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  1. Blog
  2. Career Development
  3. July 3, 2023

Gen Z in the Workplace: 5 Essential Things to Know About This Rising Generation

What they care about and how they will change our workforce

Gen Z employee
Photo courtesy of Wesley Tingey

Generation Z is changing the game in the workplace landscape—and in the words of millennial icon Lizzo, “It’s about damn time.” Gen Zers are bringing forth a refreshing perspective on work-life integration and ultimately inspiring changes that benefit everyone.

As the most racially and ethnically diverse generation in United States history, Gen Z individuals (born between 1997 and 2012) are generally more driven and influenced by mission-driven work, often prioritizing and committing to true advocacy for diversity, equity, inclusion, and sustainability.

In 2023, Gen Z makes up more than a quarter of the workforce—and as digital natives who entered the job market during and post a global pandemic, they’re not only redefining how we work but also what will become the new standard for workplace expectations from companies and leaders. 

This generation is pushing back against outdated all-consuming work practices, building upon the millennial-led movement to reclaim time and embrace flexibility. Gen Zers of today’s workforce are also more apt to view their careers as part of a holistic, fulfilling life experience rather than just a means to an end, and as such, they approach job seeking with growth in mind. In fact, Monster’s 2023 State of the Graduate report found that 54 percent of new grads would turn down a job at a company that doesn’t offer career growth opportunities—up 33% from 2022.

As the tides continue to shift for millennials and Gen Z ascend to leadership positions, we can expect to see continued development of workplace policies that address the most salient concerns and priorities of the up-and-coming leaders including true work-life balance, flexible working styles and schedules, remote work, and broader impacts through service initiatives. Focuses will also continue to shift toward raising the bar for physical and mental health care, social awareness, and accommodations for physical, emotional, or learning disabilities.

Fortunately, the organizational evolution needed to attract, retain, and satisfy the expectations of Gen Z will lead to creating a better workplace for all. 

But first, to achieve a supportive and growth-focused environment, you’ll need to understand five essential things about the Gen Z mindset:

5 essential things to know about Gen Z in the workplace

1. They’re striving to find footing in a changed workplace landscape

Forty-six percent of Gen Z believe the pandemic has taken a significant toll on achieving their education and career goals, and recent studies have found that this generation feels unprepared to perform soft skills like negotiation, networking, and conflict resolution.

Tammy Dowley-Blackman, CEO of Tammy Dowley-Blackman Group, LLC, has made it her mission to cultivate productive, multigenerational leaders with a special focus on empowering and educating Gen Z. She underscores the undeniable fact that Gen Z talent comes to the workforce with unparalleled technological advancement rooted in a culture of doing and collaborative learning. Yet, many younger employees find themselves struggling to find their footing in corporate spaces after missing out on benchmark opportunities to prepare for the workforce. The unique challenge Gen Z faces, she expounds, has been caused by the unprecedented impact of COVID-19 on the workplace landscape.

“COVID has been the critical difference for all of us in the workplace,” Dowley-Blackman says. “We were used to being in place and space in some way. And I think people forget that so much of what we learned in those early years of being in the workforce, and being new in the workplace, is really by observing, by looking, by asking questions.” 

She explains that while this generation does not lack impressive qualifications, they’re entering the workforce with a unique disadvantage. Through no fault of their own, Gen Z has not had the same experiences as generations before them when it comes to internships and programs that help develop interpersonal skills believed to be traditional workplace practices. And though many organizations are now shifting back to in-person and hybrid models of working, some are opting for fully remote work.

In light of this, it’s to the advantage of leaders to invest time and resources into fostering a collaborative learning environment that benefits all generations in the workplace—in turn enhancing productivity and creativity of Gen Z. This could be creating an organizational practice of assigning an onboarding mentor, maintaining standing weekly check-ins, and creating opportunities for in-person workshops and team building.

2. They need to understand the value of their contributions 

McKinsey research shows that Gen Z is a purpose-driven generation characterized by their desire to understand how individual contributions impact team dynamics and the organization’s broader mission.

Darriel Sanders, senior account executive within Edelman’s Brand Purpose practice, serves as a Southeast Ambassador on Edelman’s Gen Z Lab, where she counsels clients on developing campaigns that authentically connect with Gen Z. As a Gen Zer herself, she understands and acknowledges the struggle of searching for purpose and impact.

“We really want to feel fulfilled through our work,” she says, “and it can be tough when we don’t see the bigger picture or only play a small part in a larger process.” That’s why her work with Gen Z Lab has become such a vital part of her professional development and career growth—it provides her with a rare opportunity to engage in client work that she typically wouldn’t be considered senior enough to contribute to, and gives her the chance to share generational knowledge with C-Suite executives. 

Dowley-Blackman advises companies to encourage managers to move beyond traditional conversations, responsibilities, and opportunities that have typically been associated with advanced-level positions, particularly in light of hybrid and remote work practices.

“Think about executive coaching, for example. Move those things to those who are just entering the workforce.” Dowley-Blackman believes that finding a middle ground that allows Gen Z employees to tap into resources sooner will ultimately have immense payoff for companies and future leaders. And, when possible, leaders should aim to give Gen Z a seat at the table to be a part of larger organizational conversations.

She cites an example of working with a large partner organization hiring a new CEO and, in that process, they made it a point to not just include the purview of the national board of directors, but to also provide access to relatively new team members—even those new to the workforce. That practice of including younger employees in such important conversations sent a clear message that created a sense of belonging, ownership, care, and commitment across the organization.

“That’s what good leadership looks like. It’s not just how you do the work—or inviting others to do their work,” Dowley-Blackman says. “It’s about how you invite others to be a part of your organization, your community, your corporation, and asking them to participate in a different way.”

3. They will challenge your organization to stand for something greater than its bottom line

According to Edelman’s Gen Z Research, 70 percent of all Gen Zers globally are involved in some type of social or political causes, and they evaluate a brand’s commitment to serving and giving back to those in need before even considering whether to work there.

“Our generation is known for our relentless pursuit of impact and change, both in and out of the workplace,” Sanders says. “We’re passionate about social and political causes and are always looking for ways to make a difference.”

She explains that this generation approaches work-life separation much differently than previous age groups by bringing their “whole selves to work and striving to create an inclusive environment that challenges traditional societal expectations.” This aptitude for uniting over global and social issues is what Sanders believes to be one of Gen Z’s greatest strengths. “We hold our employers accountable and push them to address social problems.”

Top Gen Z social issues include climate change, mental health, and economic concerns. Dowley-Blackman also notes that Gen Z is the most appreciative of diversity, equity, inclusion, accessibility, and belonging. “They bring something to the workplace that we’ve not had prior. That doesn’t mean prior generations of which I’m a part of didn’t bring amazing qualities, expertise, care, and passion. But there’s a confluence of things here that makes this generation incredibly special.” She encourages leaders to give them opportunities to be as participatory as possible, leaning into the knowledge and expertise they have around broader issues. 

What that support could look like is providing transparent communication around supported issues, empowering employees to share causes they care about, encouraging company-wide service days, and allowing younger employees to serve on—and lead—task forces dedicated to organizational or community enrichment.

4. Work-life harmony is a requirement

Retention across generations is a key concern for leaders of today in light of recent trends revealing that 70 percent of all working people are looking for new jobs in 2023 to accommodate more flexible working arrangements and higher salaries. Yet, somehow, the reputation of being a flight risk has been bestowed most harshly on Gen Z.

The fact of the matter is, staying at jobs for decades is no longer the workplace norm. Dowley-Blackman asserts that the idea of a great recession isn’t limited to Gen Z, and that following the pandemic, individuals across generations are more frequently asking themselves questions like, ‘how can I work differently?’, ‘how can I be more present for my family’, and ‘how can I begin to create some sort of balance.’

“This is where Gen Z is different and far more equipped and savvy than prior generations. They have an understanding that if they don’t seek work-life balance, this world we live in is that much more intense.” She cautions leaders against thinking that Gen Z is weaker, less competent, less interested, or lacking in humility as a result of demanding improved work-life integration. They simply want to find a better way of showing up and being present in many different facets of life.

“I have conversations often with my peers about how we maintain a social life outside of work while still excelling in the ‘office’ (virtual and in-person),” Sanders says, “When there is data that shows 98 percent of Gen Z workers are experiencing work burnout symptoms, it paints a very real problem.” She notes that Gen Z is conscious about successfully juggling many things like having a successful career while maintaining personal relationships, traveling, and enjoying life to the fullest.

In order for managers to address those concerns and promote a healthier work-life balance, Sanders encourages them to start having open conversations about boundaries with new employees, empowering them to communicate these boundaries within their teams. “We are a generation that values transparency, so managers should keep this in mind when having these conversations. It’s not about saying the perfect thing or having a perfect solution to our problem, but being willing to work with us to find a path to a sustainable solution.”

Things like protecting PTO time, honoring space for health appointments, and encouraging mental health days can go a long way when establishing a culture that puts Gen Z at ease about their wellbeing. “It’s better to be proactive with providing a system that supports work-life balance than troubleshoot once they are already experiencing burnout,” Sanders says. 

Read more: Your Guide to Setting Boundaries in the Workplace

5. Authentic connection with leadership drives success

One of the most important ways that leaders can support Gen Z workers is through offering opportunities for leadership development, mentorship, and genuine conversation with leaders in the organization.

“Mentorship can be such an impactful relationship for Gen Z when done right, and everyone should approach it in such an intentional manner. If you’re mentoring a Gen Z employee, make an effort to make an authentic connection with them,” says Sanders, while noting that this generation of workers appreciates mentors who are open, honest, and willing to bond over shared experience. To that point, new research from Deloitte finds that Gen Zers highly value empathy from leaders and ‘consider it a prerequisite to engagement at work.’

Sanders also points out that advocacy will be key for engaging and retaining Gen Z employees, as well as creating safe space that allows them to openly communicate and share grievances. “If a manager is able to provide support in cultivating a workplace community for their Gen Z employee, it will go a long way in retaining talent and providing a space for them to meaningfully engage and contribute to the overall workplace,” she says.

Dowley-Blackman suggests that leaders offer to help Gen Z create a work plan, encouraging them to talk openly and freely about their career trajectory—reiterating the importance of bringing in executive coaching earlier on as a form of advocating for leadership development and growth. “It allows people to start thinking about understanding the value they bring to the workplace and how they can continue to improve their work.”

Speaking passionately about the importance of supporting and empowering Gen Z, Dowley-Blackman urges that it “behooves us all to want to be supportive of Gen Z”—and give them an opportunity to be as fully engaged as possible.

“We’ve got a particularly special opportunity here given the assets that Gen Z brings,” she says. “It’s up to us to help them be able to find the best place to put their talents.”

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