Generation Z is a hot topic among employers today. With its oldest members currently representing 15% of the workforce and the youngest just entering their tweens, the first digital-native generation is set to make big waves in business in the coming decades.
Companies seeking the skills that Gen Z brings to the table are finding that this group of workers is different from previous generations. Roberta Katz, a senior research scholar at Stanford’s Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences and part of a multiyear study of the generation, observed that “a typical Gen Zer is a self-driver who deeply cares about others, strives for a diverse community, is highly collaborative and social, values flexibility, relevance, authenticity, and non-hierarchical leadership, and, while dismayed about inherited issues like climate change, has a pragmatic attitude about the work that has to be done to address those issues.”
Gen Z at Work
Companies want Gen Z, and they may find that attracting these workers requires culture reshaping to accommodate generational characteristics like:
- Attention to self-care. A Gen Z worker is not likely to prioritize work over their own wellness or that of their family. So while they will produce great results on the job, they won’t be found working late nights or weekends or allowing PTO to accumulate.
- Independence. These workers have learned to think for themselves. They rely on their own judgment to make their way in the world. A tendency to question the status quo and an honest, apolitical approach to their work can lead to new ways of working that benefit the company.
- Entrepreneurism. Members of Gen Z generally think like entrepreneurs, and companies that foster this rather than attempt to minimize it can gain high value.
- Emphasis on diversity. Gen Z is the most diverse (and diversity-minded) group of people that has been encountered in society, and they will influence DEI programs across enterprises.
- Collaboration. Gen Zers seek a sense of community. As a result, they value transparency in communication and action, and are likely to ignore generational typecasting in favor of fruitful connections with colleagues and team members.
- Hyper-connectivity. While it’s a joke on multiple TikTok videos, particularly from Millennials, Gen Z is fully immersed in the digital world and will stay there. They expect the places they work to take full advantage of technology in company processes and policies (e.g., sleek onboarding, remote/hybrid work, digital nomadism).
- Global awareness. Possibly related to their hyper-connectivity, Gen Z has grown up fully aware of global societies and issues. This fosters a strong sense of purpose in their lives, and they want to work with companies with a clearly defined (and overtly demonstrated) purpose bigger than the organization.
- Meaningful work. Gen Z is not interested in job titles or linear career paths. They want meaningful work that challenges them. This focus may one day upend traditional professional development tracks. For now, a company with a robust training program and flexibility in resource management may attract Gen Z workers.
Taking Steps Toward a Reshaped Culture
It’s likely that all companies need to make cultural shifts to a greater or less degree in order to be Gen-Z-friendly. While some shifts have a long time horizon, some steps can be taken today to move in the right direction. For example:
- Implement digitally enabled processes and policies. Consider where digital tools can improve and empower the worker experience. Create an implementation plan to embed these in the workplace.
- Work with managers to support worker wellness. Reward manager behavior that enables self-care and discourage behavior that puts work as the first priority in workers’ lives.
- Find ways to put flexibility into the way work is done. Encourage line managers to shake up how teams are formed and career paths are defined.
- Create a two-way mentorship program. Older and younger workers have a lot to learn from each other. In a two-way mentorship, the more experienced worker can help the newer worker navigate the company and the job, while the newer worker can give the experienced worker new perspectives on how things can be done.
Using insights into the newest generation in the workforce can help reshape company culture. Continuing to pay attention to Gen Z as more members seek employment over time will also allow a company to continue evolving, positioning it to win in the future of work.