by Grant H. Brenner, James R. DellaNeve and Santor Nishizaki
Gen Z–born after 1995–has grown up more egalitarian. They may call their parent’s friends by first name. They don’t automatically respect authority just because; you earn it. They don’t take things for granted, including the good-will of the powers that be–they’ve learned to be wary because of what’s gone before. They value authenticity–but it’s a moving target.
They are more precocious and more work due to changes in family structures and parenting, strong peer relations and tectonic identity politics. They are both more mature earlier (“parentified”) and also more anxious and vulnerable, needing support especially in a harsh work environment. They expect a better world, and may wonder why we’re not there yet.
As the pandemic attenuates, many hesitate to return to conventional in-person roles. Witness “The Great Resignation” or what we call here “The Big Churn”–a mass migration from one work setting to the next. Microsoft’s WorkLab provides compelling data:
- 73 percent of workers want remote work options to stay at their current employer
- Leaders are out of touch: 61 percent are thriving’ compared to 31 percent for those without decision-making authority.
- 60 percent of Gen Z’ers are surviving/struggling and many workers of Generation Z are feeling “less engaged or able to bring new ideas to the table, and getting a word in conference calls/meetings
- Time spent in meetings is up 158 percent for Microsoft Teams users and is continuing to rise.
While writing our book during the pandemic (Nishizaki and DellaNeve), Working with Gen Z: A Handbook to Recruit, Retain, and Reimagine the Future Workforce after COVID-19, we asked what Gen Z’ers want from their employers.
Generation Z started entering corporate America in the past four years. Generation Zers differ from Millennials, reportedly being more pragmatic and less idealistic, hit harder economically during COVID, and only recently old enough to vote–while also sharing values including DEIB (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging), the environment and need to address climate crisis, and optimism about the future.
Generation Z believes that work is not only performed in an office—results are what’s important, as is work-life balance. Nishizaki and DellaNeve’s research found that Gen Z’ers reported post-pandemic they would like:
- To work remotely at least 50 percent of the time
- To consider moving out of state for a 100 percent remote job, for over 70 percent of respondents.
Paradoxically, the study found that due to working remotely during the pandemic, 49 percent reported an increase of anxiety and depression ascribed to remote work, and 69 percent reported feeling lonely at times.
Generation Z prefers face-to-face business meetings (61 percent; virtual was a distant second at 27 percent), incompatible with working remotely. Outside of business meetings, Gen Z also desires face-to-face; only 14 percent preferred to work completely remote. Most wanted a hybrid model.
Also, a rapidly emerging need, highlighted by the pandemic and a steady stream of celebrity advocates and high-profile tragedies, on-site or virtual mental health support would be a likely game-changer. Concerningly, Generation Z is currently the most depressed generation in the workplace (6.1/10, compared to 5.6/10 for Millennials), while younger people face endemic anxiety and insecurity (American Psychological Association, 2018).
Action steps for the Gen Z Workforce
Nishizaki and DellaNeve’s research highlights actionable points to inform the evolving 21st Century work environment. Survey participants from Generation Z reported the following factors as highly appealing:
- Feed me! Gen Z’s top perk is free food. Who doesn’t like free food? Gym membership is a distant second. Many vendors provide healthy snacks, a much-desired perk which is a win-win.
- Align passion with mission. Similar to Millennials, 85 percent of the Gen Z’ers stated that the social impact/mission of their employer is an important factor to working there.
- Target professional development. 97 percent of the Gen Z’ers prefer to have job opportunities outside of what they were originally hired for. Job rotation programs can help keep this generation engaged while teaching them new skills.
- Optimizing in-person expectations. Even though they grew up with smartphones, they still prefer to do in-person training. Breaking the ice for in-person work during onboarding helps to establish a good hybrid balance.
- Entertain me. The majority of Gen Z’ers expect their manager/employer to take responsibility for eliminating boredom in the workplace.
- High touch. Gen Z’ers want their manager to check-in with them at least once per day (17 percent would like multiple times per day). Check-ins should range from 5-30 minutes. High touch is the way to go.
- Mentor me. Gen. Z’ers want their manager to have is to be a mentoring coach, second preference is to be fair, and their third preference is to be their friend.
- Open you mind. It can be a heavy life for those of us set in our ways, but Gen Z really needs this from authority figures in order to thrive.
- Why is your video off? Most respondents said that they are multi-tasking or not camera-ready, explaining so many anxiety-provoking black boxes. Some said that they’re not even at their desk. An alarming 59 percent admitted to getting a side-gig during the pandemic, but said they would drop the side gig if their employer paid better.
A leap of faith?
Investing early-on can save costs later, but taking a leap of faith, however data-driven, to expend resources on staff who seem uncommitted and likely to defect to another job does not appeal to traditional management.
Like dating in today’s fickle environment, the fear of missing out, always looking for the next better thing, makes it hard to form stable relationships. It’s a vicious cycle where holding back from investing produces the mistrust in Gen Zers, leading them to keep one foot out the door, which in turn makes managers wary of investing in the first place1.
Onboarding is a prime example of where investment feels risky on average pays off:
- Average cost per new hire: $4,000
- Average cost to train a new hire: 38 percent of annual salary or $19,000
- “69 percent of employees are more likely to stay with a company for three years if they experienced great onboarding.” Our study found that the ideal onboarding experience should take a few days, with four hours being next in comparison. In addition, 87 percent said that having a best friend at work is important to them.
- Pairing them up with a peer mentor in the beginning could be very helpful to ensure you didn’t just waste $23,000 in recruiting and training costs.
Forging healthy intergenerational partnership
Employers are wise to learn from younger generations, staying current while bringing experience to bear in creating collaborative professional settings so that younger hires can also learn from older generations. Keeping an open mind, and being psychologically astute and sensitive will help traditional managers pivot as the workplace rapidly shifts.
Starting with trust and open communication, creating professional environments which support basic developmental needs in early adulthood, and being flexible and adaptive when interpersonal problems arise, is likely to work out well.