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What does Gen Z want from work?

Employee engagement still matters, but Gen Z will require a tailored approach.

5 min read


Gen Z

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The millennial generation changed almost everything about how we define the employee experience and how we approach employee rewards and recognition. It was the first generation to fully embrace the social media revolution, shaping how people communicate, celebrate, collaborate and serve their communities.

We have dubbed the generation after millennials “Gen Z” for the purposes of this article, but the folks in the business of naming generations have yet to decide what to call them. Gen Tech, Gen Wii, Net Gen, Digital Natives, Plurals, Centennials, the Homeland Generation, and iGeneration have all been suggested at some point, and they are all valid. The important thing to remember is they refer to the generation born between 1997 and 2012, meaning many of them are just now entering the workforce.

So what does Gen Z want to get out of work? Several studies have been published that tell us some interesting facts. In short, the attributes and associations that defined millennials have carried over to their successors and are even more prevalent. Here are some highlights:

  • They are the most ethnically diverse generation so far. According to a recent Pew Research Center report, a historically slim majority of Gen Z (52%) identify as white, and in certain areas like the western US, they are equally likely to be of Hispanic or other nonwhite origin. In fact, one in four identify as Hispanic. Interestingly, Gen Z is less likely than millennials to be foreign-born, reflecting the changing demographics of the country as a whole.
  • They are more educated than any previous generation. The same Pew analysis shows us Gen Z members are more likely to complete high school and go to college, as well as more likely to have college-educated parents. This is a continuation of trends established by millennials, who were more likely to have post-graduate education than previous generations. Black and Hispanic Gen Z-ers have made large gains in high-school completion rates, improving by 6 and 16 percentage points over millennial counterparts, respectively.
  • They have the highest rates of cell phone ownership of any generation. We’ve all heard the complaint that kids today are attached to their phones, and in some respects it’s true. Cell phone ownership and social media use are the highest among Gen Z, being the first generation born fully immersed in the era of smartphones and social networks. As a result, social media is a primary communication channel for them, and they are more likely to build their networks and meet friends online before anything else.
  • Job security and work-life balance are top concerns. A Universum study that surveyed 49,000 Gen Z members across 47 countries found these factors to be their top concern for entering the workforce. Even with high marks for education and entrepreneurship, Gen Z is concerned with job security and living a full life. Being born into a post-9/11 world rife with sociopolitical and economic uncertainty has most likely made them more “woke” about it than any previous generation.

Based on these findings, we can glean some engagement techniques that are sure to connect with the coming wave of Gen Z workers. Here are some choice strategies that will put you ahead of the curve when it comes to retaining and developing their talent:

  • Diversity and inclusion policies. Quite simply, diversity and inclusion is becoming the rule rather than the exception, and Gen Z is on track to become the most diverse generation yet. Savvy companies will ditch any old-world thinking around this matter and make their commitment to diversity and inclusion known at the recruiting phase and beyond.
  • Mobile engagement platforms. Whatever engagement or recognition programs you offer, be sure that their features are available on a mobile device. Gen Z already prefers to develop social contacts online, so providing a mobile corporate experience to stay in touch with the organizational mission and values is a no-brainer.
  • Wellness initiatives. As mentioned above, work-life balance is a top concern, so the more you can emphasize it in your daily operations the better. Consider offering incentive programs for gym memberships, providing on-site amenities — and look into points-based wellness programs and/or health-savings accounts, if feasible.
  • Flexible scheduling and remote work. Sometimes the best way to keep a job-hopping generation engaged with your organization is to give them more freedom to work outside of the office. This is entirely doable with modern technology, and will make your organization more attractive to a generation that spends a majority of their time communicating remotely in the first place.
  • Clearly defined career paths. If you don’t have a plan for developing careers of your Gen Z workers in the long term, don’t expect them to stay around for long. They possess an even larger entrepreneurial spirit than their predecessors and have more options than ever for finding side gigs. Consider a mentorship program, and make career satisfaction and growth a feature during recruiting.

Thankfully, Gen Z isn’t bringing any shakeups to how we engage employees on the whole. The chief characteristics that defined millennials before them have been carried over and amplified, and that can be a good thing. As long as we stay open-minded about all they have to offer, play to their strengths and avoid the negative stereotypes that are bound to arise, the passing of the workforce torch should be painless.


Cord Himelstein is vice president of marketing and communications at HALO Recognition.

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