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What employers need to know about Gen Z

What employers need to know about Gen Z


•    Generation Z is largely defined as those born between 1996 and 2012. Given that the people born towards the start of this generation are now in their twenties, many are beginning their entry into the workplace. 
•    But the COVID-19 pandemic has monumentally impacted the start of their careers. Many have missed out on their first job opportunity, or had their final years of education interrupted. 
•    In this new era of work, employers need to ensure they properly understand Gen Zers – including what motivates them – in order to create the perfect workplace to attract and retain them. 

So, how does Gen Z differ from the generations currently dominating our workforces – Millennials, Generation X and Baby Boomers? 

The four defining characteristics of Gen Z – and what they mean for organisations

1.    Gen Z is the most diverse generation yet, with the most inclusive views and expectations

According to an analysis of Census Bureau data by the Pew Research Center, 48 per cent of Gen Zers in the US are racial or ethnic minorities, compared to 39 per cent of Millennials, 30 per cent of Generation Xers, and 18 per cent of Boomers. Not only that, but Gen Zers also hold more inclusive views and expectations than previous generations. 

A survey by the BBC in the UK found evidence that Gen Zers were far more concerned about prejudice towards LGBTQ+ people, gender equality and racism than older generations. In addition, The New York Times has described Gen Zers as possessing “untraditional views on gender and identity.” They have a real open-mindedness and awareness when it comes to gender and sexuality – ultimately defined as identity. Many Gen Zers, for example, will include their pronoun preferences in their email signature and social media bios. Research in Brazil further evidences this generational characteristic; it was found that 60 per cent of Gen Zers were of the opinion that same-sex couples should be able to adopt children – 10 percentage points more than members of other generations. 

What does this mean for organisations? As reported by The Washington Post, Gen Zers are seeking proof of employers’ dedication to diversity and inclusion. Indeed, in the US, 77 per cent of Gen Z have indicated that a company’s level of diversity affects their decision to work there. So, an organisation’s commitment to equality, diversity and inclusion – and how clearly they communicate it – is evidently a key factor for Gen Z when considering job opportunities.

2.    COVID-19 has negatively impacted Gen Z’s education and entry into the workforce 

Although all generations have suffered from the economic consequences of the pandemic, evidence suggests that Gen Z have been hit with job loss and unemployment the worst. As early as March 2020, Pew Research Center reported that 50 per cent of Gen Zers in the US said they or someone in their household had lost work or pay due to the outbreak of the virus. The equivalent figures for Millennials, Generation X and Boomers were much lower; 40 per cent, 36 per cent and 25 per cent respectively. 

Gen Zers currently in education have also faced huge turmoil; exams have been cancelled, much of the traditional university experience has moved online, and proms and graduation plans have evaporated. Students have seen entire years – those often considered to be ‘the best years of your life’ – written off. In the words of Lauren Stiller Rikleen for Harvard Business Review, “collectively, they are experiencing the greatest national trauma since the Great Depression and World War II.” 

So, what does this mean for employers looking to attract and retain Gen Z candidates? As our CEO, Alistair Cox, previously reflected, “As business leaders, we cannot just idly sit back, avert our eyes and let this generation experience this monumental upheaval without doing all we can to support them. It is our duty to act.” You need to build a supportive working environment to enable them to thrive when they join your team:

1.    Provide suitable mental health and wellbeing support. The American Psychological Association (APA) reported that Gen Zers are “significantly more likely to seek professional help for mental health issues” than past generations. Even before the pandemic, Gen Zers had expressed higher levels of anxiety and depression than older generations. They will therefore expect and want employers to have support available for them, should they need it.

2.    Be aware of the likely increase in skills gaps among Gen Zers than previous generations, due to their interrupted education. As Rikleen has noted for Harvard Business Review: “Now that their structured learning has been upended, employers and employees may need to develop greater patience with Gen Z’s adjustment to the professional world and a greater focus on intergenerational mentoring and support.”
3. Gen Zers are true digital natives

Gen Z haven’t known a world without the Internet. They are therefore accustomed to having information at their fingertips via search engines and social media. They’re also used to instant, virtual connection, which they routinely use to form and build relationships. Your organisation therefore needs to provide the platforms and opportunities that enable them to quickly access information and establish virtual connections while at work – especially as remote and hybrid working arrangements become our new ‘normal’. 

However, if your new Gen Z starters are onboarding remotely, it’s important to appreciate that while they will almost certainly be confident with the technology, they may need additional onboarding support. As Alistair Cox, has explained previously: “Yes, they are a digitally savvy generation, but research shows that 45 per cent of Gen Z and employed Millennials said they had never worked remotely before the pandemic, so give them the support they need to get up and running quickly.” 

And don’t forget about the practicalities of your new Gen Z employees onboarding and working remotely; do they have the space to work at home productively? Do they have access to Wi-Fi? This is an essential consideration if you are wanting to build an inclusive workplace. After all, those from disadvantaged backgrounds may not have these luxuries. 

4. Gen Zers are passionate about solving the world’s wrongs

In the words of McKinsey & Company, Gen Z “mobilise themselves for a variety of causes. They believe profoundly in the efficacy of dialogue to solve conflicts and improve the world.” Just one example of Gen Z’s notable commitment to transforming the world is the decision – as reported by the World Economic Forum (WEF) – of more than 30,000 French students from over 300 universities to sign a pledge to only work for environmentally conscious companies. 

What does this mean for organisations? It underlines the importance of employers having a strong sense of meaning in what they do, enabling employees to feel as though they are benefiting society. As the WEF has put it, purpose is “the most powerful tool companies have at their disposal to meet the intrinsic needs of new talent.” But simply creating a new purpose doesn’t cut it; they added that, “For this new generation, it is not enough for their employers to simply have a compelling purpose. They want to see purpose lived out authentically through bold actions.” 

Our CEO has also previously discussed the power organisations hold in providing employees with personal meaning, “By joining a purpose-driven organisation – one that is aligned to our own value system – we are able to find solace in the fact that, collectively, as part of a team, we are better able to have the positive impact on the world that we feel we need to make.”
So, we now know the four key characteristics of Gen Z – and why it’s so important for employers to understand them. Essentially, they have a very different attitude than older generations towards diversity and inclusion, the role of digital in the workplace, and organisations taking accountability for improving the world. But what do employers need to change in order to attract and retain Gen Z employees in the new era of work? Read my next blog to find out.