New research uncovers some surprising preferences of Generation Z workers.
By Chas Fields
Generation Z workers may not be so different from the rest of us after all.
A 2019 study from The Workforce Institute at Kronos, How to Be an Employer of Choice for Gen Z, uncovered the familiar—and at times contradictory—motivations and anxieties of Gen Z, the youngest entrants to the workforce. Regardless of education, location, or vocation, it’s clear that Gen Z workers are seeking the same things as the generations that came before: stability and recognition. However, there is one big caveat: Their hopefulness for success in the workforce is met with equally prominent anxiety.
Across the globe, more than half (56 percent) of Gen Z workers are hopeful about the future. However, this optimism is met with climbing anxiety about work expectations and achieving success. These feelings seem to stem from emotional barriers that stand between them and the workplace; Gen Z employees worldwide feel that their anxiety (34 percent), lack of motivation (20 percent), and low self-esteem (17 percent) are holding them back from achieving success in the workforce.
“Despite being called lazy by older generations, Gen Z workers are eager to get started in their careers and to work hard to move up the ladder,” says Dan Schawbel, managing partner of Workplace Intelligence and leader of the 2019 Kronos study. “It’s no secret that Gen Z workers suffer from anxiety. In turn, they’re looking for trusting, compassionate leaders who express care for them as humans, not just as employees. Organizations need to focus on their human needs before they can address their workplace needs.”
In order to alleviate this anxiety and set Gen Z up for success in the workplace, organizations must understand and align corporate culture with three expectations of young workers:
1. Despite being digital natives, face-to-face interaction reigns supreme. When given a list of names that best personify their generation, the majority of Gen Z selected the “digital generation.” However, despite this moniker, Gen Z employees by and large prefer to work (44 percent) and communicate (39 percent) with their manager and team in person.
Embracing in-person conversations could have lasting impacts on long-term engagement; Gen Z workers are most encouraged to do their best work when they feel their ideas, projects, and contributions are valued by the organization and its mission. Specifically, young workers are eager for leadership to listen to their ideas and show they value their opinions (44 percent)—and doing this effectively is usually much easier in person.
2. Money still talks and it’s louder than company culture. More than half of Gen Z workers worldwide (54 percent) report that pay is the most important consideration when applying for their first full-time job—and that’s even higher in the U.S. at 59 percent. This means salary is more critical to young workers than working for a company that does meaningful work (32 percent) and offers great employee benefits (30 percent). Money continues to remain important as the primary way that Gen Z workers measure their success at a company (44 percent) and their preferred method of recognition for a job well done (43 percent).
Raised in the thick of the global 2008 financial crisis and often facing surmounting student loan debt, it should come as no surprise that Gen Z workers crave financial stability and prioritize it in the beginning of their job search. However, while money can help attract and engage, an exceptional company culture can be the important difference between turnover and tenure. In fact, when asked what would make them work harder and stay longer at a company, Gen Z workers rank doing work that they care about just as highly as their paycheck (both 51 percent).
Organizations must manage the precarious balance between monetary rewards and a culture of caring if they want to retain the Gen Z workforce for the long haul. After all, nearly half (48 percent) of Gen Z workers say a stressful working environment would personally impact their performance at work, a third (34 percent) say their performance would be affected if they were unable to get along with their team, and another third (32 percent) feel motivated to work harder and stay longer at a company if they have a supportive manager.
3. The grass is always greener in a gig-friendly world. As the gig economy spreads across the globe, Gen Z workers are drawn to its inherently independent attributes. They’re particularly excited by the independence that comes from flexible work schedules (55 percent) and the notion that they can be their own boss (53 percent), suggesting they’re eager for an opportunity to grow their professional skills without fear of failure.
However, not all that glitters is gold. While more than half (53 percent) of Gen Z workers say they’d pass up a traditional job for full-time gig work, the perceived drawbacks of gig work spark some hesitation. When asked what they want in a career, these employees desire the benefits that only traditional work guarantees, namely stability (47 percent), predictable pay (46 percent), workplace structure (26 percent), and health benefits (26 percent).
As one of the largest catering companies in the U.S., M Culinary Concepts relies on engaging young workers during seasonal hot spots and is no stranger to marrying traditional expectations with gig independence. “We have 300 full-time employees but during our busy season, we routinely swell to more than 1,000 temporary staff members, many of them Gen Z workers,” says BrandyJo Guzman, the company’s director of HR. “The secret to our success is trust. We allow employees to choose their schedule. We push out a schedule of events and employees let us know if they’re available or not. That’s what schedules are based on. Mobile communication allows employees to quickly and easily create the schedule they truly want to work. They don’t have to tell us if they’re going on vacation or if they have a long doctor’s appointment. They just don’t accept a shift when they need that time off. It’s as simple as that.”
It’s important for leaders to realize that for many Gen Z workers, flexibility and independence aren’t just nice to have—they’re necessities. One-third (33 percent) of them wouldn’t tolerate an employer that gave them “no say” over their schedule, and, particularly in the U.S., they are motivated to deliver their best work when they have flexibility to work when, where, and how they want to (31 percent).
With this in mind, leaders should consider investing in the other ways that young workers seek independence in the workplace, such as standalone projects or leadership opportunities, to engage them well past the first few months of employment. Plus, organizations should consider Gen Z’s desire to make the world a better place: Creating a culture that promotes flexibility to volunteer, both inside and outside the workplace, can increase corporate visibility and encourage employee well-being.
Despite how successful any given organization may be at attracting, developing, and motivating its workforce, at the end of the day, Gen Z workers are just starting out and exploring what matters to them most within the workplace. With a baseline of flexibility, a combination of digital and in-person communication, and a culture that embraces desired measures of success, employers can open the door even wider for great Gen Z talent eager to kick-start their careers.
Chas Fields is an HCM strategic advisor at Kronos.