With the presence of Gen Z in the workplace growing at speed, it’s clear we’re at the start of the Gen Z era. Also known as “Generation Z”, “Gen Zers”, and “Zoomers”; they will, in fact, overtake the number of Baby Boomers later this year.
What’s more, by 2030, 30 percent of the world’s workforce will be Gen Zers. For businesses to thrive, HR leaders need to find ways to keep this new cohort engaged.
Concerningly, they’re the most disengaged (54 percent) generation we’ve ever seen. The key will be to meet their expectations. But who really is Gen Z? What does this generation want?
In the first quarter of 2023, we surveyed 3,691 tech professionals aged 20-30 across the United States, Australia, and Europe. The results, published in the Young Generation in Tech report, highlighted their unique personal and professional characteristics, needs, and aspirations. More than any other generation, we found that Gen Z demands work that mixes career growth with personal wellbeing and a genuine sense of community.
For employers who don’t meet these expectations, a stark warning: Gen Zers have no qualms about leaving. 34 percent expect to move within the next two years, and Deloitte found roughly a third would walk without lining up another job.
However, employers who do invest in these areas can expect big dividends throughout the employee lifecycle, including benefits such as lower employee turnover, higher retention, a happier workforce, and faster, more cost-effective recruitment. Plus, these returns will only increase as more and more Zoomers join the working world.
So who is Gen Z, anyway?
There are competing opinions on when Generation Z starts and ends. But most would say a Zoomer is someone born between 1995 and 2012.
Growing up with the internet means social media is second nature for them. In terms of personality, they also tend to be open-minded and accepting, and they don’t merely keep track of current events—they’re politically active.
In the workplace, as the Young Generation in Tech report showed, there are some clear differences that set Gen Z workers apart from previous generations. Broadly speaking, they:
- Bring a passion for diversity
- Demand a personalized employee experience
- Are good at multitasking
- Enjoy individual tasks more than working in teams
- Prefer companies with good ethics, impact, and practices
- Want financial stability
- Look for independent learning opportunities
- Expect competitive salaries (though it’s not a top driver)
What Generation Z’s characteristics mean for employers
With the Gen Z workforce now firmly on their career ladders, employers need to know their strengths and weaknesses to harness their talents. If you understand the how and why of working with Gen Z, you can create a business environment that keeps them engaged. That means creating a place for Gen Z at work that:
- Offers the financial security they need
- Rewards their confident professional abilities
- Maximizes their competitiveness and drive to succeed
- Enhances their creativity and entrepreneurialism
- Nurtures their ambition to progress
- Provides the fast and constant feedback they crave
- Supports their preference for face-to-face communication
What Gen Z values most in the workplace
All generations want career growth, so it comes as no suprise that this is also a top-three priority for Gen Z. However, they differ from their older peers in other areas. Gen Z puts more focus on personal wellbeing and needs to know their employer will, too. They also see the workspace as a place for community, so it’s vital your culture emphasizes both professional and social bonds. Let’s dive a little deeper into each of these areas of focus.
Value 1: Gen Z wants career growth opportunities
27 percent of Gen Zers say they don’t have a clear career path. As this is the most common single negative issue for them in the workplace, employers must champion a transparent work model where everyone has well-signposted routes to progression.
Growth isn’t just about career progression, though. It also comes down to your learning and development strategy. Investing more in L&D won’t just make your Gen Z employees happy, either. . In fact, research shows that 61 percent of professionals see it as one of the most powerful reasons to stay in their current position.
So, investing in traditional training courses can benefit professionals of any age. Especially when that professional development helps employees to harness technological advances, shifting modes of work, and evolving industries to maximize their talents.
However, there’s no substitute for experience–or sharing experiences. Because Gen Z values face-to-face communication and community, it is vital to invest time and effort into mentoring programs.
A caveat: almost half (47 percent) of dissatisfied Gen Zers in the Young Generation in Tech report had taken part in informal mentoring. So structure is key. Match the level and form of mentoring to individuals’ needs and, once established, your program can become a real point of difference in both attraction and retention.
Value 2: Gen Z want you to care about personal wellbeing
Gen Zers look for employers who share their insistence on finding the right work-life balance—the relationship between employees’ personal and working lives.
Too often, people put too much energy into work and can burn out. Gen Z wants to know they are free to carve out time for meaningful and enjoyable activities away from their role.
In response, you can develop a policy on when employees can be contacted after hours. Also, make it easy to book time off and encourage senior figures to be role models by genuinely disconnecting from work while on leave.
Beyond this, there are other elements of wellbeing to consider. For example, is your business a net positive for society? Because 42 percent of Gen Z were attracted to their current role because of their employer’s impact and mission.
The culture you foster is vital, too. Gen Z is twice as likely to be happy working for employers who promote collaboration, fairness, and kindness.
Then, there is your work on inclusivity. 9 percent of unhappy Gen Z employees work for employers without DEI&B initiatives, compared to 4.5 percent of satisfied Gen Z employees. Remember, it is not just about embedding effective DEI&B measures—promote their successes, too.
Value 3: Gen Z is all about building relationships
Community is everything for Zoomers. They prefer to communicate face-to-face. Not just to ‘network’, but to build genuine connections with their colleagues. They also want to work in teams where they really feel they belong. This is backed up by the findings in the Young Generation in Tech Report 2023:
- 41 percent feel more engaged and motivated at the office, compared to 29 percent at home
- 37 percent felt there weren’t enough opportunities to build relationships, didn’t spend enough time in the office, or both
- After their role, they most value their company culture (29 percent) and immediate team (28 percent)
These insights don’t mean you should insist everyone returns to the office five days a week. However, they do mean you should be thinking about a kind of “social contract” to run in tandem with employees’ professional contracts. This might be one in which you support hybrid working, and provide platforms for face-to-face time, opportunities for networking, and environments, events, and initiatives that foster closer relationships between colleagues.
A useful concept that feeds into this is ‘employee happiness’—the relative positive attitude and outlook your people have towards their work. It covers a variety of areas, from recognition and reward to professional development. But a core pillar looks at employees’ relationships: their connections to co-workers and managers. For a healthy, high-performing organization—especially your group of Gen Zers—it is vital to both measure and improve your employees’ happiness.
Other ways to prioritize the work-life balance for Gen Z
A good work-life balance allows Gen Z to enjoy wholesome, stable, and meaningful professional and private lives. If they’re working too hard or—because they’re driven by their careers—not enough, they will lose motivation. Plus, after growing up alongside the rise in flexible working, it’s no surprise Gen Z understands the benefits of hybrid.
Where previous generations have put great stock in presenteeism, Gen Z expects a healthy balance of hybrid working. It is vital that you make it easy for them to be productive on-site and remotely, building practices around their situation and needs.
In turn, they appreciate employers that understand how to operate hybrid environments. Environments with structures that allow leaders to manage teams by setting targets and deliverables, rather than assessing the time spent on tasks.
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Gen Z vs Millennial: the generational differences
From a distance, some might think Gen Zers are similar to Millennials. However, there are some big differences.
Millennials are motivated by purpose more than salary; whereas Gen Zers place greater emphasis on their day-to-day roles and financial security. Zoomers are also exceedingly confident in their professional abilities and driven to succeed. In contrast, Millennials are energized by the idea of fulfillment in the workplace.
It’s also clear that Gen Z prioritizes career progression. While the work-life balance is important, they are happier to work hard so long as that work delivers in terms of advancement. Millennials, while also hard workers, are more likely to insist that their workloads fit around their own personal responsibilities.
Gen Z trends that drive HR engagement strategy
The Gen Z conundrum is not a distant worry. HR leaders around the world are putting them at the top of the agenda for good reason: in just six years, they’ll account for almost a third of the workforce.
But while meeting their needs is an urgent task, it takes careful consideration. This is a generation with a unique set of drivers.
However, the research has been done. There is now a deep understanding of what’s required. Aspiration, wellness, community. Taken together, they present businesses with a once-in-a-generation opportunity. A chance to put structures in place that allow everyone to succeed, live life to the fullest in and out of the office, and build relationships that elevate the day-to-day working experience.
It’s all too easy to focus on the obvious benefits of attraction and retention. There is more to this. Businesses that help Gen Zers succeed will see an upturn in their business performance. An upturn that will accelerate in step with Gen Z’s growing role in the modern workforce.
From Shelby Blitz
Shelby is the Director of Content at HiBob. She's passionate about the written word and storytelling. In a past life, she was a music journalist. When she's not writing and editing you can find her baking sweet treats in the kitchen.