The Gen Z Workforce: Who They Are, and What They Want

Learn how Gen Z is transforming the workforce, and why you can’t ignore this group.

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How to prepare for the next wave of workers: Gen Zers

Every year, a new crop of people age into the workforce. After many of those years go by, entire generations enter the workforce and reshape it as they do. Any hiring manager who plans to be competitive in the talent market has to keep up with younger generations and what they want and need from the workforce — as time passes, younger generations will only comprise more and more of the workforce and have more and more power to influence it.

Generation Z, today’s youngest working generation, is the newbie that companies have to understand. In many ways, they’re vastly unlike the others that have come before them. One of the main ways they stand out — even from Millennials — is regarding what they expect from their employers and the jobs they offer. Not only is Gen Z the next wave of workers, they also already outnumber millennials and will soon become the largest generation in the workforce, which is why understanding who they are and what they want is essential.

Who is in Generation Z and what are they like?

Anyone born after 1996 is a member of Generation Z, the predecessors of Millennials. They make up around 20% of the U.S. population.

According to Pew Research, anyone born after 1996 is a member of Generation Z, the predecessors of Millennials. They make up around 20% of the U.S. population.

This group has grown up in a time that’s very different from Millennials. They’ve seen the generation before them go through the Great Recession and are stepping into the workforce during the COVID-19 pandemic — one of the most globally disruptive events of many people’s lifetime.

Gen Z is more racially and ethnically diverse than previous generations and are also on track to be more educated, too. While members of Generation Z are less likely than Millennials to be immigrants themselves, they are likely to be children of immigrants and are projected to become majority non-white by 2026.

The last important thing to note about this generation is that they are digital natives through and through — they grew up with the internet and technology.

What percentage of Gen Z is in the workforce?

It’s estimated that Gen Z will make up 30% of the U.S. workforce by 2030. However, fewer of them are currently working when you compare them to previous generations. In 2018, just 18% of Gen Z teens between the ages of 15 and 17 had jobs. At the same age in 2002, 27% of Millennials worked while 41% of Gen Xers were working at the same age in 1986 according to Pew.

What does Gen Z bring to the workforce?

Much like any younger generation, Gen Z will bring new insights and ideas to the workforce along with a natural digital savvy that makes them willing to try new things and create new strategies. That means that you can expect them to pick up new technology, quickly access information, and be ready to contribute fairly quickly.

They also bring a focus on traditional components of work like salary and health insurance benefits. While 38% feel like work-life balance is important, 58% would work nights and weekends for more pay. They’re a security-oriented bunch, according to Concordia University: 65% of Gen Z survey respondents said that salary is important with 70% naming it as their top motivator. Seventy percent also said that health insurance is their top “must have” when looking for employment.

65% of Gen Z survey respondents said that salary is important with 70% naming it as their top motivator. Seventy percent also said that health insurance is their top “must have” when looking for employment.

What is Generation Z like in the workplace?

In the workforce, Gen Z can be competitive and believe in judging by merit. They tend to prefer face-to-face interactions with coworkers and favor open-office floor plans that enable informal interactions more than closed up, cubicle-laden offices.

One Gen Z member told the University of Minnesota that “open floor plans with a policy of frequent and informal communication between employees is something I value.” She added that, “the company where I currently work encourages questions and conversations between all employees regardless of title, and this has helped me get up to speed without feeling like a burden.”

Outside of physical considerations, Generation Z wants growth and development opportunities from their jobs. The same student said that “company support of individual continuous learning shows me that the company wants to improve as a whole, and that’s something I want to be a part of in my career.”

Many also want opportunities to branch out outside of their current location. From work trips to the opportunity to relocate, Gen Z sees work as a way to enrich their experience of the world as both a personal and professional benefit.

Gen Z, other generations, and diversity in the workforce

Much of the people who make up Generation Z have come of age in the age of diversity, equity, and inclusion. It’s likely no surprise that these values matter to the upcoming generation.

In a recent Monster survey, 83% of Generation Z respondents said that a company’s values, particularly their commitment to diversity and inclusion, was an important factor when choosing where to work. Focusing on DEI at your company will pay off on multiple fronts — being a better place to work for everyone and setting you up to attract the freshest talent.

What else should HR managers know about Gen Z?

One last important thing to know about Gen Z is their management and training preferences. They prefer to learn by observing and then have the chance to try it on their own. They expect to have continuous learning opportunities, and put a high value on mentorship rather than simple management.

While it’s clear that Gen Z is different from other generations in a lot of ways, none of their differences come with insurmountable changes. From focusing on diversity to ensuring that your management is capable of mentorship as well, chances are that satisfying Gen Z can benefit other generations in the workforce as well. It might take a little reconfiguring on your end, but if it helps you snag the best talent it’s worth it in the end.

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