Dynamics Shift as More of Gen Z Enters the Workforce

Companies must adapt to the needs and concerns of Gen Z employees

Dynamics Shift as More of Gen Z Enters the Workforce

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The newest coming-of-age cohort that’s beginning to shift workplace dynamics is Generation Z, generally defined as the 72 million or so people born between 1997 and 2012.

On one hand, many consider Gen Zers as entitled, unmotivated to work hard, less professional, not as loyal to employers, less adept at “soft” skills and more prone to challenge managers. They’re also harder to work with than other generation cohorts, such as baby boomers, Generation X and Generation Y (also known as millennials).

In fact, in a recent survey conducted by Resume Builder, nearly 75% of 1,344 managers nationwide said Gen Zers are more difficult to work with than any other age cohort and 65% said they had to fire Gen Zers more often than employees from other generations.

On the other hand, many view Gen Zers as more idealistic and purpose-driven than other cohorts. They’re also considered more technologically savvy, innovative and adaptable, and they value authenticity and social responsibility more than their older co-workers.

But the bottom line is, no matter what employers think of Gen Zers, they are reshaping organizations that already are grappling with the challenges posed by the widest-ever range of workplace age diversity. And their numbers are growing fast.

While every other generation in the American workplace is shrinking, employment of Gen Zers has increased by at least 2% annually since 2018. And for the last year or so, there have been more Gen Zers than baby boomers in the United States workforce and they’re slowly but surely overtaking Gen Xers and millennials.

Furthermore, Gen Zers are expected to make up approximately 27% of the workforce by 2025 and 30% by 2030. Clearly, there’s no stemming this employment tidal wave.

Purpose-driven mindset

So what will organizations have to consider as this next generational cohort slowly seeps into the workforce? For starters, Gen Zers are very passionate about making a difference and want to work for companies that they feel have a broader mission that aligns with their values.

Fortunately, this can be an easy sell for small businesses, particularly for those organizations that can clearly define how they help create a better environment and fight against water and environmental inequities and racism.

Moreover, Gen Zers will be more likely to thrive and stay at companies that demonstrate a strong internal commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion. They also highly value volunteer opportunities and philanthropic efforts aimed at improving communities, plus strong corporate ethics and social awareness.

To understand just how much Gen Zers prize this emphasis on being part of a larger cause, consider that one study showed that one-third would take a pay cut to work somewhere that supports a mission they believe in.

In short, Gen Zers want to work for good corporate citizens, so it behooves organizations to act accordingly — and prominently promote those programs and endeavors in both recruiting and internal communication programs, experts say.

Technology and communication

Gen Zers are the first generation to grow up in a completely digital age — the “TikTok generation,” as some call it. (One study shows that more than 60% of TikTok users are Gen Zers.)

As such, these “digital natives” have high expectations when it comes to workplace technology — and not meeting those expectations will result in lower engagement and high turnover. It also could tarnish organizations’ reputations as preferred employers, experts say.

In terms of communication, Gen Zers generally prefer texts to emails. Furthermore, messages must be short and to the point. But they also prefer video calls to phone calls, a reflection of their need for personal connections.

This leads to a surprising and counterintuitive finding: Most Gen Zers prefer speaking with co-workers and managers face-to-face compared to all other forms of communication. They want meaningful relationships with colleagues and managers.

As such, regular one-on-one meetings where managers can provide constructive and insightful feedback are critical. Mentors and ongoing training and career development programs also factor heavily in maintaining high levels of engagement and retention, experts say.

Mental health matters

More than any other cohort, Gen Zers desire work-life balance. They work to live, not live to work.

This is a key consideration because high stress and burnout are primary reasons why they leave jobs. In addition, studies suggest they struggle more with anxiety, depression, loneliness and other forms of emotional duress — conditions that experts speculate were exacerbated by pandemic-related isolation.

As such, creating a safety net of sorts is important. Organizations can start by offering training that shows employees how to maintain mental health; this kind of training is just as important to Gen Zers as increasing their technical competencies.

Organizations also can train managers to handle employees they believe are struggling with emotional issues. Many managers don’t feel equipped to address such sensitive issues with employees for fear of using the wrong words.

Part and parcel to this, it helps if organizations can create a common vocabulary when talking about mental health, so that terms such as anxiety and depression are properly defined and used accurately by everyone involved. 

Furthermore, organizations can offer peer groups where Gen Zers can talk about mental-health issues in a safe environment, experts say.

Change is inevitable

It’s always tempting to broadly stereotype cohorts; remember when millennials were the workplace punching bags du jour for being self-absorbed and entitled? Nonetheless, experts say there’s no doubt that each successive generation possesses traits and characteristics molded by their collective life experiences.

And for Gen Zers, some of the defining elements of their lives include the Great Recession of 2008-09, the rise of social media, climate change, large student loans, pandemic lockdowns and an affordable-housing crisis, to name a few.

As a result, this growing cohort brings its own set of needs and concerns to the workplace table, just as millennials and Gen Xers did before them. And organizations must be prepared to adapt and meet those needs, especially since Gen Z employees — disillusioned by all the layoffs they witnessed during times of economic and pandemic upheaval — don’t feel a lot of loyalty to organizations and aren’t afraid to leave for other opportunities.

In fact, one study showed that the average time a Gen Z employee stays in a role is two years and three months.

If that’s the case, why should employers even bother trying to cater to their needs? And is doing so worth alienating older employees who resent that Gen Zers get preferential treatment, hold diametrically opposed workplace attitudes (work/life balance, for starters) and weren’t offered the same work options and opportunities (flexible hours, for example) that Gen Zers enjoy?

Regarding the latter, some experts point out that what’s good for Gen Zers — an emphasis on mental health, better work/life balance, more face-to-face communications and top-flight technology, for example — generally is good for all employees. Moreover, younger employees bring in fresh perspectives and new innovations.

And secondly, if organizations want to remain viable and vibrant, they have no choice but to roll with the changes. At stake is the very future of work and their place in it.


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