Understanding Gen Z in the workplace

November 29, 2022

Boomers, Millennials, Gen Z - generational cohorts are used by researchers to examine how formative world events and changing societies have influenced the beliefs, values and motivations of each generation. 

In recent years, the focus has turned to Gen Z, the generation born between 1996-2012. As they enter the workforce, many organisations are looking to understand who Gen Z are as consumers, citizens and coworkers.

We’ve done some digging into Gen Z in the workplace, including Gen Z characteristics, what motivates Gen Z in the workplace, and how to lead Gen Z. 

Who are Gen Z?

Before we get into what Gen Z want from the workplace, let’s look at some of the defining events that have shaped this generation:

  • As the first generation to grow up with the internet, Gen Z are true digital natives. They’re used to instant digital communication, virtual relationships and easily accessible information. 
  • Social and environmental issues are important to Gen Z. A BBC survey found they were more concerned about prejudice towards LGBTQ+ people, gender equality and racism than previous generations. 
  • Surveys have found that they’re more likely to openly identify as LGBTQ+ than previous generations, while in America, Gen Z are set to be the most ethnically diverse generation yet with 48% being from a non-white background. As a result, Gen Z values diversity of all forms and have been described by McKinsey as “radically inclusive.”
  • Having watched their parents deal with the Great Recession and dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic themselves, this generation values financial stability and smart investments. 
  • Potentially due to the above factors - climate change, economic instability, the Covid-19 pandemic, and growing up online - mental health challenges are frequently reported amongst Gen Z. A McKinsey survey found that they had “the least positive life outlook, including lower levels of emotional and social well-being than older generations.”

Gen Z in the workplace

Understanding the foregoing factors that have shaped Gen Z will help organisations to meet the needs of their younger workers, who are set to dominate 30% of the workforce by 2030. Zoomers' expectations for workplace environments and culture will shift the way that we work. Leaders need to be quick to adapt in order to attract, engage and retain their youngest talent. This is especially important for Gen Z, who have no qualms about job hopping if they’re expectations aren’t being met. 

Here are some factors that you should be considering to engage and motivate Gen Z: 

Offer flexible working

Witnessing previous generations suffer from burnout and the shifting of priorities post-pandemic has meant that work-life balance is important to Gen Z. They expect to be able to work where and when they want - not as a workplace perk, but as a workplace norm. 

Provide growth opportunities

This financially-minded generation stated higher pay as their top priority in a survey by CareerBuilder, a shift from Millennials who prioritised personal development over financial reward. However, this doesn’t mean that they aren’t interested in development opportunities. Research by ServiceNow found that professional growth & learning was the top priority for Gen Z job-hunters. Motivate your younger workforce by providing upskilling, mentoring and coaching opportunities. 

Have a D&I strategy in place

Gen Z wants to see genuine diversity and inclusion efforts in their workplaces. 77% of Gen Zers surveyed by TalentLMs said it’s important to work for a company that cares about diversity, equity and inclusion. They’re more socially-conscious than their predecessors and are able to spot performative allyship a mile off - and they aren’t afraid to hold companies accountable either. 

Take a human approach

Gen Z value authenticity and are more likely to show up as themselves at work (as opposed to older generations who are more likely to code-switch). This comes from their familiarity with informal communication, greater awareness of D&I and the lack of boundaries between work/home as remote working has become more popular. Inc suggests that this will change workplace communication for the better: 

“They prefer frank, to-the-point communication, "in-person"* interactions, and alignment between their values and those of their employer. The result is more fruitful conversations about how to create a more welcoming workplace, less rigid norms for job attire and grooming, and crisper, more straightforward corporate messaging.”

*in-person to Gen Z can also be classified as face-to-face over Zoom/video call 

How to lead Gen Z

When it comes to managing Gen Z in the workplace, experts have voiced coaching as the best leadership style for this generation. A ‘leader as coach’ guides another to achieve their goals through conversations that facilitate self-awareness and encourage action. At Circl, we recommend coaching for organisations who want to create an inclusive workplace culture, as it creates an environment that’s led by empathetic and empowering leaders vs ‘command and control’ style leaders. This has a knock-on effect on the entire organisation; senior managers learn how to communicate more effectively, while junior employees feel empowered to achieve their goals and come up with their own solutions. This suits the needs of Generation Z, who value inclusion, authentic relationships, and the opportunity for growth.

Future-proof your business and gain hands-on experience working alongside Gen Z with the Circl programme. Course participants gain leadership experience by learning coaching with young adults from underrepresented backgrounds. Find out how it works here.