 6 in 10 Gen Z professionals report a willingness to learn new skills. In addition, Education publisher Pearson found that, among a sample of 2,587 respondents aged 14 to 40, Gen Zers and Millennials are about equally as likely to learn best on their laptop, followed by smartphones. Yet, Gen Zers are still 9% more likely to learn the same, regardless of device. Despite this finding, it was also observed that Gen Zers are 10% more likely than Millennials to prefer in-person group activities, 9% more likely to take notes on paper rather than digitally, and 14% more likely to prefer teacher-led instruction.
COVID-19 has also put a strain on Gen Zers relationship to technology in the workplace, leading them to crave human interaction more than is generally thought. Following mandated lockdowns, which limited this generation’s critical, life-shaping social and educational experiences to a computer screen, Gen Zers have learned to value the seamlessness of in-person collaboration that often gets lost in translation online. In October 2020, about seven months into the pandemic, a survey of 2,000 remote employees conducted by TenSpot found that only 13% of Gen Zers had no challenges and loved working from home.
For the Gen Zers who did experience challenges, these included struggling to balance work with life, feeling exhausted after a typical day of work, increased difficulty feeling engaged or excited about work, getting a word in during meetings, and bringing new ideas to the table, as observed by Microsoft’s 2021 Work Trend Index Report. The report, which surveyed 31,092 full-time employed or self-employed workers across 31 markets, revealed that 60% of Gen Zers say they are merely surviving or flat-out struggling since shifting to hybrid or remote work. It was also noted that Gen Zers are more likely to feel the impact of isolation, struggle with motivation, and lack the financial means to create proper workplaces at home. As a result, Microsoft found that 54% of Gen Zers are likely to consider leaving their employer within the next year, in contrast to 41% of the global workforce.
How Gen Z Is Changing the Workplace
While Gen Z currently only amounts to about 5% of the workforce, by 2025, they will comprise over 27%. What does this mean for the future of work? How will businesses adapt to this ongoing change?
Though Gen Zers will contribute to the greater integration of technology, it will not be the mere adoption of new technology, but the use of that technology to solve business challenges and provide companies with strategic advantages. As digital natives, Gen Zers have a more intuitive understanding of digital platforms and can bridge the gap between technical implementation to keep up and technical immersion to overcome deep and persistent problems.
Gen Zers’ passion for and acceptance of ongoing learning will be another contribution they make to the workforce. Another interesting finding from LinkedIn’s 2021 Workplace Learning Report was that, even though Gen Zers are thought to lead the current workforce exodus, 40% of those surveyed have actually chosen to stay at their current jobs for learning and growth opportunities, and 76% of them agree that learning is key to career advancement. Additionally, a study conducted by Inside Out in 2019 found that 77% of the 1,000 Gen Zers surveyed are willing to mentor their older coworkers that might be less familiar with technology. As the world changes at a faster and faster pace, digital natives will act as a reminder to other generations of how important it is, for your career and wellbeing, to be a life-long learner.
Only time will tell if this up-and-coming generation can mold the current digital transformation into a force that benefits the workforce at large, but their perspectives and technical acumen make them an asset worth acquiring and retaining during the Great Resignation.
Ready to learn more about the ‘Great Resignation’ and hire top Gen Z talent for your team? Get in touch with Resource 1.