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Gen Z In The Workplace

By Meg Cooper

Generation Z (Gen Z), born in the late 1990s to early 2000s, has been entering the workforce for roughly the past five years.

Already, as with every generation, there are stigmas and judgments from the older generations. “Kids these days” and “when we were kids …” are phrases often heard when the next generation enters the social fray.

However, looking at the social structure, Gen Z isn’t much different from the millennials in that both have grown up with technology at their fingertips. However, the younger generation is the first to grow up knowing only smartphones, having instant access to the internet and the convenience of Amazon, as well as apps like Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, WhatsApp and TikTok. Gen Z is able to broadcast their views in mere seconds as the connectivity and passion of this generation is fluid, moving through our social culture with ease. Factor in the generation’s embrace of social activism and their strong sense of justice and Gen Z is changing the landscape of work culture.

Values are Vital

With that ability to broadcast their opinions far and wide, Gen Z can be the harbingers of great social change. A deep sense of social responsibility, inclusivity and passion-driven morals enable Gen Z to drastically alter the makeup of the workforce going forward, while also setting the parameters for the culture of working. Gen Z’ers are more likely than other generations to leave their place of employment if they feel the values of the company do not reflect the values that they hold. An article in the BizWoman Business Journals cites research that illustrates the perspective of Gen Z, “Two out of Three Gen Z workers want employers who share their values … Studies have uncovered Gen Z’s preference for companies that value authenticity and make mental health a priority … Affected by the pandemic, social justice movements, and climate change, more Gen Z’ers have switched from carefree constituents to authentic activists since the study was conducted in 2019.”

Values-based consumerism is their idea of brand loyalty and this translates to how they find employment, as well. What does your company stand for that could attract the kind of talent you want in your business? Evaluating your company morals will give you the upper hand in ensuring your workplace evolves with this new generation of workers.

Hiring Gen Z

In the past ten years, technology has offered many ways for employers to reach and recruit new employees. Online newspaper postings, Craigslist, Indeed or Monster are now “old hat” considering just how technologically advanced millennials and Gen Z have become. Posting to social media was the de facto way to hire millennials, but is it the most effective way to hire Gen Z? In talking with Lance Cheney of Braun Brush, he has noticed a shift in the way younger generations have approached being hired and recruited. Often seeing no-shows and ghosting happening during the interview stage of recruitment, Cheney enlisted the help of evaluation-to-hire agencies. Asked if they were effective, Cheney says, “Absolutely. The company vets the potential employee, they come to work for us for three months and if it’s a good fit, we pay the agency and keep the employee.” Using alternative methods to find a good fit for your company may be key in attracting new talent to your ranks.

Retaining Gen Z

Retaining the new employees, however, is another factor that your company will have to consider. Along with the millennial generation, Gen Z is now known as a big driver for the Great Resignation that was sparked by the pandemic era. Though this generation is concerned about salaries and wages, if companies can’t align with their moral, economic and social values, they will find work elsewhere. From the PBS article, “The Pandemic Forced Millions Out Of A Job. Some Say They Can’t Return To The Way Things Were,” by Courtney Vinopal:

“Many Americans going back to work have been deeply changed by the pandemic, and some say the crisis has prompted them to rethink their careers, either by necessity or by choice … I do see a shift in the types of employment people are willing to take,” said Matt Weis, chief program officer with the National Able Network, a workforce training program. “What you’re seeing here is a real reckoning of people figuring out what meaningful employment is to them,” he added.”

Companies that can adapt to and include Gen Z in their company growth will see long-term job satisfaction and higher retention of their employees – often skirting the “burnout” phase of employment.
“If burnout is happening,” Cheney explains, “and they’re a good worker, then they’re in the wrong seat. It’s up to management to have a conversation, help recognize, and move that employee onto the right path.”

Referencing a method called the Four Absolutes (created by Tom Foster, author, Hiring Talent, Decoding Levels of Work in the Behavioral Interview), management can help determine where to place that employee based on these four different factors: behavior, willingness, skillset and time span. Cheney mentioned that viewing his employees through this lens helped him create a work environment that has 100 percent retention and a positive atmosphere even through a worldwide pandemic and a brief furlough in 2020.

Focus on Flexibility

Gen Z has seen a lot of change within the short amount of time that they’ve been adults. From the Great Recession to the COVID-19 pandemic, their formative years have been a time of great fluctuation so it would come as no surprise that one of the most important things to this generation is a flexible work schedule. The more flexible a company can be regarding when and how their Gen Z employees can work will be one of the key attractions to hiring and retaining this group.

Beyond the work schedule, there are other ways that companies can retain Gen Z employees. When polled by Deloitte which characteristics were important to their success at their company, 40 percent of Gen Z respondents cited “flexibility and adaptability” as the most critical characteristic for a company to have. This was followed closely by 24 percent who said, “expertise and proficiency in the roles for which employees were hired” were important and 14 percent indicated that, “values that align with the organization” are important.

Ask yourself this, as a company, can you have a flexible work schedule? What would that look like for your employees? Working four days in a row for ten hours? Half-days mid-week? Split shifts? Is remote work an option for those needing to go to the office? Do you offer sick and personal days? Allowing for some flexibility might make your employees feel as if they have more freedom outside of work to pursue interests or hobbies thereby keeping a good work-life balance and increasing the chances they’ll want to stay with your company.

Bring on the Benefits

Traditional benefits are tried and true with older generations like the baby boomers, Gen X and some millennials, but the value for these younger generations has shifted. Gen Z isn’t afraid of asking for help with mental health. About 40% of Gen Z’ers polled in a Deloitte survey admit to having anxiety and depression and it’s no wonder why. This generation grew up post-9/11, post-Great Recession, watched income levels become even more disparate and can’t remember a time before school shootings. They are also one of the most educated and heavily indebted generations ever.

One of the many creative ways to get Gen Z’ers to find value in staying with your company could be providing financial planners to help them make the most of the transition out of college and into the workplace. Offering mental health services through a health savings account, offering seasonal passes to music concerts, creating a challenging and enriching work environment, as well as flexible spending accounts for activities or gear are a few more creative benefits that might entice recent grads.

Offering continuing education, skills-based training and management courses can encourage Gen Z’s loyalty to your company. Cheney cites the success of apprenticeships offered in his factories. He says, “This allows them to feel like they have a future in the company and then they feel invested in their professional growth, as well.” By providing your employees something to enhance their skill set and lives outside of work, their quality of life increases and so does your retention.

Looking Forward

Technology and automation have replaced a lot of entry-level positions that otherwise would have been a rite of passage for incoming workers. While the jobs change, so should the companies that offer them in order to win over new talent. If you can redesign your company for the future, you’re not only future-proofing your company, but you’re creating a pipeline for new talent. As boomers retire over the next five to 10 years, Gen Z will be replacing them. Gen Z is set to surpass the millennials as the most populous generation with one-third of the world’s population falling into this generational age range. The US is looking at a potential shortage of about 8 million workers by 2030 and in order for companies to keep up with the demands of manufacturing, production and sales, it is in a company’s best interest to consider ways to adjust your company model. Understanding the behaviors behind this diverse, values-based, and socially conscious generation can help your company come up with creative ways in which to recruit and retain new hires for years to come.

This article originally appeared in the 2022 January/February Issue of Brushware magazine. Image credit:

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