Editor's note: This article appears in the May 2021 print edition of MReport magazine, available here.
Generation Z (or, as you may have heard them called, Gen Z) is not just the future of the workforce, they are the present. Gen Z’s oldest members have already graduated college and are joining the workforce. With this new generation entering your organization and the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ projection that they’ll make up 30% of your workforce by 2030, it’s important to understand what defines the Gen Z workforce and what they look for in employers.
Getting to Know Gen Z
A Pew Research Center survey pointed out that Gen Z is on track to be the best-educated generation yet. This generation is the most likely to attend college and, unlike previous generations, they have had unprecedented access to information for nearly their entire lives.
According to the same survey, they also are the most diverse generation in the U.S.: 25% of Gen Zers are Hispanic, 14% are Black, and 6% are Asian. The classrooms and communities they’ve grown up in are far more diverse than your office may be, and this shapes how they view not only the workplace but also the world.
They have grown up in a world that looks much different than it has for any other generation. Gen Zers grew up with a Black president, which shaped their views of what is possible and what can be achieved. With this worldview, they demand purpose in their work, along with strong values and equity. According to a recent Monster survey, 83% of this generation said a company’s visible commitment to diversity affects their decision to work there.
Though growing up in a new world has given them a brighter outlook on what they can achieve, it has also shown them the reality of the challenges they face. Gen Zers were old enough to watch their parents struggle during the Great Recession, and now they are feeling and witnessing COVID-19’s economic impact as adults. They have seen and experienced economic hardship firsthand and early in life, making financial wellness a huge priority for them.
The final factor that shaped Gen Zers into who they are today—and probably the most discussed aspect of this generation—is technology. They likely did most of their schoolwork on a laptop and didn’t use many paper textbooks. Their parents had smartphones—and probably used them to entertain our Gen Zers at times. While this has made them comfortable with technology and able to keep up with the rapid rate of change, it has also created information overload. Gen Zers are more likely to struggle with anxiety as they see more than 10,000 marketing messages a day, according to a recent Forbes article. While millennials are considered tech-savvy, Gen Zers are considered tech-dependent.
The Importance of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI)
With a solid awareness of this generation’s origins, it’s important to understand how your organization can help them get where they are going. Since Gen Z is the most diverse generation, it is key to understand the importance of DEI when recruiting Gen Zers, especially those that belong to or identify with underrepresented groups.
You have likely heard that representation is key, and this cannot be overstated. Additionally, representation cannot stop at low-level management. Black, Asian, and Hispanic Gen Zers need to know they are able to advance in your organization. Make sure they can see a bright future ahead for themselves if they choose to work with you. You need to have diverse leaders throughout your organization, as well as on your executive and senior leadership teams, in order to attract and retain this generation.
It also is crucial to have a support structure in place for your diverse employees. Employee resource groups are an effective way to support minority employees within your organization and make sure their voices are heard. To be most effective, these organizations should be funded and have strong leadership participation in their initiatives and events. Mentorship programs and less formal sponsorship also are important for helping the younger generations succeed and advance within your company. While your Gen Z employees will benefit from the experiences and advice of your more tenured employees, you’ll probably also see some reverse mentoring happening. As these mentorships and sponsorships grow, you’ll likely see existing leaders expand their own worldviews and understanding of current issues based on their work with their Gen Z counterparts.
Once a company has Gen Z people onboard, they must be allowed to have their voices heard and to have changes made based on their input. Create formal and informal feedback loops to facilitate this idea-gathering. Whether those are town halls, surveys, or a suggestion box, find the right fit for your culture and be transparent about the feedback you receive and what you’re doing about it.
Additionally, as you keep a pulse on your own policies and how they can evolve with society, consider facilitating focus groups with various diverse employees across the organization to solicit their input. Bring them into the conversations where changes and decisions being made will affect them or your customers. Overall, it’s not enough just to have someone on board with your organization—you must make them an integral part and allow them to institute change. This not only adds value to your organization, but it also adds value to your relationship with employees and recruits.
Next, make sure their work has meaning. Be clear about your company’s mission and actively work to ensure that every employee understands their role in driving that mission. Work that truly makes a difference brings motivation, especially for this generation that places a high value on belonging in and creating spaces that are diverse, equitable, and inclusive. It’s important to note that “work” doesn’t have to directly translate to what the employee has been hired to do. For example, allow Gen Zers to become involved in employee resource groups and sit on diversity councils to help push the business forward in a way that also is related to the bottom line. You may not have hired them in a DEI role, but give them the space to find meaning there as well.
Also, take a critical look at the way you view culture. When recruiting new employees, rather than hiring those that would be a “culture fit,” hire the Gen Zers that would be a “culture add”—those that could strengthen your corporate culture rather than merely maintaining the status quo. So often we look for employees who are going to be those perfect puzzle pieces and fit right into the organization as it currently is, rather than hiring disrupters and noisemakers to help innovate, bring additional value, and grow with the company. Seeking out and onboarding employees with new and fresh perspectives and a range of personal experiences will set your business up for success far beyond the bottom line.
Another important point to keep in mind when recruiting Gen Zers is to ensure your technology usage is on par. Not only will our Gen Z recruits heavily depend on different platforms but those will also likely be how you reach them in the first place when recruiting. Communicate with them through digital channels and platforms they’re already actively participating in. In doing this, you’ll be going directly to the source.
Finally, keep this generation’s financial priorities in mind. While Gen Zers desire passion and meaning in their work, they also value financial stability. According to a recent report by Concordia University, St. Paul, the compensation and benefits you offer Gen Zers will be another key element in their decision-making process. Additionally, promotion and career advancement opportunities are another key driver to building trust with this generation, as noted in recent Catalyst research.
Building a Future with Gen Z
Gen Z is a completely unique generation for many reasons. With its diverse makeup, organizations would do well to understand their wants and needs and to start prioritizing DEI at all levels of the company if they want to be an attractive and viable option for this generation in the future.
Gen Zers may just be entering the workforce, but they are setting out to change the world.