Gen Z in the workplace: How businesses can prepare for recruiting a new generation

Published March 19, 2021

Generation Z will soon pass all previous generations in terms of size. True digital natives, Gen Z is fiercely values-driven and comes with a whole new range of career expectations. This makes Gen Z in the workplace an interesting challenge—and opportunity—for businesses.

The exact age range for Gen Z is contested, but the common consensus is that it's made up of people born from around 1996 to 2012. Estimated to make up 40 percent of global workers and consumers as of last year, Gen Z is a real uncertainty for recruiters, with “twenty-eight percent of millennial managers [looking] to Gen Z with concern, doubting their ability to recruit, retain, and train them.”

Gen Z has a vastly different worldview than their predecessors—including how they view career success. Businesses don’t need to be afraid, but they do need to make some changes if they hope to attract and retain the best of the best of the upcoming generation. Here’s how to stay prepared.

Promote a culture of merit-based growth


Gen Z workers want to be recognized for their strengths and compensated in turn, so businesses that keep them motivated through rewards based on merit are most likely to retain them.

“Retaining and motivating Gen Z workers comes down to empowering them as they gain more experience.”

Only 22 percent of Gen Z in the workplace expect to stay at their current job for at least two years, so building loyalty and retention with them is pivotal. What’s the best way to keep them interested? Cold hard remuneration. Seventy percent of Gen Z workers think high salaries are a priority, and they're willing to work harder to achieve their financial goals. A survey by Monster suggests that 58 percent of Generation Z is “open to working nights and weekends for a better salary, compared to 41 percent across all working generations.”

As Gen Z gains more specific job-related skills, this generation won’t let modesty prevent them from expecting rewards. According to an article by Gordon Food Services (GFS), “Retaining and motivating Gen Z workers comes down to empowering them as they gain more experience,” so providing clear rewards structures will help businesses attract and retain Gen Z in the workplace. They’re confident, hardworking and motivated by career growth.

Businesses can address this by getting creative with how they reward their youngest workers; in addition to competitive salaries, smaller prepaid incentives can have a similar motivating effect on Gen Z in the workplace. For example, 70 percent of young workers said they “would stay on the job another year if they receive three $50 prepaid rewards over a one-year period.” These prepaid incentives could be gift cards, for example. Sometimes it’s easier to motivate workers than you might think.

Related: Generation Z spending habits are different than any other generation. What does that mean for business?

Showcase digital-first efforts (and how they can contribute)


Gen Z is the first digitally native generation, so they have a unique set of skills to offer. Digital-first businesses and those undergoing digital transformation have a lot to gain from how intuitively Gen Zers pick up on digital trends and technology.

Sure, millennials are skillful with new technologies, too, but Gen Z has even been referred to as “iGen,” in reference to how significantly smartphones and the internet have defined this generation's experiences. Their ability to understand new technology raises the bar for what they’re able to contribute without training—tying back into merit-based growth.

According to research conducted by Concordia University in Minnesota, because Gen Z is “adept at quickly picking up new technology and instantly accessing information, [businesses] can expect Gen Z workers to learn and start contributing sooner rather than later.”

Businesses should demonstrate their digital strengths and innovative mindsets to attract young workers. Creating a digital-first work environment and making digital a central role in the direction and activity of the company will give Gen Zers a chance to shine and will add a greater sense of purpose to their work.

Offer customizable career paths


Gen Z has an unprecedented view of career success, with many valuing flexibility over being tied down long term. Businesses can accommodate this by empowering them to choose a direction that’s suitable to their skills and interests. 

First, Gen Z wants to take the reins on where their careers take them— with 76 percent feeling “responsible for driving their own career.” This means they don’t want to follow the conventional entry-level to middle management promotional path. They want the chance to explore and have a stake in where they’ll end up. Because of their unique skills and disposition, Deloitte predicts that “Gen Z will have the ability to demand greater personalization in how they move along their career journey.”

Second, they don’t want to be stuck doing the same tasks day in and day out. If businesses want to see Gen Z flourish in the workspace, give them exposure to different tasks and roles and assign them to where their strengths are. Also, try “internal skill marketplaces,” where projects are matched with workers who possess specific needed abilities rather than standardized team selection.

Finally, more than half of Gen Z in the workplace want to write their own job description rather than receive a standard one. This is the final point, because the job description they write would come as a result of the dynamic tasks they’ve experienced and favored. This could involve a lot of crossover between roles but ensures that the employee enjoys—and is engaged in—all the handpicked tasks their job requires.

Build an inclusive and sustainable culture


Gen Z is values-driven. What this means is that they want their work to give them a sense of purpose beyond their paycheck. Businesses that are socially and environmentally conscious will align with Gen Z and be more likely to foster meaningfulness in young employees. 

Diversity is key for Gen Z in the workplace. According to research by Deloitte, “To attract Gen Z, employers must be ready to adopt a speed of evolution that matches the external environment. That means developing robust training and leadership programs, with a real and tangible focus on diversity.” In layman's terms, as generational values shift, businesses need to adopt those same values in a meaningful way. What's more, “77% [of Gen Zers] say that a company's level of diversity affects their decision to work there,” so businesses need to make it a priority.

Gen Z also pays attention to sustainable business practices and wants to work for brands that are environmentally friendly. Ninety-three percent of Gen Z thinks that businesses are responsible for being proactive in reversing environmental damage, and they want to see the results. As Isabel LoDuca, co-founder and COO at Voyagers, writes for GreenBiz, “From developing company-wide environmental policies to making smart climate-related investments, Gen Z wants to see actionable plans and measurable progress.”

Making company values crystal clear and demonstrating that efforts are being made to back them up are the best ways for businesses to resonate with potential Gen Z employees and keep them for the long run.

Happy Gen Z workers give businesses an edge in the future


The same old benefits packages just won’t cut it anymore. Gen Z still wants to make a comfortable salary, but they also want more ownership over the direction their careers take while seeing their social and environmental values mirrored by the companies they work for.

Take Gen Z-led startup Equalture, for example. Co-founded by 24-year-old Dutch entrepreneur Charlotte Melkert, the software company defines the values of the generation by enabling businesses to recruit top-quality prospects in a completely unbiased way.

Gen Z possesses the greatest affinity to technology of any generation so far, making them ideal for businesses looking to drive innovation and seize their piece of a digital-first future. Do they have high expectations? Sure. But Gen Z has the motivation and ability to take businesses into a more sustainable and innovative future.

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