Like the Millennials who came before them, the Gen Z cohort – which is starting to graduate from high school or college, and get their first adult jobs – have grown up with technology literally at their fingertips. This generation has never known life without the internet – or, for some, without smartphones. Their worldview has been profoundly shaped not only by the ability to broadcast far and wide their opinions, frustrations and perceived injustices but also by events like The Great Recession, in which many of their parents lost jobs and older Millennial siblings were forced to move back home. Then, came the pandemic.
Gen Z’s pre-pandemic expectations of flexibility in the workplace are more likely to be met given the changed reality in the past 18 months of most non-essential workers working from home. Other generational expectations might be more difficult for employers to accommodate without a dramatic realignment of corporate culture and, in some cases, business models. Recognizing that every individual will have their own preferences, here are a few ways Gen Z could impact the way we work in the years to come.
On top of pandemic-related health concerns, Gen Z faces some of the greatest environmental, social and economic crises in history. And, as noted earlier, this is a generation that has no hesitation in confronting an issue, raising their voice and calling for change. As consumers, they support brands that align with their values and rely on those values when making their career choices. According to The Deloitte Global 2021 Millennial and Gen Z Survey, nearly half (49%) of the respondents said they have made choices on their career path and potential employers they’d like to work for based on the organization’s values and ethics. That bodes well for companies that, in the wake of movements like Black Lives Matter and #MeToo, call to combat climate change, or have taken public stands to improve diversity, inclusion and equity, or pledge to reduce the global impact of economic inequalities.
Gen Z, along with Millennials, is the generation leading The Great Resignation, leaving careers and companies that they feel are not working in society’s best interest or in alignment with their own moral code. This could leave industries and organizations that are slow or resistant to change facing a long-term talent shortage as Baby Boomers and Gen X employees retire.
The Gen Z and Millennial generations, in particular, want to work with a company that stands for a purpose beyond simply making a profit and want to feel their work is making a positive societal or environmental impact. Employers can empower these workers, leveraging their passion and determination to create a better future through activities and policies such as establishing employee support groups (ESG), supporting community activities, and offering volunteer time off (VTO).
Gen Z is no longer unique in demanding work-life balance, especially now that many of the employees who have worked productively out of the office for nearly two years have grown accustomed to the new flexibility of a remote work structure. Despite this, according to the Deloitte study, Gen Z expects to spend more time working in an office setting once pandemic restrictions are lifted, and many have expressed excitement at the prospect of experiencing a formal work environment, although not necessarily full-time. Perhaps this is not surprising, given that this is the generation that attended its final college semesters and first days in the workforce virtually.
The 40-hour, “9-to-5” workweek is not as appealing to most Gen Z workers, who prefer space to pursue personal and professional fulfillment on their own terms. At Wonolo, we recently published data that showed many Gen Z’ers are gravitating towards gig work as a flexible way to pay off student loans and focus on other entrepreneurial endeavors, such as photography, and personal passions, like traveling. Enabling employees to work from other offices, or remotely from a location they have aspired to live, or providing the flexibility to pursue a part-time graduate degree gives Gen Z the opportunity to grow both professionally and personally.
When Deloitte asked which employee characteristics have become most critical to the success of their company, 40% of Gen Z respondents cited flexibility and adaptability; this sentiment was notably higher than those who listed “expertise and proficiency in the roles for which employees were hired” (24%) and having “values that align with our organization” (14%). The promising news is the same survey found that more than 60% of Gen Z respondents said their companies had developed policies to support flexible working hours and personal and sick leaves.
Benefits and perks
Gone are the days when a ping pong table, free meals, and DJ Fridays were sufficient to attract talent. Today’s recent graduates are looking for employee benefit packages that not only offer the basics, but also help with non-professional parts of their lives.
For recent graduates – many with hefty college loans to repay – saving for retirement takes a low priority. While some employers go as far as assisting with student loans directly, there are other ways to ensure Gen Z is fiscally fit, including providing financial planners to help with consolidating loans and show them how to save for an emergency.
Lifestyle benefits also are becoming popular. Gym memberships or subsidies are common perks offered by employers. In the age of COVID, ensuring mental wellness has taken center stage, and many employers have begun offering free access to meditation apps and other benefits to keep employees’ minds fit. New lifestyle perks such as flexible spending accounts for items or activities that keep employees healthy and well-rounded have also emerged as a popular perk. These allow employees to expense anything within a specific dollar limit – from a one-in-a-lifetime ski experience to art supplies to a subscription to the opera – that helps them to unwind, expand their horizons, and let off steam.
And, while five years might seem like an eternity to a new grad just starting out in the workplace, sabbaticals are making a comeback, with companies offering a month’s paid time off – on top of the earned PTO – to travel, kick back or otherwise recharge as a reward for longevity.
Just like the Millennials before them, Gen Z’ers bring new perspectives and new expectations to the working world. Companies that remain flexible and open to doing things differently in a way that resonates with this group, will remain top of the list as new grads hit the job market.