All About Gen Z: Preparing Your Workplace Culture for This New Generation of Workers

February 15, 2022・13 mins read
All About Gen Z: Preparing Your Workplace Culture for This New Generation of Workers

The newest generation to the workforce has come of age. Gen Z, born between 1996 and the early 2000s, now makes up about 25% of working Americans. By 2030, they're poised to represent 30% of all employees in the U.S. For business, addressing the needs and wants of this generation will be critical to success today and in the future. Capitalizing on Gen Z workers may rely on understanding their expectations regarding personal and professional lives. This cohort has lived through tumultuous times — their earliest memories may include September 11 and the recession of the early 2000s. As they completed their education or began professional careers, they were poised to inherit a strong economy, record-breaking low unemployment, and boundless opportunity. Then the COVID-19 pandemic struck.

40% of Gen Z view flexibility and adaptability as critical employee characteristics.

According to Deloitte, however, the hurdles they've experienced won't keep them down. They found 40% of Gen Z views flexibility and adaptability as the most critical employee characteristic for business. Another 29% say creativity is key. Meeting the needs of a wary but adaptable workforce means understanding where they are and where they want to go.

Generation Z characteristics

Gen Z is the most diverse demographic in American history. Racially, according to Pew Research:

  • 52% are non-Hispanic white
  • 25% Hispanic
  • 14% black
  • 6% Asian
  • 5% other or report two or more racial heritages

According to recent data, one in six Gen Z Americans identifies as LGBTQ. Half the demographic believes traditional binary roles and gender identity labels are outdated with most being comfortable with preferred pronouns. Ernst & Young (EY) reports of all the workplace groups, Gen Z is most confident significant progress will be made regarding social issues:

  • On LGBTQ rights, 85% anticipate progress
  • For gender inequality, 79% anticipate progress
  • For economic equality, 68% believe positive change will occur
Gen Z was the most educated generation, but the pandemic may have changed that.

Gen Z was also on track to be the most educated group in history. In 2018, Pew Research reported that among 18 to 21-year-olds who had graduated high school, 57% were enrolled in either a two- or four-year college. The pandemic may have shifted those numbers, however. Bank of America reports the pandemic, remote learning, and fear of taking on student debt may result in educational reversals for this generation.

Preparing for Gen Z characteristics

Diversity is built into the mix for this generation of workers. Preparing your workplace for Generation Z means creating a welcoming, open environment that seeks out diversity at all levels and welcomes all perspectives. Building an inclusive culture will be easier for business with Gen Z staffers; they were raised on inclusion. Transparency may be vital in addressing their needs and outlining the steps your organization has taken and will continue to take to achieve parity in the workplace.

What drives Gen Z?

With a history of uncertainty and a world in constant flux, they rely on their own words to understand what makes Gen Z tick. This generation is looking for security but with an entrepreneurial twist. They're confident in their ability but seek out help and mentorship. The dichotomy of Gen Z may be their greatest strength.

Do-it-myself approach

Gen Z has an entrepreneurial mentality. A survey of over 1,500 Gen Z-ers by EY in 2021 found 45% report being very or extremely likely to start their own business one day. They've seen people their age (and younger) build successful companies and are confident they could do the same. This is the side-hustle generation — half of the respondents to a Statista poll reported they participate in some form of freelance work. Whether delivering, driving, or freelancing, Gen Z shows they're a hard-working cohort.

Preparing for do-it-myself approaches

Capitalize on that entrepreneurial mindset by allowing Gen Z workers to take ownership of their tasks and role. The more autonomy you can provide, the more they'll thrive. To satisfy their side-hustle side, consider cross-training as a way to stretch their professional curiosity and wings.


EY reported 63% of Gen Z felt it was very or extremely important to work for a company that shares their values. They want to enjoy their work, be the best at it, and make a difference in the world. In addition, data collected in 2021 revealed almost half chose the type of work or companies they'd work for based on their personal ethics — 40% report being a volunteer or member of a charity, community organization, or non-profit.

The majority of Gen Z feel it's important to work for a company that shares their values.

What values do they want to promote? More than half said they were very or extremely interested in environmental issues. They put their money where their values are — 57% say it's very or extremely important to buy from brands that protect and preserve the environment. EY categorized 22% of respondents as Authentic Activists, driven by an obligation to save the world and fearing what will happen if they do not.

Preparing for values-driven employees

Organizations that want to attract and retain Gen Z should support what inspires them. Whether it's global environmental issues or making a difference on the local level, your commitment to corporate social responsibility helps them find purpose in their work. Your Gen Z team will be engaged and satisfied when your values align.

Driven and supported

A Monster survey found Gen Z is an independent demographic, confident they can succeed. A majority (76%) say they're responsible for driving their career trajectory. Almost 60% said they'd be willing to work nights and weekends if it meant higher pay. They're not afraid to leap if they have to. A study from August 2021 revealed 91% of Gen Z were interested in switching jobs. That high number may be pandemic-related. Business openings and closures may have temporarily put Gen Z's careers on hold, but recovery may mean getting back on track. Data collected from over 7,000 Gen Z-ers found mentorship top of their list when it comes to work. A whopping 82% said they want their supervisor to help them set performance goals, while 83% want their supervisor to care about their life. This demographic sees mentoring as a way to learn and get things done. They're accustomed to searching for information and answers online — asking for help comes naturally. Having someone available to support and train them is key to capturing and engaging Gen Z.

Preparing to support driven employees

Career planning is key to keeping Gen Z workers on the payroll.

This demographic will not be satisfied with stagnation. They want to accomplish today's goals with an eye for the future. As they develop their skill set, career planning is key to keeping them on your payroll, rather than building their competencies for the competition. Keep the development going as they make their way up the corporate ladder. The more you mentor, the more they grow, building skills and increasing value to the team.

Digitally dependent

Tech-savvy Gen Z are more than digital natives — these workers have virtually no memory of a world before smartphones. They've always had access to information and opinions from anywhere on earth. Always connected to entertainment, information, social and professional networks, Gen Z is linked 24/7. It's no surprise the generation raised on tech values cutting-edge access in the workplace. Over 90% of Gen Z say a "company's technological sophistication" would influence their decision to work there. Unlike their coworkers, Gen Z may be more than digital natives — they may be digital dependent. They cannot foresee an environment where they don't have access to their smartphones and rely on them in almost every aspect of their lives. When it comes to career development, they naturally look to self-directed, digital learning, and microlearning platforms to acquire new skills and competencies.

Planning for digitally-dependent workers

You may not be the most tech-savvy, but Gen Z is. Look to them for direction on where to streamline processes and make digital upgrades. Leverage their digital literacy to keep an eye out for what's working now and what's on the horizon. Tech doesn't have to be intimidating when your staff are digital natives.

Look to Gen Z employees for direction with digital initiatives and upgrades.

Don't just support Gen Z's use of smartphones — capitalize on it for your organization. Communication is faster and easier when you text. Access from wherever, whenever means they're always available to help. Let them learn at their own pace on their smartphones with digital classes tailored to their needs for their career trajectory.

What worries Gen Z

On the downside, like every one of your staff, Gen Z has worries and concerns. Addressing these can be challenging — some workers are not vocal about their needs, others seem to find everything wanting. There are many things companies can do to promote work/life balance and employee well-being. It starts with a commitment to the whole employee. Responsiveness is key — meet problems head-on with solutions. Understand when workers are challenged in their personal lives, the fallout can spill over into work, as well.

Green concerns (money matters)

Like everyone else, money causes a lot of stress for Gen Z, with 81% reporting it's a significant source. A third of Gen Z worry about personal debt. Experian analyzed data from 2020 and found Gen Z carries a heavy personal debt load. On average, they have about:

  • $2,000 in credit card debt
  • $16,000 in auto loan debt
  • Over $6,000 in personal loan debt

Gen Z has the lowest overall percentage of student loan debt among the generations, accounting for less than 7.5% of all loans in the U.S. Their debt load is smaller than any other cohort, with an average outstanding balance of less than $17,500. A 2000 CGK survey found financial adaptability rules for Gen Z. The pandemic taught them to be frugal. More than half, 54%, reported they're saving more money since the onset of the pandemic than they were before. Nearly 40% opened an online bank account. Even though they're saving and investing earlier, they'll still be hit by lifetime earning deficits. Credit Suisse anticipates Gen Z should expect average annual returns of 2% on their investment portfolios, one-third less than their millennial counterparts.

Supporting Gen Z financial concerns

Financial wellness initiatives at your company benefit all staff and can help attract and retain Gen Z workers. When employees have control of their finances, stress levels that can spill into the workplace are eased. Help meeting financial goals and responsibilities is a perk all employees can use.

Easing the burden of student loan debts can help you retain key employees.

Many companies are working with staff to ease the burden of student loan debt. Debt-relief programs and tax incentives are on the rise. As a result, businesses willing to help may see an uptick in attracting and retaining staff. If you don't already have a 401(k) plan for your business, you should consider starting one. Not only will the plan help workers invest for their future, but it also holds tax benefits for employers, as well.

So stressed out

Stress is a factor in everyone's life, but for Gen Z, stress may have become a way of life. Coming of age during a global pandemic with worries about family welfare and job prospects have 46% of Gen Z respondents telling EY they feel stressed all or most of the time. It spills into the workplace, with 35% admitting they've taken time off due to stress and anxiety caused by the pandemic, but half gave a different reason for their absence. Their concern may be the stigma around mental health in the workplace — only 35% of those polled said they were comfortable enough with their supervisors to talk about the stress they feel. With the world at their fingertips, many Gen Z-ers turned to their smartphone for support. The American Psychological Association (APA) survey revealed almost 75% of Gen Z felt they needed more emotional support in the past year. More than half said social media provides a feeling of support. The downside:

  • 45% feel judged on these platforms
  • 38% feel bad about themselves as a result of social media use

Preparing for high-stress employees

We all face stress throughout the day, particularly at work. When a business offers employees tools to manage stress, everyone can breathe easier. Stress reduction and employee wellness translate to engagement and performance, but wellness is more than physical well-being. New attention focuses on mental health, stress reduction, and work/life balance. Offering services and resources to staff to help can be more than a benefit — it could be a lifeline. Whether staff members leverage the resources today or know they're available in the future if need be, wellness programs are mainstream benefits companies offer to attract new hires and retain top talent.

Hard hit by COVID-19

Another Pew survey found that by March 2020, 50% of the Gen Z reported they or someone in their household took a pay cut or lost their job due to the pandemic. Moreover, Gen Z was disproportionately impacted, with jobs more highly represented in "high-risk service sector" industries. Their need for job stability and an organization on sound financial footing may be a direct result of the pandemic and the insecurity it brought.

How to reassure job security

Reassuring your Gen Z employees and communicating your crisis plan can go a long way.

While no business leader can make guarantees, job security is top of mind for Gen Z. Anything leadership can do to reassure them will be helpful. The pandemic has been a hard-learned lesson for workers and business leaders. Having a Plan B in the event of a crisis, and communicating it widely among staff, could go a long way to boost confidence and security, particularly for Gen Z.

What comes after Generation Z?

Business leaders will soon see the influx of Generation Alpha. They're named Alpha — the first letter of the Greek alphabet — because these children are the first group born exclusively in the new century. Born between 2011 and 2025, they will be hitting the job market as entry-level part-timers in the coming years. Primarily the children of millennials, it will be interesting to see what this newest cohort brings to the workplace. No matter what generation you're addressing, meeting staff members' needs, wants, and expectations are good for them and good for business. When values, purpose, and skills align, businesses thrive, employees learn and grow, and customers are well served.

This communication is for informational purposes only; it is not legal, tax or accounting advice; and is not an offer to sell, buy or procure insurance.

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