For all the talk about employees adapting to an evolving workplace in the post-pandemic era, millions have never known anything else. The oldest Gen Zers are in their mid-20s, which means that many of the country’s youngest adults entered the workforce in 2020 or later.
Their concept of the ideal workplace isn’t rooted in memories of the daily commute to an office during rush hour. It’s based on their own ideals, their unwillingness to bear the professional burdens that their elders accepted and their acute awareness of their generation’s unprecedented leverage over the labor market.
According to the Pew Research Center, Gen Z is more ethnically and racially diverse than millennials were in 2003, than Gen Xers were in 1987 and far more than early boomers were in 1969.
Naturally, that diversity is reflected in their attitudes, expectations and priorities at work.
“Gen Z is the generation of equity, civil rights, and transparency,” said Brittany Wilson, a certified career counselor and coach with Allucere Coaching.
The first two are fairly self-evident. Research from Pew and many others has shown Gen Z to be far more concerned with social, economic and environmental justice than older sets.
But Wilson’s third point — transparency — is also rooted in the multicultural lens through which the youngest adults view gainful employment. Gen Z is keenly aware of the hidden racial and gender discrimination, pay disparity and bias-based professional barriers that have permeated corporate culture for so long — and they’re having none of it.
“Employers need to be transparent about everything, including compensation, career growth, work-life balance, and remote work,” Wilson said. “If employers are not clear and transparent, Gen Zers will sniff it out and go to the internet to find answers and opinions from others.”
Just as previous generations came to view health insurance as a must-have benefit for any employer who wanted to be competitive, Gen Z views a healthy work-life balance and workplace wellness not as perks, but as rights.
“Employers must genuinely care about their employees,” Wilson said. “After going through college and the early years of their career at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Gen Zers do not want to miss any more time on living life without the mental health support they deserve. As such, employers must provide mental health benefits and managers must advocate for mental health on their teams. Managers should have regular check-ins with their employees, set clear expectations for work, ensure the workload is balanced throughout the team, and advocate for their careers and personal life.”
That’s not to say that salary is an afterthought.
“Gen Z is a hard-working generation and they expect to be paid what they’re worth,” said career coach Laura Barker. “They are less willing than most generations to get paid low at the beginning of their careers with the hope or expectation that they will eventually see greater financial gains.”
Among the most important considerations of all is the workplace itself — or lack thereof.
“The traditional office model is no longer fit for its purpose,” said Pavel Bahu, global human resources director at Trevolution Group. “In order to attract and retain top Gen Z talent, businesses will need to create workplaces that cater to their needs.”
Around the time of the Great Resignation, it seemed that the hybrid model — a blend of on-site and remote work — would dominate the post-pandemic years. But now, alternatives to the office concept itself are gaining a foothold.
One promising option is the so-called hub-and-spoke format, which Forbes first reported on in the waning days of the pandemic in 2021. The idea is to replace the traditional downtown headquarters with a central office connected to several satellite offices for employees.
Bahu described a similar concept, which he said will attract top Gen Z talent only when it includes features like individualized work areas, flexible schedules and on-site amenities like child care and gyms. Bahu also stressed Gen Z’s attraction to opportunities for professional and personal growth, which “can be achieved through a combination of in-person and virtual interactions, which will be crucial for businesses looking to foster a culture of continuous learning and development.”
The employers who hope to skate by on greenwashing and insincere social justice lip service are in for a rude awakening in 2023 and beyond.
“They will easily see a company that talks the talk but doesn’t walk the walk,” Barker said. “And then they will walk away. They want to work at companies that share their values. That’s what they’ll look for when job hunting and that’s what will retain them because this is not a restless generation by nature, given to switching jobs when they see the next shiny object. Gen Zers are builders. If employers fail to provide them with the workplace they desire, they will respond the same way as every other generation of workers, not just Gen Zers. They will quit.”
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