By 2030, Generation Z will account for about 30% of the total workforce. Attracting and retaining talent from this generation (born between 1997 and 2013) will be key to any company’s long-term success. But, to be successful, leaders have to separate the myth from the reality when it comes to what Gen Z really wants.
That may start as early as the first job posting they see. According to Adobe’s Future Workforce Study, 85% of upcoming and recent college graduates said they would be less likely to apply for a job if a pay range wasn’t listed. While older leaders may see this as a sign of being overly concerned about compensation, Gen Z says it isn’t so much about the money as it is a reflection of a company’s commitment to transparency and their overall values.
“More than high pay, Gen Z is driven by pay transparency, equity in pay and benefits (for example, parental leave for men and women), work-life balance, and meaningful work,” says business and executive coach Keryn Gold, Ph.D. “They prefer opportunities to engage in work that aligns with their values.”
Gen Z often gets labeled as wanting unreasonably high entry-level salaries, but the reality remains that this generation has faced sky-high inflation and a cost-of-living crisis that informs their expectations. According to Deloitte’s 2023 Gen Z and Millennial Survey, 35% of Gen Z selected cost of living as a top concern, 51% live paycheck to paycheck, and 46% have taken on a second job.
In fact, while leaders may think Gen Z wants excitement, what they actually crave is stability. “We’ve experienced a lot of big world events and changes — from 9/11 [for the oldest of the generation] to Covid — that have created a sense of insecurity for my generation. We try to counter that by finding stability in our personal and professional lives,” says Cedar Roach, a Gen Z communications student and a current intern at Arvo PR.
In her research on Gen Z, Roach found that this generation has more in common with Baby Boomers than any other. “We both grew up in recessions, with both generations being heavily risk-averse and stability-oriented,” she says. “During the pandemic, over half of Gen Z or someone in their immediate household lost their job or took a pay cut, which was significantly higher than previous generations. As a lot of us enter the workforce, we are particularly sensitive to this experience.”
As digital natives, Gen Z is perceived to be part of the resistance to return-to-office policies — but they’re actually much more willing to return than millennials. According to a survey by Joblist, 49% of millennials prefer a fully remote job compared to only 27% of Gen Zers. In addition, 57% of Gen Z workers are actively seeking in-person opportunities.
of Gen Z workers are actively seeking in-person opportunities.
That doesn’t mean Gen Z doesn’t value flexibility. According to Deloitte, 77% of Gen Z that are in remote or hybrid roles would look for a new job if asked to return on-site full time. “Gen Z places a high premium on the freedom to choose where they work. But this is not the same as saying that Gen Z would rather work from home most of the time,” says Monica McCoy, former Coca-Cola executive, and CEO and founder of global consultancy Monica Motivates. “It is not ‘home versus office’ but rather ‘home and office’ — as long as the office culture is one of inclusion and support.”
But leaders must look beyond top-down inclusion initiatives. “Gen Z doesn’t simply value diversity the way previous generations did, but rather we are diverse,” says Roach. “Blanket DEI initiatives and claims are not going to cut it for a generation that is so diverse and also highly values personalization.” As the most socially conscious generation, Gen Z will continue to push its employers to maintain high ESG standards and expects that business leaders play a vocal role in supporting societal change.
Companies can benefit from the ways this generation has grown up alongside world-shaping technologies. “Many of the youngest working people today have a breadth of exposures and globalizing perspectives from their technological nativism. They’ve grown up with technology as a ‘connector,’” explains Martha Bird, Chief Business Anthropologist for ADP. This global perspective has them naturally questioning systems that serve the few over the many, she says, and Gen Z values when these experiences and perspectives are taken seriously.
“Leaders don’t need to seem ‘young’ and ‘hip’ just for the sake of it, but rather should cater to Gen Z in an honest and real way,” says Roach. “We don't need your recruitment team to make a cringey TikTok dance video to attract us, as long as you can work the Zoom during our training and orientation.”
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