Photo representing generation z in the workplace

Generation Z in the workplace – How can employers reshape the workplace post-pandemic?

George Barnes 22nd July 2021

Generation Z are the latest generation to cause concern as they begin to impact the workplace. Generational progression has always caused natural issues for employers and other members of the workforce due to the need to alter and change their culture and ethics to accommodate each generation’s needs. One significant difference with Generation Z is that they have been influenced by external societal factors. For example, we are currently in the decade of complete technological and digital transformation. In addition, the overwhelming increase of students graduating from university and the importance of equality, diversity and mental health has never been more profound.

There are of course positive but also challenging characteristics of any generation. Generation Z tend to be smart, creative and entrepreneurial. They appreciate reward on outcome rather than time served, they are inherently inquisitive but also natural disruptors. Generation Z prefer peer-to-peer learning, they tend to be reluctant to put in the hard work but prefer things sharp and short. Also, Generation Z struggle to comprehend hierarchy, instead they believe in meritocratic progression. The largest issue leaders currently face amongst Generation Z is that they want progression quickly and that they are prepared to walk away from their current role in order to gain further experience. Evidently, there is a crucial need for leaders to reshape and rethink the workplace. Businesses must understand the differences between generations to ensure their operations continue efficiently and successfully.

The most significant and life-changing global event that Generation Z would have ever faced has been the COVID-19 pandemic. From a survey of 9,000 Generation Z, the main concerns for the future were the lack of job security, their personal well-being and the global economy. These answers significantly reinforce the notion that the pandemic has increased fear and anxiety amongst Generation Z when they think about their future.

Generation Z and Hybrid-Working

As we begin to think about the workplace, post-pandemic, the needs of Generation Z need to be considered. On face value one would assume working from home would suit Generation Z as they are technologically dependant and savvy, but this is not the case.

Of course, assuming every Gen Z is the same is wrong and so we are now introduced to a hybrid working format. Consequently, experts suggest employers give Generation Z the choice of how many days they would like to come into the workplace. This accommodates for those who find the thought of returning to the workplace daunting, prefer working remotely and individuals that thrive in face-to-face social environments. Ultimately, handing responsibility to the individual rather than a ‘one-size fits all’ approach means leaders can get the best out of all their workforce rather than only a few that suit the current system.

The focus must be on how leaders reimagine the workplace, how they innovate and encourage people to come into work. Full time remote working will isolate Generation Z and we know they learn best by connecting and collaborating with their peers. It is crucial for leaders to ensure the shadowing and learning process from elder and more experienced colleagues replicate that of the workplace if remote working is to continue. This is so Generation Z do not fall short of the education you get from being in total contact with your colleagues. If leaders fail to replicate this feature of the workplace, Gen Z will find it difficult to learn and stay focused working from home. Regardless, the popular response from experts is that the hybrid model must be introduced to attract Generation Z for the future. Whether or not leaders can imitate workplace conditions remotely, this will not be enough in attracting Generation Z as many still understand the importance of social interaction.

How do you attract Generation Z into your organisation?

As well as a proposed hybrid model entering the workplace, there are other techniques that demand addressing to be successful in attracting Generation Z. Gen Z tend to attach themselves to purpose, they want to understand the business vision, be presented with clear career opportunities and feel they are contributing to a culture with meaning. The current generation of Gen Z is the largest in history to attend university, but has this somewhat diluted the pool of concentrated talent? Many believe the contrary and support the idea that there are more students graduating in specialist fields or certain subjects aligned to a certain skillset, rather than previous generations all taking a similar standard test and then moving swiftly into the working world. History tends to repeat itself however and perhaps many leaders could look to target students before they go to university before the pool of students becomes even further diluted.

The notion of equality is important to Generation Z, with 91% believing that everyone is equal and should be treated that way. Issues surrounding diversity, equity, and inclusion are more salient than in any other generation[1]. As well as purpose, Gen Z attach themselves to honesty and struggle to comprehend companies that do not already have an all-inclusive culture. If employers do not understand how to break down diversity barriers, then Gen Z will most likely look elsewhere. However, if a company is honest and shows a clear and direct plan to increase inclusion but happen to make mistakes, they will be appreciated regardless.

Generation Z is significantly more likely to report their mental health as fair or poor as compared with all other generations[2]. Consequently, leadership teams within an organisation must implement a culture of well-being to successfully attract Gen Z. Focussing on equality, inclusion and mental well-being will not only attract Gen Z but also help retain them.

How do you retain Generation Z in your organisation?

Retaining Gen Z once they have joined an organisation is the main challenge employers face after recruiting. It does not come as a shock to understand that 57% of Generation Z expect to move role within two years. There is a poignant feeling amongst Gen Z that they need extensive experience in order to start a career or to land a job they really want. Is it time to look at the recruitment process? Many role profiles ask for experience as a necessity, even if this experience is outdated. As a result, Gen Z feel the need to keep looking for external experience to bolster their CV rather than valuing similar opportunities internally. To combat this, employers must encourage building their CV through internal job mobility, again reinforcing the notion that Gen Z really attach themselves to purpose. Employers must make the purpose of the organisation; purpose of the role and their inclusion stand out in order to retain Generation Z talent. Are inexperienced Generation Z being undervalued? Proving extensive experience is impossible for Generation Z, employers need to balance out risk and reward. Perhaps investing in a tech savvy, younger mind who understands the modernistic progressiveness of our current society, could reap benefits.

Gen Z will reshape the future of the workplace and it is important employers react to counter the problems that surface quickly. Generation Z need to be proactive also. They need to remember the workplace is a team game and to respect and appreciate the change of culture that was most likely implemented for them. Seeking mentors and learning from your elder peers will always be a key feature of society and it is crucial Gen Z continue this trend and build networks. Recognising the importance of the early years is important but also pursue your dreams. There will be a period of harmony and attractive success amongst employers and Gen Z, it may take a while for cultures to change as more Generation Z filter into the working world, but it is crucial that it does. If not, 1.8 billion Gen Z will cause a generational issue on a gargantuan scale. It is a ticking timebomb that needs to be addressed quickly.

[1] Are you ready for Gen Z in the workplace? Holly Schroth https://cmr.berkeley.edu/assets/documents/sample-articles/61-3-schroth.pdf

[2] Ibid https://cmr.berkeley.edu/assets/documents/sample-articles/61-3-schroth.pdf