Gen Z has arrived, bringing a pragmatic, inclusive, and collaborative future focus to the workplace. Business leaders will need to understand many things about this unique generation in order to implement strategic changes that attract and retain Gen Z talent.
Who Is Gen Z?
Gen Z refers to anyone born between 1997 and 2012. They are also known as the Homeland generation or Gen Edge. Gen Z is the youngest generation currently in the workforce, a number that grows by roughly 4.5 million each year. By 2030, Gen Z will make up one-third of all workers.
This group of resourceful problem solvers has much to offer employers due to their generationally unique experiences, traits, and values. They are realistic and resilient. As speaker Amy Lynch describes them, “Zs are builders and fixers, a generation adept at hacking life. If they don't have a solution, they find one. If they can't find one, they make one.”
Gen Z is an adaptive generation, like the Silent Generation born between 1925 and 1942, and is known to value the act of making something. What their great-grandparents referred to as tinkering, Zs may now know as hacking. Their respect for creating has helped grow the hands-on Maker or DIY movement and aesthetic trends like Cottagecore that lift up staples of simple living such as gardening, baking bread, and textile making.
9 Things to Know About Gen Z in the Workplace:
1. Gen Z Expects Quality DEI: Diversity, Equity, And Inclusion
Diversity, equity, and inclusion are no longer a workplace preference for Gen Z. DEI has become a baseline requirement for those entering the workforce. Gen Z holds the most intrinsic diversity within any American generation.
With 49% of zoomers (members of Gen Z) identifying as non-white and 22% identifying as LGBTQ+, Gen Z has grown up recognizing their identities as deeply intersectional. That recognition continues to grow. Over the past few years, nearly half of Gen Z felt their race, gender, and/or sexuality had become an increasingly important part of their identity. Gen Z expects workplace conversations around diversity, equity, and inclusion to be nuanced and thoughtful.
2. Gen Z Has a Future Impact Focus
Gen Z is significantly future-focused, with a top-ranking attitude that sets them apart from all previous generations. The majority actively consider what their future will hold. Their future focus is both individual and global, resulting in the climate crisis weighing heavily on Gen Z. Climate change is a core concern of this generation, and 9 out of 10 take measures to lower their environmental impact.
The vast majority (85–89%) of Gen Z say they want to work for a company with a mission that actively includes them. Dave MacLeod, ThoughtExchange's CEO and founder, believes, “Leaders who fail to rapidly shift their organizations into a force for good or include their people in figuring out just how to do that will end up becoming the Blockbusters of the business world.”
3. Compensation Is an Issue of Survival for Gen Z
Cost of living is at the very top of Gen Z’s list of concerns. Nearly half (46%) of Gen Z live paycheck to paycheck. They worry they won't be able to cover their expenses based on their primary job, resulting in 43% taking on a second job.
“They’re a really realistic generation,” Farah Mohiuddin, Forage customer success manager and early talent expert, says. “They grew up with a lot of economic uncertainty, and they’ve seen what millennials have gone through with the student debt crisis. They realize that they need to make money. They’re not talking about buying a house—they just want to survive.”
4. Work/Life Balance Is Imperative to Gen Z
Data collected by Deloitte revealed that 46% of Gen Z feel nearly constant stress, while almost half feel burned out due to their workload. Most respondents believe that employers are not doing enough to address these concerns and take preventative steps, resulting in burnout being a large contributor to employers’ struggle to retain Gen Z employees.
Gen Z demographics collected by Collage Group explored the pressure they feel, finding 52% feel overwhelmed by meeting the expectations of others, and 49% feel their success is contingent on sacrificing areas of their life that are important to them.
5. Gen Z Lives at the Intersection of Autonomy and Socialization
Gen Z was raised with digital platforms that created abundant access to discourse and collaboration. This normalization of access to discourse has led Gen Z to consider being heard a fundamental right instead of a reward to be earned. Many entered the workforce able to engage in debate with individuals on all levels of the corporate structure hierarchy instead of starting out as quiet observers.
Gen Z approaches growth by prioritizing self-reliant problem solving yet still appreciates the opportunity to personally connect with coworkers. While they are comfortable communicating primarily through digital forums and applications, it is also important to plan opportunities for social interactions and/or strategy conversations to foster face-to-face interaction.
Conflict management, communication, and resolution are key areas for mentorship and increasing people skills. In-person meetings are especially important when handling difficult conversations, yet many in Gen Z are accustomed to primarily engaging in conflict through text messaging.
6. Gen Z Needs Their Mentors to Provide Authentic, Holistic, and Practical Value
Gen Z values mentors and managers who respect their autonomy while taking a genuine interest in their personal and professional development. They want to feel included, valued, and empowered. Managing Gen Z workers requires clear communication of expectations to give them the independence needed for project ownership. Gallup’s employee engagement research links 70% of the variance in team engagement solely to the manager, meaning investments in personable and effective managers committed to the growth and success of the whole person will likely have noticeable impacts.
7. Gen Z Prioritizes the Development of Varied Skills Over Specialization
This generation of makers appreciates the opportunity to grow a variety of skill sets over a singular expertise. Gen Z is also less motivated by job titles—they prefer to have a real stake in the company’s success by owning projects from start to finish. Multipart project ownership allows Gen Z to explore and expand several areas of expertise concurrently.
8. Design Aesthetic in the Workplace Matters to Gen Z
Gen Z has grown up with curated images on social media in an era when workspaces such as Apple stores and tech startups present themselves as an experience. The Gen Z desire for work/life balance extends to design aesthetics, including amenities such as workplace meditation spaces and access to healthy food.
You can also address Gen Z’s commitment to mental health in part through workplace outdoor spaces and opportunities for fresh air as well as indoor plants. The Journal of Experimental Psychology found that the presence of indoor plants can increase feelings of well-being by 40%. Biophilic design elements are also correlated with higher productivity and lower absenteeism.
9. Technology Is Fully Integrated Into the Lives of Gen Z
For Gen Z, technology isn’t just a tool to be used. Gen Z wants technology that is current, relevant, and aesthetically pleasing. They are unique from other generations in that they have never known a time without the internet. As the first generation known as digital natives, Gen Z is wired to turn to technology to solve problems. Top priorities for Gen Z workplace technology include ease of mobility and the freedom to choose technology that matches their preferences.