In the Academy Award-winning documentary Free Solo, Alex Honnold scales a massive rock — El Capitan in Yosemite National Park — without any ropes. It’s a jaw-dropping, death-defying feat, but I was captivated by another detail: how Honnold lived during his quest. He ate, slept, and washed in a trailer where he had one pan and one burner, eating directly from the pan using the same spatula he cooked with. He could scale a mountain without safety equipment, but he couldn’t bother to get a fork.
This contrast epitomizes Generation Z. They’re not slackers; in fact, they’re quite the opposite. Defined by personal achievement more than anything else, Gen Z-ers work all the time. They are constantly online, connected, hustling, and “getting that bread.” They are breaking barriers as entrepreneurs, best-selling authors, globally conscious citizens, and activists. So why not get the fork? Because to them, the fork is inefficient, a total waste of time.
The Jobs Gen Z Wants
Now that Gen Z is entering the workforce, employers need to understand a few key traits of this population.
To start, Gen Z-ers are more skeptical than millennials. Whereas millennials see the workplace as a source of family, purpose, and belonging, Gen Z prioritizes financial security. As children, many saw their parents lose everything in the Great Recession, and the heavy burden of unsustainable student loans weighs on their minds. Gen Z-ers look closely at all the ways the system might be rigged and refuse to accept the status quo.
Gen Z workers want “good jobs,” but what does that mean to them? To begin with, they want to be paid well and have job stability. They also want their employers to support their financial wellness with health insurance, robust retirement plans, and student loan repayment assistance.
The No. 1 quality that keeps Gen Z-ers in a job for three or more years is an empowering culture. To support their mental health, they also want fun environments that combat the isolation of communication technology. Finally, they want their work to be meaningful and connected to a personal passion, which is why they often seek work with companies that address social issues.
Gen Z job seekers are ready to work hard, and they want to work for employers who get it. A basic job isn’t good enough for Gen Z. Workplaces that speak to Gen Z’s values, offer clear paths for personal achievement, and provide opportunities to do good will best recruit and retain this talented generation.
How to Prepare for the Gen Z Workforce
Gen Z is ready to work hard. Many have spent their whole lives competing and achieving — in school, sports, music, dance, etc. — and they feel the pressure to make that investment pay off. They see work as more than a job: This is their life, the culmination of everything they (and so many others) have worked toward. To attract Gen Z, employers can take a few key actions today that will help transform the workplace for everyone’s benefit:
1. Speak Gen Z
Email is dead — at least for Gen Z-ers. They place a high value on efficiency and prefer to connect in real time, using social apps that combine the visuals and immediacy of Snapchat with the text communication of SMS. They have little patience for redundancy and clunky, duplicative application processes. In the workplace, they like to collaborate, often through face-to-face interactions. To learn about a potential employer, a Gen Z-er will crowdsource feedback through social media, videos, and reviews before making a decision.
To make the best impression with Gen Z prospects, share company culture and team wins on social media, and let them chat with recruiters in real time on your website. Choose short and engaging video communication whenever possible, and try using gamification to enliven recruiting, onboarding, and training.
2. Create a Unique Employee Experience
Happy employees are good for business and keeping Gen Z happy means going beyond branding to build a truly great work environment. Along with millennials, Gen Z adults have the highest self-reported stress levels, including record levels of loneliness. They need bright workplaces that foster connection through celebratory events. They want space for authentic collaboration, as well as chances to give back to the community through volunteer opportunities and genuine outreach.
Policies like allowing employees to bring their dogs to work also contribute to better mental health. This kind of employee experience makes for happier employees of every generation, leading to better business outcomes.
3. Help Employees With ‘Adulting’
Gen Z’s constant plugged-in, multitasking hustle means they find it hard enough to simply get through a long day of work, meals, Instagram, gym, and sleep. Anything that requires excessive hassle with little to no reward leads to what Anne Helen Petersen has termed “errand paralysis.” Mundane tasks like car inspections, submitting pet insurance forms, or even sending a Father’s Day card can quickly become overwhelming.
Offer on-site errand running or concierge services so employees can have packages picked up, make Trader Joe’s runs, or arrange for home cleaning services right from the office. Help with these adulting tasks alleviates the stress and exhaustion that can come from Gen Z’s drive to succeed. It’s also one more way to help employees bring their best and most focused selves to work every day.
To attract Gen Z, employers will have to dig deep, speak to what truly matters, and make some changes. This generation values efficiency, so everything — recruitment, application, interview process, hiring, communication, work processes — needs to be seamless and dynamic. Resisting change just because “that’s how we’ve always done it” isn’t an option. Gen Z will question everything and push for change, and that’s a good thing for everyone.
Gen Z will climb mountains — they just may need your help finding a fork.