Gen Z has been practicing for the future of work since childhood—ready or not, here they come

by | Oct 25, 2021

Person using different kinds of technologies: Gen Z was raised with technology and social media
Image Credit: Rosie - Monica Torrejon
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Gen Z’ers have been living, learning, and working in a way much different than their preceding generations. Having grown up with technology at their fingertips, they’re used to communicating more dynamically, socially and publicly.

By 2025, Gen Z will make up 27% of the workforce. As Gen Z’ers graduate and enter the workforce, companies and organizations need to consider what the future of work looks like for Gen Z employees.

What is this new talent pool looking for in the workplace? What challenges can we expect? How can companies market to them and once they’ve joined these companies, how can we help them succeed?


But first, who are Gen Z’ers?

Born between 1997 and 2010, Generation Z—also known as Gen Z, iGen, and Zoomers—follows the Millennial generation and precedes Generation Alpha. Generation Z is already larger than the Millennial generation, and the oldest among them are making their way into the workplace.

Like any major event during one’s formative years, the global pandemic will greatly influence this generation’s behaviors, responses, decisions, and expectations. However, the slow return back to “normal” gives most of us in the workforce the time we need to figure out what we want from our careers and how we will achieve it.

This means that companies and organizations need to prepare for this new and growing talent pool—from creating attractive job opportunities to meeting their new and evolving expectations about what ‘work’ should be.


How can the workplace prepare for Gen Z?

So, what can companies and organizations do to embrace this new generation and ensure their success in the workplace? This is what most employers are starting to think of with Gen Z graduates applying for internships and entry-level jobs.

PickYourSkills CEO Arnaud Caldichoury explains, “Where the primary concern of previous generations was financial recognition and remuneration, Generation Z has developed a new need: to find meaning. Today, in order to be able to carry out their profession to the best of their ability, employees are looking to their employer for constant support in their personal and professional development. And one of the main conditions for this development is learning.”

Keeping this in mind, here’s what future employers and recruiters can anticipate when working with Gen Z candidates and how they can set the stage for their success:


1. Technology as a first language

While Millennials witnessed the beginning of the internet, Gen Z’ers were practically raised with easy access to the internet and social media. This has led them to be more in tune with new technology and software.

According to a research study conducted by Dell Technologies on Gen Z’s expectations from their future workplace:

  • 80% aspire to work with cutting-edge technology.
  • 91% state that technology would influence their job choice when choosing between similar employment offers.
  • 80% believe that technology and automation make for a more equitable work environment.

Plus, in the post-pandemic world, cloud-based technology and digital media have grown ever more central. We managed to find new ways to stay connected and maintain a sense of community even during lockdowns. Remember the time everybody tried making sourdough together?

Intuitive and adaptable technology and software can automate processes, increase efficiency, and improve productivity. And they come in cost-effective packages.

Such technology makes a big difference for a tech-savvy generation. Gen Z’ers know and understand how technology can improve the way we live, work, and communicate. They are willing to learn new tech skills and programs to add to their skillset. If your organization is lacking in updating its tech stack and business apps, you may miss out on recruiting and retaining skilled talent.


2. A demand for autonomy and transparency

The pandemic dramatically changed not only when and where we work, but the models and policies which we operate by. For many, across generations, remote and hybrid work environments have become more of a priority, and are quickly becoming more attainable. We now know for certain we can work efficiently outside the constraints of an office, and still strive towards achieving the work-life balance we desire. Of course, this depends on many variables including job type, management styles, and industry.

Transparency and flexibility is undoubtedly just as important during this “new normal” for Gen Z’ers as it has been for Millennials—if not more so. We know flexibility is key to having a decent work-life balance where employees can focus on their mental well-being and productivity at a comfortable pace.

Gen Z’ers have been advocates for mental health, better work-life balance, and environmental recovery. While more traditional employment benefits like health coverage, and paid time off are still sought after, Millennials and Gen Z’ers are also advocating for expanded workplace benefits and resources. The growing awareness of and significance given to mental health means that employers will be expected to offer flexible work options and new tools that support mental health. They’ll also need to encourage greater financial freedom and ways to give back during work. Here are a few examples:

  • Remote work options
  • Mental health insurance coverage
  • Employee assistance programs (EAP)
  • Mental health days, apart from “sick days”
  • Paid access to apps such as Calm, Talkspace and telehealth offerings
  • Stipends to use on physical or mental well-being
  • Employee volunteer opportunities such as helping out a charitable cause.

Content Consultant Jake Woehlke believes Gen Z will be the first generation to fully embrace the future of work. “Offering remote working arrangements (or at least a hybrid work model) will be an absolute must, open and flexible time-off policies (including mental health time off) will be great attractors to new hires, and providing transparent hiring and salary scales to make a more equitable workplace.”

These are values they care about not only at work, but all aspects of life. Access to flexible work situations and mental health programs are not the future of work, but just the beginning.

3. Willingness to learn and grow

In the universal desire to grow professionally and personally, Gen Z’ers thrive and desire frequent communication, feedback, and constructive criticism. They want to know clearly what is expected from them and what they might be doing wrong.

Most of us want support and career encouragement from our supervisors or those experienced in a given area — even if that means finding it in another department, organization, or field. This is no different for Gen Z’ers, who also want growth and learning opportunities from management and mentors, according to the Springtide Research Institute’s book “Work/Life: Helping Gen Z Flourish & Find Balance.”

“In order for Gen Z to do their best work and be their best selves, they need adults who understand what will help them flourish and find balance in work and in life.”

This means that employers must be willing to teach and train them, especially for newly graduated recruits. They will likely appreciate a formal onboarding program supported by professionals from diverse experiences and backgrounds, and different resources and tools that are tailored toward their unique learning styles. Furthermore, it will also be a worthwhile long term investment as it can increase employee retention.

4. New dynamics of social communication

From childhood, Gen Z has socialized and communicated in ways that prior generations never have before. Given tablets as toddlers, typing in elementary school, access to the whole internet (minus some parental control features—in some cases), managing their own social media profiles as teens, to visually documenting most aspects of their lives, this generation has been encouraged to operate independently behind a screen the majority of their lives. The internet has given them a platform to express, communicate, influence, and build their own online world.

While Gen Z’ers do share a lot on social media, it’s primarily on social platforms like Snapchat or Instagram stories.

Take a look at Haile Thomas, who uses Instagram to talk about physical and mental well-being. She’s an advocate of the plant-based diet and heads the non-profit Happy that aims to empower youth through holistic education. Or, Kavya Kopparapu who founded the Girls Computing League, a non-profit designed to empower girls and women of color to pursue an education and future in STEM. Both these women have used Instagram to share their experiences and values and drum up followers who relate to their causes and want to support them.

What draws Gen Z’ers to these social media platforms, according to a study by McKinsey and Company, is their search for the truth and expression of individual truth, giving them the nickname, True Gen. Gen Z believes in dialogue and communication as a means to solve issues in the world. The goal? Using their voice to generate conversation around an issue and improve the world. New technology and the ability to find and follow other people has given the world a platform to become public voices or influencers for causes they believe in—and Gen Z isn’t wasting time.

While there are clear differences between Gen Z and Millennials, they’re actually joining forces to push brands towards diversity and speak boldly for social issues such as health care, mental health, economic security, climate change, racial and gender equity, and higher education.

Rosa Wardlow, Culture Specialist at Online Optimism and a Gen Z’er herself, believes that employers can learn a lot from Gen Z.

“Gen Z has taken the tools available to them through technology and made virtual communication more effective and true to what the in-person inflection would be,” she says.

She explains that there’s a different style of virtual communication here that previous generations have not been entirely privy to. One that is more cautious and intentional. “Being extra cautious of certain punctuation and emojis is common in our generation. Full stops, “K”s and the standard “smiley emoji” induce worry and concern. It might seem excessive, but it demonstrates a sensitivity to tone that I would associate with emotional intelligence. Instead of brushing this off as Gen Z being overly sensitive.”

Perhaps there’s an opportunity to learn from how these voices and social movements have used technology and its intricacies to creatively, intentionally, and boldly call for change and community.

Know who you’re hiring and what you can offer them

As your organization (or AI) begins to sort through Gen Z resumes and hire new graduates, it is crucial to understand who you are hiring, what they can do for you, and what they expect from you.

The “equation” between companies and the workforce is changing. It’s no longer just about what your candidate’s talent can give you. It’s now equally important to show what you’re offering them.


The future of work looks different for Gen Z

Paying attention to expectations and listening to concerns are some of the first best practices organizations and hiring leaders should implement. Communicate with the Gen Z’ers that are already in your circles, understand what they expect for future employers and what they need to succeed.

It’s increasingly important to start planning and implementing new policies, and strategies that Gen Z’ers can thrive in. That means breaking outdated traditions, engaging this unique generation of talented change-makers, and setting them up for success for the future of work.

And yes, it might involve getting on TikTok.

Meryl’s Socials: Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn

Editor’s Socials – Dominique Dajer: LinkedInTwitterInstagram

Meryl D’Sa-Wilson is a writer and content strategist with over 10 years of experience. She writes about business trends, travel, marketing, behavioral health, recruitment, remote working, technology, and communications. She is currently the Digital Marketing Manager at Global Call Forwarding, a global provider of local and toll-free numbers. You can reach her on LinkedIn.

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