How we work
By Ali Francis14th June 2022
Work-life balance, fair pay and value alignment: today’s youngest workers want it all – and are willing to walk away if they don’t get it.
Clarissa Holleman had always felt like teaching was her calling. But just more than a year into her first job caring for children with special needs, the 24-year-old from Hinesville, Georgia, US, was burnt out from what she calls the “high stakes” and “compassion fatigue”. She had “no life” of her own outside work, and was struggling to see a future within the education field.
When Holleman started teaching in July 2020, all her classes were remote due to the pandemic. She felt both powerless and ill-supported to help the children she was caring for. “That kind of work environment is just crazy; you have no energy left at the end of the day,” says Holleman. On top of the anxiety and exhaustion she was experiencing, there were financial issues: she wasn’t being paid during school holidays. Holleman increasingly felt that the toll the job was taking on her life was no longer worth the sense of purpose it offered.
So, in January 2022, after spending months upskilling via free LinkedIn courses, Holleman quit what had been her “dream career”. She’s now a tech recruiter at a millennial-run company, and although she doesn’t identify with her work as much anymore, she prefers it that way. Holleman has unlimited (and culturally permitted) paid time off, great work-life balance that allows for established hobbies and a better salary. “I definitely see myself staying there really long term,” she says.
For decades, the cultural mandate in many Western countries has been hustle hard for your employer, and you’ll be rewarded. If the striving is for a job you love, the pay will be satisfaction. And if the job involves climbing the rungs of a corporate ladder, the pay will be, well, big bucks. Though different in motivation, both paths share the same narrative. As a result, work has become an obsession, an identity even; something workers traditionally felt lucky to have.
But increasingly, Generation Z workers like Holleman – those born between 1997 and 2012 – are insisting we write a new script for work. Having observed older workers experience burnout, time poverty and economic insecurity at the grindstone, they’re demanding more from workplaces: bigger pay cheques, more time off, the flexibility to work remotely and greater social and environmental responsibility. Many of these values were millennial preferences, but for Gen Zers, they’ve become expectations – and they’re willing to walk away from employers if their needs aren’t met.
As a result of their war on work, Gen Zers have been dubbed entitled or anti-capitalist. Yet they’re not; Gen Zers want it all – and are willing to work hard for the right employer. But if the juice isn’t worth the squeeze, they’ll leave and find other ways to make ends meet. Many have argued they’re simply a generation responding to the social movements of their time, and using lessons hard won by older workers to inform their career choices. And some even think the youngest in the labour force have potential to bring meaningful change to the workplace along the way.
Gen Zers just “want decent pay for doing work they enjoy, and the respect that allows them to have a life outside of their jobs” – Kathleen Gerson (Credit: Getty Images)
‘Not for me’
While there are, of course, Gen Zers aspiring to all sorts of lives, the top priority for this cohort of workers as a whole is higher pay, according to a 2022 survey by US job site CareerBuilder. That goes for Gen Zers who haven’t yet entered the workforce, too: 77% of college seniors in a 2020 job-seeker survey by recruitment platform RippleMatch said compensation would be the number one factor when evaluating offers.
This represents a significant shift in values compared to millennials. According to a 2011 global survey by professional services network PwC, millennials entering the workplace valued career progression and personal development over financial reward. They were more attracted to employers who could help them climb their ladder of choice than those with the deepest pockets.
Still, it makes sense that wages are in sharper focus now, says CareerBuilder CEO Susan Arthur. Gen Z is entering a workforce and economic landscape that is very different to before, she says. While young workers across generations tend to struggle financially early on in their careers, Gen Z faces particularly acute stressors, especially as rising inflation outpaces salary growth.
The pandemic has intensified economic precarity for all workers. Half of American Gen Zers who are old enough to work witnessed someone in their household lose a job or take a pay cut due to the Covid-19 outbreak, according to the Pew Research Center. They’ve also watched older generations go through multiple recessions and end up with huge amounts of debt, says Elizabeth Michelle, a London-based psychologist and workplace engagement consultant. “So, Gen Z are looking at all of that and thinking, ‘Not for me; I’m not going to do that’.”
But as much emphasis as there is on pay, Gen Zers are also looking to grow their careers at certain kinds of organisations. Mia Jones, a 23-year-old proposal writer from California, dreams of a workplace that’s “modern, transparent and entrepreneurial”. She values work-life balance, mental health benefits, the flexibility to work when and where she wants and companies that invest in developing workers in a diverse and inclusive environment.
Jones isn’t alone in her desire for a more humanistic type of labour. According to 2022 research by workplace training company TalentLMs, 82% of Gen Zers surveyed want mental health days, 77% consider it important that their company supports diversity, equity and inclusion efforts, and 74% would opt for either hybrid or totally remote work. After an unsatisfactory salary, burnout and lack of work-life balance was the number one reason they’d quit. Where work used to be about what employees could offer companies, says Michelle, “now it’s all about what Gen Zers are expecting from work”.
There is nothing wrong with just focusing on existing and enjoying life. You do not have to define yourself by your job – Mia Jones, 23
Millennials also yearned for flexibility and balance, but they were more willing to sacrifice corporate social responsibility for companies they admired as consumers; the ones that aligned with their passions and were perceived as prestigious places to work. In 2008, 86% said they’d consider leaving an employer whose values no longer met their expectations, but by 2011, that figure had plummeted to just 56%.
Jones, on the other hand, rejects the idea that an employer – reputable or otherwise – should dictate her identity. While she appreciates the skills she’s learned at work, she finds meaning and purpose outside employment, through art, making music and going to yoga. “There is nothing wrong with just focusing on existing and enjoying life,” she says. “You do not have to define yourself by your job.”
‘I’m a huge advocate for taking the leap’
With both salary and work-life balance front and centre, Gen Zers also come with another stand-out characteristic: they are the cohort most likely to quit if they’re unsatisfied at work. One 2021 study by consumer financial services company Bankrate found that 77% of the Gen Zers surveyed were on the hunt for a new job. Of millennials at the same stage in their careers, only 38% of those surveyed in 2011 said they were on the lookout for opportunities. And Gen Zers already spend less time in a role than millennials, according to CareerBuilder.
Quitting or changing careers might seem likely to nudge higher salaries further out of reach, but research finds that’s not the case. In comparison to those who stay put, the UK’s Office for National Statistics found higher wages were a key perk of job hopping for all workers.
Since switching from education to tech, Holleman's making more now than she did as a teacher. It’s not that she expected a bigger teaching salary right out of college, but in the district where she worked, Holleman would have had to wait three years for any sort of pay rise. And within her first six months as a tech recruiter her salary has already jumped by USD$10,000 (£8,000). “I’m a huge advocate for taking the leap if your mental health is suffering,” she says. “I mean, I could always go back to teaching.”
How a workplace operates also factors into whether younger workers stay or go. Gen Zers and millennials hold many of the same workplace values, says Michelle, but Gen Z seems to have more willingness to act on them – something she suspects is born of the knowledge that there are endless other ways to earn a living now, thanks to the internet. “It takes a lot less for them to leave than it did for previous generations,” she explains. Gen Zers want to see companies follow through on their mission statements, particularly in regard to social and environmental values, and if they aren’t “practising what they’re preaching, Gen Z will hold them accountable”.
Gen Zers and millennials hold many of the same workplace values, says Elizabeth Michelle, but Gen Z seems to have more willingness to act on them (Credit: Getty Images)
Beth Kennedy has witnessed this phenomenon in her workplace first-hand. Gen Zers are assertive when it comes to establishing work-life boundaries and upholding ethical standards, says the 32-year-old, who runs a marketing agency in New York City, and employs younger workers. They’re “thoughtful, compassionate and hardworking”, she explains, and they’ll call out policies and behaviours they disagree with. While millennials “were taught, and believed, that you needed to be always available for work, Gen Zers don't subscribe to that”.
Given the context of their lives, Gen Z attitudes make sense, says Kathleen Gerson, a professor of sociology, arts and science at New York University. Born into a digitally connected world, they are acutely aware of the social justice and environmental movements as well as the new-found ways of working, that are shaking up the status quo. They’re also, adds Gerson, entering a job market that – despite endless new tech-enabled career opportunities – been growing less stable and more amorphous since the 1950s.
Trust and loyalty between employers and workers has eroded, and Gen Zers have internalised that insecurity, says Gerson. What may seem like entitled behaviour – quitting and demanding changes at work – is actually employers failing to meet the demands of modern life. Gen Zers just “want decent pay for doing work they enjoy, and the respect that allows them to have a life outside of their jobs”, says Gerson.
Catalyst of change?
Gen Z is erupting into the workforce at a time of major upheaval. In the wake of the pandemic, we’re experiencing something of a power struggle between workplaces and their employees, explains Gerson, as workers push for better conditions and many companies resist their efforts. Naturally, conversations around flexibility, work-life balance and social and environmental justice are louder than ever.
The youngest workers are entering the labour market with a set of demands and the determination to act on them. Still, despite their efforts, the news is not all positive; Gerson is concerned Gen Zers are applying individual solutions to collective problems. Workers quitting or speaking up, she says, are moves that are less likely to convince employers to make changes than government legislation or union pressure that mandates benefits like higher wages and more time off. Especially, she says, considering mobility largely depends on privilege; hourly workers and those with less corporate experience have very little leverage to job hop or assert boundaries that could prevent work encroaching on life.
Gen Zers are “thoughtful, compassionate and hardworking” and they’ll call out policies and behaviours they disagree with – Beth Kennedy
Plus, Gen Z workers like Jones are already reportingburnout, suggesting the hustle culture and financial burden that plagued generations before them is still taking a toll. Despite focusing on her life outside work, Jones finds her job overwhelming. “I'm dealing with a lot of stress I didn't even think to prepare myself for; navigating corporate dynamics, no structure and little support,” she says. “I often feel overworked, underpaid and angry.” Still, she holds out hope that her generation’s vision for a new kind of labour could eventually manifest.
Despite her caveats, Gerson, who describes herself as “a short-term pessimist but a long-term optimist” about these workplace shifts, is hopeful Gen Z can catalyse change. The needle is more likely to move, she says, as millennials with similar values to Gen Z increasingly take on leadership roles and companies pressed to attract and retain talent are forced to yield to some worker demands – but she cautions that it will likely take some time before all workers benefit.
Kennedy, who has already implemented Gen Z-driven policies in her own workplace, is adamant the youngest workers are already succeeding in their quest, however. No one is expected to be contactable outside set hours, meetings feel more collaborative and inclusive, and she’s aspiring to introduce a four-day workweek. Gen Zers are asking the tough questions, says Kennedy, “and workplaces are being forced to have broader discussions and make shifts when they don't have good answers”.
In Hinesville, Holleman is thriving in her new role. Her millennial boss is understanding and flexible. The work feels meaningful, but she doesn’t think a whole lot about it while she’s not on the clock. And outside the office, she’s a Miss Georgia candidate and has plenty of time for hobbies. “I’m able to just live my life now,” she says.
What is one thing that Gen Z really want from their workplace? ›
Accountability on the environment, sustainability, and social responsibility. Gen Zers are passionate about making a difference, and want to work somewhere they feel has a broader mission and purpose that aligns with their own values.What motivates Gen Z workers? ›
Gen Z is often motivated by a sense of purpose and may be drawn to jobs and companies that align with their personal values and beliefs. As a manager, you can help motivate your Gen Z employees by ensuring that their work is meaningful and has a positive impact on others.How do you deal with Gen Z workers? ›
- Encourage Innovation And Work-Life Balance. ...
- Lead By Example. ...
- Understand Their Needs. ...
- Provide Growth Opportunities. ...
- Leverage Gen-Z's Desire For Change. ...
- Focus On The Individual. ...
- Be Open To Learning From Them. ...
- Walk The Culture Talk.
- Meaningful work.
- Inclusive company culture.
- Growth opportunities.
- Stability and balance.
- Collaboration and autonomy.
- Cutting-edge tech.
- Short application process.
Gen Zers like to maintain a healthy balance between their work and personal life. They value mental health and peace of mind. Gen Z employees avoid stressful situations and desire to work in organizations that offer health benefits to their employees.What do Gen Z value in the workplace? ›
Desire to work individually.
Team environments are not a problem for Gen Z, but many young employees prefer to work on individual projects as much as possible. By working independently, Gen Zers are able to showcase their skills and abilities as a way to prove themselves to employers.
- Provide regular feedback. Gen Z-ers desire regular feedback on their performance. ...
- Promote interpersonal relationships. ...
- Implement a flexible work setting to reduce burnout. ...
- Provide career growth opportunities. ...
- Embrace social media and technology at the workplace. ...
- Promote diversity and inclusion.
They care about values, authenticity, and results. Another key factor to understanding this generation's mindset is that they tend to look at the future with uncertainty.Which motivation is the most important to Gen Z? ›
Indeed, Gen Z is the generation most motivated by building relationships—these young professionals highly value the connections they make at work.What is the Gen Z work problem? ›
In the short term, Gen Z's stress is leading to ambivalence and withdrawal in their professional lives. According to 2022 data from Gallup, they are the most disengaged group at work. They also report more overall stress and work-related burnout than other cohorts.
How do you keep Gen Z workers happy? ›
- Provide clear development opportunities for their career.
- Create an inclusive work culture.
- Implement efficient time management.
- Make wellbeing a priority.
- Invest in the latest technology.
Every generation thinks it has it harder than anyone else, but Generation Z — the young people who are now graduating from college and entering the labor market — may actually have a point.What Gen Z wants from employers? ›
To start, Gen Z wants better pay; diversity, equity and inclusion efforts that make a difference; and more flexibility. It's not earth-shattering—these younger generations are just a bit more vocal about their needs.What is the biggest issue Gen Z will face in their career? ›
Gen Z is entering a workforce and economic landscape that is very different to before, she says. While young workers across generations tend to struggle financially early on in their careers, Gen Z faces particularly acute stressors rising inflation.What does Gen Z prioritize in workplace? ›
Prioritize wellness and mental health to show you care.
Mental health struggles are a crucial factor impacting Gen Z employees. Many experience anxiety and depression, which affects their work performance. In fact, Gen Z's top wish for their leadership is that they care about well-being and mental health.
The Implication: Gen Z can prioritize friendship and invest time in inviting people for coffee, meeting up and hanging out with colleagues and people outside of work as well. Others can support Gen Z by reaching out and creating relationships with them, offering a listening ear, advice and companionship.What skills will be needed for Generation Z workers? ›
- Communication. ...
- Fostering diversity & inclusion. ...
- Coaching & mentoring. ...
- Career exploration. ...
- Business writing. ...
- Focus & productivity.
Based on the result of this study, most of the generation Z prefer leaders who listen to every opinion of their members in order to reach a common decision called the democratic style.What are 3 things about Gen Z? ›
Generation Z considers itself more accepting and open-minded than any generation before it. Almost half of Gen Zs are minorities, compared to 22% of Baby Boomers, and the majority of Gen Z supports social movements such as Black Lives Matter, transgender rights, and climate change.What is Gen Z unique characteristics? ›
- They're money-driven and ambitious.
- They love to travel.
- They're prone to anxiety.
- They're known to set boundaries.
- They're avid gamers.
- They're nostalgic.
- They use social media in a unique way.
What are Gen Z most known for? ›
Gen Z is known for being resourceful, independent learners who value diversity and inclusive culture and place a priority on well-being and mental health in the workplace. They are fiscally conservative with a keen focus on investing and income. Gen Z values justice and equity.What are 3 problems facing Gen Z? ›
From climate change to mental health, social equity among race and gender identities, gun control and economic concerns, Gen Z is leading the charge for change on a variety of fronts. Here's a closer look at some of the top Gen Z social issues.Who is the hardest working generation? ›
Dan Schawbel, best-selling author and research director, Future Workplace, Said: “Despite younger generations being called lazy by older generations, Gen Zers consider themselves the hardest-working.Why Gen Z is leaving the workforce? ›
LinkedIn's research found that pay was the main reason why Gen Z are quitting (30% in the UK). However, their high quit rate isn't just linked with salaries.Would Gen Z rather quit a job than be unhappy in it? ›
According to a new survey, over half of employees (56%) aged 18 to 24, or Gen Z, would quit a job that stopped them from enjoying their life.Which generation is happiest at work? ›
A new report from Gympass, the world's largest corporate wellbeing platform, has found that despite Gen Z's reputation for shirking work, they are actually the happiest at work and also the hardest working.Does Gen Z want to work in person? ›
The study found that about half (49%) of millennials surveyed want to work fully remote, whereas only 27% of Generation Z (Gen Zers) feel the same way; they're much more likely than average “to be seeking in-person” work opportunities.Are Gen Z more likely to quit? ›
More than half of U.S. workers — 61% — are considering leaving their jobs in 2023, a new report from LinkedIn has found, noting that a higher percentage of Gen Z (defined by LinkedIn as ages 18-25) and millennial (ages 26-41) workers are planning to call it quits than any other generation.What is the salary of Gen Z? ›
On average, Gen Z defines a high starting salary as $82k.
Gen Z grads are in tune with realistic starting salaries by industry. While most say a “high” starting salary would make them more likely to apply to a job, two-thirds of respondents' idea of “high” is still under $100k.
Some reports indicate that the competitive nature of Gen-Z means they are more interested in working independently. After all, they were raised by highly independent Gen-Xers, so today's youths are used to doing things on their own. However, other reports call Generation Z more collaborative than Millennials.
What is the smartest generation? ›
Gen Z is also the smartest and best educated generation. Having an unlimited wealth of information at our disposal has not gone to waste. In America, 57 percent of Gen Z is reported to have enrolled in a two-year or four-year college, compared to 52 percent of Millenials and 43 percent of Gen X.What is a common criticism of Gen Z? ›
The biggest criticism leveled at colleagues born between 1995 and 2007 is that they are self-centered and unable to negotiate or compromise, which inevitably leads to conflict. Other generations often find it hard to understand them, let alone work with them.What is the best way to engage Gen Z? ›
- Build a healthy and inclusive culture. ...
- Leverage tech to attract potential hires and engage your team. ...
- Bring your values to life to engage your team.
- Daily face-to-face communication. Don't be surprised. ...
- Be honest & transparent. ...
- Treat them as equals. ...
- Maximize online communication channels. ...
- Bottom-up approach.
Most Gen Zers also use their smartphones for video streaming, music, and podcasts. The US Media Consumption Report from 2021 showed that 60% of Gen Zers stream music daily and 37% listen to podcasts weekly. The average Gen Z individual spends 3.4 hours per day streaming videos.What do Gen Z and millennials want in the workplace? ›
Millennials prefer job flexibility while Gen Zers prefer job stability. Gen Z is more entrepreneurial. Millennials value work-life balance whereas Gen Zers value salary and career advancement.How do you attract Gen Z in the workplace? ›
- Build a healthy and inclusive culture. ...
- Leverage tech to attract potential hires and engage your team. ...
- Bring your values to life to engage your team.
Gen Zers Are Independent learners make up this generation
—they are all about the pursuit of knowledge. This generation was born with the internet and social media; the experiences they encountered as children helped them gain early expertise with digital tools allowing them to be self-reliant as well as collaborative.
- Diversity Is Their Norm. ...
- They Are Our First “Digital Natives” ...
- They Are Pragmatic and Financially Minded. ...
- Many Factors Contribute to Their Mental Health Challenges. ...
- They Are Shrewd Consumers. ...
- They Are Politically Progressive — Even Those on the Right.
Gen Z also wants to hear from their leaders on a regular basis. Sixty percent of Gen Zers want multiple check-ins from their manager during the week, and of those, 40 percent want the interactions with their boss to be daily or even several times a day.
How is Gen Z different in the workplace? ›
Some 42 percent of Gen Z workers value work-life balance, remote working and flexible leave as their top priorities when looking for a job, according to a recent U.S. survey. What's more, this generation prioritize jobs where they can expand their skills and broaden their talents and experience.How are Gen Z different from millennials in the workforce? ›
Differences in Gen Z employees and millennial employees
Millennials value work-life balance whereas Gen Zers value salary and career advancement. Members of Gen Z are more independent and prefer to figure things out themselves while millennials tend to value teamwork and input from others more highly.
In the short term, Gen Z's stress is leading to ambivalence and withdrawal in their professional lives. According to 2022 data from Gallup, they are the most disengaged group at work. They also report more overall stress and work-related burnout than other cohorts.What skills are Gen Z lacking? ›
Gen Z lacks the communication and networking skills needed for the workforce.What is the best way to target Gen Z? ›
- Create Channel-Specific Content. ...
- Keep It Short. ...
- Use Video – A Lot. ...
- Champion Authenticity. ...
- Be Transparent And Accountable. ...
- Go To The Influencer. ...
- Invite Gen Z To Participate In Your Marketing. ...
- Get Everyone To Create.