Generation Z in the workforce

Generation Z is bringing new attitudes and experiences to the multigenerational workforce
by Sophie Mackenzie


Generation Z refers to those born between 1996 and 2012, many of whom are now in the workforce or just embarking on their careers, a significant portion of which has been dominated by the pandemic. While their outlook will of course be “vastly different”, writes Dr Colleen Batchelder in an article for Entrepreneur Europe, “managing Generation Z isn’t complex”.

A US-based survey of 1,001 American Gen Zers carried out by the recruitment firm Adecco identifies three key differences between millennials and Generation Z:

  • members of Gen Z are more concerned about the cost of education (21% of respondents), compared to millennials (13% of respondents)
  • millennials value stability (34%), while Gen Z puts more of an emphasis on finding their dream job (32%)
  • more Gen Zers follow their parents’ influence (42%) compared to their millennial counterparts (36%)

According to Batchelder, “This generation speaks their minds and has strong opinions,” meaning that managers “need to carve out space for them to talk” and be listened to. Allow them to “offer their perspectives and make your product better”, she writes. A key point Batchelder highlights is the necessity for flexibility, “giving them the freedom to create their work-life balance. If they want to work three 12-hour shifts over the weekend, let them.”

A different world

In light of their experience growing up during and after the Great Recession, “you might think Gen Z has emerged as a pragmatic, risk-averse, non-entrepreneurial group”, says a 2019 Deloitte report. But “companies and organisations would be wise not to fall for the myths and stereotypes”, it notes, pointing out that Deloitte research reveals a more nuanced picture of a cohort which, while placing a high emphasis on money and salary, also values work-life balance, flexibility, social activism and ethics.

“Companies must demonstrate their commitment to a broader set of societal challenges, such as sustainability, climate change and hunger,” it says, adding that “Gen Z prioritises diversity – across race, gender, and orientation – more than any other generation”.

“Gen Zers are far more vocal with their likes and dislikes and far less willing to compromise on their needs. They are a generation which believes in being heard,” says Sonali Chatterjee, head of people performance and culture at Anviti Insurance Brokers, quoted in an Economic Times article. She says that, in India at least, many millennials were the “first members of the family to enter the corporate world”, giving them a sense of loyalty to their employer that may be lacking in their younger colleagues.

So, what does this mean for bewildered millennial managers?

Managing and nurturing

“For the rest of their lives, the time the world stopped will be seared in Gen Z’s collective memory,” writes Lauren Stiller Rikleen in an article for the Harvard Business Review, referring to the impact of the pandemic on younger workers. She points to research into Gen Zers’ experience of entering the workplace after college, which saw them describe themselves as “disoriented, confused, dissatisfied and in many cases overwhelmed” by the transition. “Grades have been converted to pass/fail, tests have been abandoned, and deadlines extended. These options may be right for the moment, but likely will have costs,” writes Rikleen.

So, how can managers support these diverse, open-minded, tech-savvy, financially astute younger members of their team, many of whom will be struggling with increased stress and anxiety as a result of the turbulent state of the world?

“Employers should consider thoughtfully designed programs to ease Gen Z’s transition by, for example, rethinking orientation programs, early assignments, and mentoring focusing on the development of expertise,” recommends Rikleen. She emphasises the importance of reverse mentoring, stress management and emotionally intelligent leadership.

When it comes to recruitment, says the Deloitte report, “employers must be ready to adopt a speed of evolution that matches the external environment. That means developing robust training and leadership development, with a real and tangible focus on diversity.” The authors advocate partnering at university level to establish talent pipelines, introducing internal apprenticeship programmes, recruiting talented people before matching them with a role in the organisation, and – again – mentoring, warning that “Companies need to think – and prepare – differently to win in the talent market.”

By attracting and engaging with Generation Z, they say, employers will ensure a pipeline of future talent – and the results will be worthwhile. “Having been tested at a very young age, they will bring a special blend of resiliency and humanity to the workplace,” concludes Rikleen.

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Published: 09 Dec 2021
  • Training, Competence and Culture
  • Soft Skills
  • Covid-19
  • mentoring
  • millennials

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