“Tech-addicted,” “anti-social,” and “social justice warriors” are the stereotypes Stanford researcher Roberta Katz says often describe Gen Z. Yet, for a generation—the first that’s never known society without Instagram, Facebook, or text messaging—they’re surprisingly pragmatic.
As revealed in Gen Z, Explained: The Art of Living in a Digital Age, Katz says that despite these unfair labels, her research shows this generation to be highly collaborative and self-reliant. They want flexibility and authenticity and aren’t afraid to challenge policies and people who don’t align with those values.
Gen Z’s mindset and approach towards employment are inherently different from other generations. When it comes to careers, for example, Baby Boomers prioritize stability and prestige, Gen Xers prioritize independence, and millennials prioritize family and personal development.
The top priorities for Gen Z employees?
Money and free time.
With Gen Z now making up about one-third of the world’s total population, the question is: Can the brash demands and fearlessness of this “tech-addicted” digital generation help improve the conditions of the modern workplace for all of us?
Key Takeaways on Gen Z’s Workplace Priorities
- Gen Z, who makes up about one-fourth of the total world population, is now entering the workforce.
- While Gen Z is a digital generation, only 14% of Gen Z workers want to work from home.
- Events that occurred during Gen Z’s upbringing have dramatically impacted their mental health and view of what’s important.
- While other generations prioritize accomplishments and family, Gen Z prioritizes financial security and personal time.
Who Is Gen Z?
Gen Z, “iGen,” and “postmillennial,” are all terms that describe the generation following millennials. Born between 1997 and 2012, Gen Zers are anywhere from age 10 to 25, and they currently make up about 26% of the world’s population. Their age group is considered the most ethnically diverse in the U.S., according to 2022 Truelist statistics.
Common Characteristics of Gen Z Workers
Memes, GIFs, “reels” and TikTok—this is the subcultural language connecting most of Gen Z. While these methods of communication seem foreign to other generations, Gen Z uses them to share ideas, form bonds, and express themselves. As Katz says: “For Gen Zers living in the United States . . . the “norm” they experienced as children was a world that operated at speed, scale and scope.”
Of course, this shared technological culture may solicit negative stereotypes of Gen Z from those who don’t understand them. However, this generation is on track to become the most educated generation so far, according to Timely MD, and 59% of Gen Zers have already enrolled in college.
Another common characteristic among Gen Z workers? Shift shock. According to a survey by The Muse, unmet expectations and a general “life is short” mentality have resulted in 72% of Gen Z workers regretting their career moves. Whether the role isn’t what they thought it was or they feel misled by the company as a whole, 80% of new Gen Z hires feel its acceptable to leave a job within six months if it doesn’t meet their expectations.
A Look at Workplace Priorities by Generation
When it comes to career goals and expectations, each generation has a different perspective on what’s important. Here’s a quick snapshot of how workplace priorities have evolved over time.
Baby Boomers (1946–1964): Status and Prestige
Baby boomers, so called because of the “boom” in births following WWII and the Great Depression, are the people born between 1946 and 1964. Today, they’re between 58 and 76 and are likely your parents if you’re a millennial. Famous leaders like Jeff Bezos, Steve Wozniak, and Oprah Winfrey are some examples of success stemming from the baby boomer generation.
According Sally Kane with The Balance Careers, achieving status, prestige, and positions of power is the end game for baby boomers. This is because during the mid-1900s, they were the largest generation of people born, and the economy wasn’t equipped for that volume of new workers. Baby boomers had to learn how to compete against each other for stability, success, and resources as a result. This meant going above and beyond to prove their worth and gain favor to beat out their competition, earning the “workaholic” label in the process.
Gen X (1965–1980): Independence
Generation X, or the generation preceding the baby boomers, was born between 1965 and 1980 and is now between the ages of 42 and 57. This generation is often the children of baby boomers and the parents of millennials and Gen Z. Elon Musk, Gordon Ramsay, and Reese Witherspoon all hail from this generation.
Gen X grew up witnessing the difficult times of the 1970s and 1980s, like the Vietnam War, the post-civil rights era, and The Cold War. This molded their view of life to place greater value on basic freedoms and personal agency than on anything else. According to Indeed, the workplace priorities of Gen Xers include independence, freedom to explore new ideas, and the ability to pursue their own personal aspirations. For Gen Xers, having the ability to work with minimal workplace supervision is critical.
Millennials (1981–1996): Personal Development and Family
Millennials, also known as Generation Y, are those born between 1981 and 2000, and today, they fall between the ages of 26 and 41. If you’re a baby boomer, this might be your child and if you’re a business leader, this is likely the majority of your staff. Millennials are currently the largest working population, with 35% of the total workforce being millennials. Leaders like Mark Zuckerberg, Matthew Mullenweg, and Jessica Alba represent some of the success stories that came from the millennial generation.
For this generation, it’s about having equal opportunity to do meaningful work for fair pay, according to surveys conducted by Great Place to Work. Unlike the baby boomers, who were willing to sacrifice everything to work long hours to get ahead, millennials value having career fulfillment and deep sense of purpose. To older generations, this makes them seem selfish and unmotivated, but they view work as a means to achieve goals, and not the goal itself.
Gen Z (1997–2012): Strong Salaries and Flexible Schedules
Then there’s Gen Z. This generation is in high school (or will be soon). Additionally, it includes those who recently graduated from college and are now entering the workforce. Some Gen Zers, like Millie Bobby Brown, Simone Biles, Alexis de Bernede and Marius Jacob (who created an art gallery selling $600,000 pieces from a $2,000 investment), are already making big names for themselves. As social media and online marketplace accessibility continue to grow, Business Insider suggests that Gen Z’s fearless entrepreneurial spirit will only continue to “disrupt” the traditional workplace.
If you consider this generation’s fortitude, innovation, and sense of self, however, it’s like Gen Z represents the priorities of all previous generations combined. They’ve seen the hardships that older generations have struggled with—overwork, burnout, and injustices—and as a result, they want everything. They don’t have an issue working hard, but they want their employer to provide personal freedom, flexible schedules, work-life balance, and good money. According to research done by Talent LMS, the top three reasons Gen Z quit their jobs are unsatisfactory salary, burnout, and because they’re simply not passionate about the work.
The Priority All Generations Share
Under a microscope, you’ll see that all generations have unique perspectives, and therefore, unique priorities. Zooming out, however, it’s clear that all generations have one workplace priority in common: they want a healthy and positive corporate culture.
A study by Glassdoor revealed that 86% of job seekers lean on company reviews when deciding on jobs they want to apply for. To take that a step further, Glassdoor also found that 68% of millennials, 54% of Gen-Xers, and 48% of baby boomer job seekers evaluate the reputation of a company by visiting their social media accounts first. Finally, 50% of job seekers, of all generations, surveyed said they would rather take a pay cut than work for a company with a bad reputation.
Why Gen Z Cares So Much About Security, Balance, and Values
Just like the baby boomers felt the ripple effects of the Great Depression and millennials endured the Great Recession, Gen Z has lived through their equal share of generational problems. They’ve grown up during recessions and the War on Terror. Now they’ve endured the COVID-19 pandemic and rising inflation. They’ve seen their parents, siblings, and friends struggle to make ends meet, drown in debt, face racial injustices, burn out, or lose their jobs.
And seeing these things has had negative consequences. A report by the American Psychological Association revealed that Gen Z is the generation most affected by traumatic cultural events, like mass shootings (75%), a rise in suicide (62%), and climate change (58%).
As a result, another recent APA study revealed that 46% of Gen Z adults were most likely to report worsened mental health compared with before the pandemic. Further, research from Deloitte found that only 28% of those in the Gen Z and millennial generations expect our current economic climate to improve in the next year, and 43% have a second job to alleviate financial worries.
It’s therefore not surprising that pay is the number one reason Gen Z leaves their employers, and why 74% prioritize their sense of purpose even above pay. They’ve seen humanity during some of the darkest times and have the highest levels of depression as a result. Yet, in spite of this, they want better futures for themselves, their families, and their communities, and they won’t tolerate the issues their predecessors did.
What Gen Z Wants From Employers
Hybrid Models for Improved Work-Life Balance
Despite assumptions about their digital upbringing, only 14% of Gen Z employees want to work from home. Most, in fact, prefer working with others face-to-face, according to Psychology Today. That’s not to say that they don’t value greater job flexibility, however. 75% of Gen Z employees would like a hybrid model, having the ability to work remotely at least 50% of the time. This is because flexible work patterns allow them to see their coworkers, but also free up time for other things they care about, save money, and feel more positive about their jobs.
Value-Driven Cultures Committed to Change
When it comes to personal values, employers who try to align their values with those of Gen Z will do well to attract them. A survey by Deloitte revealed that 37% of Gen Z job seekers admit to turning down a job offer based on personal ethics. According to Talent LMS, for example, 68% of Gen Z employees gravitate to companies committed to social causes, and 58% want to work for a company that practices environmental responsibility.
Opportunities for Developing New Skills
31% of Gen Z employees who don’t have access to new training or development opportunities will likely leave their jobs, according to a survey by Talent LMS and BambooHR. Furthermore, research by Deloitte explained that while pay is the biggest reason Gen Z employees quit, the availability to continue learning and developing was a top priority when deciding on a new role.
Diverse and Inclusive Work Environments
Growing up with access to people and resources all over the world gave Gen Zers the innate ability to connect and collaborate with others. As a result, diversity and inclusion are a natural part of life for them, and they’ll avoid any culture that hasn’t yet risen to this standard. As Roberta Katz, a senior research scholar at Stanford’s Center for Advanced Study in Behavioral Sciences says: “Because they could learn about people and cultures around the globe from an early age, they developed a greater appreciation for diversity and the importance of finding their own unique identities.”
Unfortunately, 52% of Gen Z employees are unsatisfied with progress being made to create diverse and inclusive workplaces, according to Deloitte.
While 62% of job seekers from all generations are looking for higher salaries, according to a Career Builder, it’s a major factor for Gen Z. 30% of Gen Z employees report feeling financially insecure, and 26% aren’t confident they’ll be able to retire. So it makes sense that 24% of Gen Z employees cited high salaries and other financial benefits as the top reason for choosing one employer over another, according to the Deloitte Global 2022 Gen Z and Millennial Survey.
All Generations Want Everything—From “A” to “Z”
“I want a good work-life balance. I want an empathetic employer, and I want similar, if not the same, benefits as those older than me. I think young people are undervalued and can be taken advantage of . . . I would also like an employer who is aware of modern-day socioeconomic issues,” says Raven Earnest, a 24-year-old legal and compliance associate.
While it’s easy to lean on generational boxes and stereotypes to rationalize things we can’t relate to, the reality is that Gen Z mostly wants the same things everyone wants. All generations want better working conditions, time to do things they care about, and salaries they can live on. Gen Z is just the generation that is not afraid to fight for it. Their workplace priorities are unbending and their patience is short. They’ll ask for high salaries, challenge their leaders, advocate for flexible work patterns, and “job hop” until they find what they’re looking for.
If this inspired you to advocate for improvements in your workplace, consider reading “Here’s How to Build a Great Corporate Culture.”