As organizations confront growing labor shortages, the retirement of baby boomers and the demand for new skills, attracting and retaining Generation Z (Gen Z) – the fastest-growing generation in the workforce – will be critical for success.
Gen Z comprises 11.6% of the current U.S. workforce and 37% of the global workforce, surpassing millennials and Gen X. As their numbers continue to grow, organizations must learn, adapt and reinvent their workforce strategies to attract this newest generation of employees.
Who is Gen Z?
Born between 1997 and 2012, Gen Z is the first digital generation and the first global generation, and is on track to be the most diverse and educated generation in the workforce. Entrepreneurial and adaptable, creative and pragmatic, collaborative and self-reliant, these digital natives are driven by values that include relevance, transparency and authenticity.
Gen Z’s experiences growing up during the pandemic and witnessing rising social injustice and global economic hardship have led them to develop a strong sense of ethics and a deep need to work on important social issues.
And they are ready to jump: A recent LinkedIn survey found that close to 72% of Gen Z workers are considering a career change in the next 12 months.
Attracting Gen Z requires more than money
Organizations that want to increase their pool of Gen Z employees will need to think beyond the typical motivators of salary and benefits. Like other generations, Gen Z appreciates a healthy working environment, positive corporate culture and purpose-led company missions. But this generation of workers has unique needs and motivators, including:
- An expectation to work with consumer-grade technology: Gen Z, also known as the gamer generation, has high expectations for a strong digital work experience. They expect workplace technology that is seamless and user-friendly, integrates well with their workflows, and presents no significant barriers, allowing them to do their job efficiently and effectively. Gen Zers are innately intuitive in their ability to pick up new technologies, but this comes with higher expectations for consumer-grade technology, preferably provided during onboarding.
- A flexible or hybrid work environment: Growing up digital means Gen Z had access to people and opportunities around the world through social media and virtual schooling during the pandemic. As such, they feel work can be accomplished from anywhere. But while nearly half of Gen Z workers work remotely at least some of the time, many crave in-person opportunities where they can experience direct interactions with customers, connect with mentors, engage in water-cooler conversations and build relationships with their coworkers.
- Mental health and well-being: Above other generations, Gen Zers have unprecedented levels of stress. Ninety-one percent of them have experienced at least one stress-related symptom, and 42% seek employers who champion mental, emotional and physical well-being. This is a key motivator for Gen Z, as burnout and lack of work-life balance is a primary reason for them to leave their jobs.
- Positive culture and better alignment with their values: A large majority of Gen Zers (80%) want to work for organizations that share their personal values of making the world a better place. They look to their employers to meaningfully address diversity and inclusion, equal pay, environmentalism, work-life balance and protection from sexual harassment at work. Organizations should approach diversity and inclusion efforts with a focus on accountability, system change and measurement of results.
- Cognitive diversity: Gen Z strongly values diversity, equity and inclusion, and sees it as more than just race, religion, age, gender and physical ability. Gen Zers seek a workplace that has a wide range and acceptance of different points of view. This cognitive diversity contributes to greater innovation, creativity and problem solving.
- Financial transparency, accountability and support: While Gen Zers expect fair compensation for their work like any other generation, they also expect greater transparency and authenticity from their employers, with insight into how decisions are made around pay and promotions. In addition to salary, they are motivated by benefits that contribute to their financial security, including tuition reimbursement, 401(k) matching and student loan repayment.
- Performance feedback, coaching and mentoring: Gen Z workers seek strong coaching and mentoring and are motivated more by their own success than their team’s. They want to build relationships with their colleagues but be recognized sufficiently for their own contributions to the team’s success, as well as for the effort and knowledge they bring to projects. Gen Zers are accustomed to receiving almost instant feedback in the form of comments or likes on social media. On the job, they prefer feedback to be timely (as close to the event as possible), direct, shorter in duration and more frequent. Sixty percent of Gen Zers prefer multiple feedback opportunities with their manager each week, and 40% prefer daily feedback.
- Learning and skill development: More than any other generation, Gen Zers see learning as key to a successful career. This worker group is more interested in learning hard skills than prior generations, and seeks both online learning (86%) and the opportunity to learn and practice new skills on the job. Conversely, while Gen Z workers are well-versed in technology, they are often not fluent in soft skills such as in-person communication and interpersonal dynamics. Companies will need to adjust how they train these younger workers so they can develop these critical skills.
Clearly, Gen Z workers want to feel engaged, connected and in sync with their employers and colleagues. From the hiring and onboarding experience to their rise through the ranks toward leadership, this generation wants to be heard. Flexibility, mobility, meaningful work and entrepreneurial freedom are the keys to their work satisfaction. Leaders who want to hire and retain members of this generation successfully will need adaptable leadership, policies and programs and an inclusive workplace with experiences tailored to generational preferences.
A one-size-fits-all model of talent management no longer exists. Organizations simultaneously are facing five generations of very different workers, each with their own needs and motivators. And while managing them all effectively will require innovative human capital practices, it also will bring unique value by incorporating a diverse set of experiences, perspectives and ideas that can benefit every generation and enhance collaboration and innovation across the organization.