What to Expect as Gen Z Enters the Workplace

Young co-workers team planning a new project in creative coworking office

In recent years, the conversation on workforce generations has centered primarily around millennials. Just when you thought you had finally gotten a handle on what makes millennials tick, a new crop of young workers is right behind them: Generation Z.

Generation Z members were born between 1997 and 2012. That means while some are still in high school, those on the upper end of the spectrum are established members of the workforce.

So, what does Gen Z in the workforce mean for your organization? It might be tempting to lump them in with millennials, but this would be a mistake. While these workers share similarities with their millennial siblings, there are some key differences to working with them that you’ll need to accommodate in the workplace and account for in your recruiting efforts.

Here, we’ll discuss the primary characteristics of Generation Z and tell you what you need to know to attract and retain the newest segment of the workforce. 

Characteristics of Gen Z

It’s first important to understand the divide between millennials and Gen Z.

In 2024, the youngest members of Generation Z are in their early teens, while the oldest are approaching 30. Members of the older generation of Gen Z are pursuing post-grad degrees and making a name for themselves professionally. On the other hand, the oldest millennials are in their 40s, and many are well-established in their careers. They’re raising kids, some of whom are already adults themselves. There is a clear distinction in the mindset and priorities of these two adjacent age groups.

Like millennials, they have grown up with technology. It is their default option for finding information and connecting with peers. Unlike millennials, who forged the way on platforms like Myspace and Facebook, Gen Z leans heavily on interactive video-based platforms like Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok.

This generation has been described as the most socially conscious generation. Having grown up “plugged in,” they are more keenly aware of issues like mental health, cyberbullying, and the political landscape. A primary focus on empathy heavily influences this generation’s attitudes and beliefs about career and professional life.

While millennials largely prioritize passion when pursuing their ideal careers, Gen Zers place a greater emphasis on the financial upside of professional life. They view work as a means to an end; enjoying what they do is a nice-to-have rather than a need-to-have, as it is for their more idealistic millennial peers.

With an estimated 10,000 to 12,000 baby boomers reaching retirement age daily, employers face a mounting challenge to attract and retain qualified young talent. Gen Z is eager to step in and fill those shoes—but they will do it on new and different terms. Here are some of the most important things

What Does Gen Z Expect in the Workplace, and How Should You Adapt?

Flexibility is paramount

Like millennials, they strongly value flexibility and view it as a make-or-break factor when deciding where to work. Their 24/7 connectedness means the line between work and home life is more blurred than ever before. Members of this age group are willing and excited to work hard but want to do so under flexible conditions.

For employers, this means it becomes more important than ever to consider non-traditional work schedules and environments, such as remote work options, less rigid work hours, and ample flex time.

Consider an office update

With this generation, your physical space matters as much as your culture. They suffer when forced to work in tight rows of cubicles under artificial lighting like their millennial predecessors. They flourish in open-concept offices with ample natural light and flexible workspaces. If you have not updated your space with the influx of millennial workers, now may be the perfect time to do so.

Also, embrace opportunities to make updates to your technology. Generation Z turns to technology first when doing everyday work and solving problems. Consider technology upgrades with ‘smart’ capabilities that will increase connectivity, with infrastructure that makes it secure and seamless for employees to work from anywhere. Cloud-based project management apps, digital timesheets, and the like are the norm for this group of workers. 

Promote stability and advancement opportunities

This generation of young people saw their parents struggling to climb out of the great recession. While they are entrepreneurial in nature, they crave stability more than their millennial peers. These professionals seek job security and approach their careers pragmatically, more likely to choose a steady paycheck over the excitement of working in an unproven startup.

Its members are averse to debt and want to work hard to achieve financial independence. This makes them great candidates for future leadership roles in a company. As such, they need to see clear pathways to professional advancement in order to stick around. They also need regular feedback; according to an EY survey of 1,400 Gen Z individuals, 63% of them prefer receiving timely, constructive feedback throughout the year.

Lean on learning

After watching their millennial predecessors crumble under crippling student loan debt, members of this generation have been more likely to self-educate or pursue alternatives to the traditional four-year college degree, like online college or self-led coding programs.

This generation is quick to adapt and open to learning new things, so you will not have to hold their hands through training or worry about them pushing back to change. 70% of them say they believe it is more important to be seen as having a curious, open mindset than to have a specific skill set or expertise. In other words, they view the ability and willingness to learn a new skill as more important than having already learned it. 

Embrace a fail-first mentality

Unlike earlier generations, which view failure as the enemy, Gen Z accepts failure as part of the process when trying something new. Instead of outsized worries about whether they will succeed the first time around, these young workers embrace the lessons that come from failing early.

These professionals prefer work environments where they can bring forth new ideas, so organizations that want to attract this age group should strive for a culture that welcomes and facilitates team input. 

Incorporate a human element

Though technology use is second nature to them, workers in this demographic crave a face-to-face element to their work interactions. With a childhood spent largely behind screens, they have been described as the ‘loneliest generation,’ ranking highest in surveys that study the lack of connection. Perhaps that’s why more than 90% say they prefer to have a human element within their professional teams, either working solely with innovative co-workers or with co-workers and new technologies paired together.

To facilitate this person-to-person collaboration, set team goals in addition to individual goals and check in regularly on their progress. Foster a non-judgmental atmosphere where challenging the status quo is not only accepted but encouraged. Consider implementing assessments that will help you identify each team member’s strengths and weaknesses so they can be factored in when delegating responsibilities. 

Find the perfect fit for your team.

Speak to one of our experienced recruiters today.

Be direct

They value authenticity highly. Members of this generation want to work for companies they feel they can trust. This means ensuring that your words match your actions. Your recruiting experience is the perfect place to demonstrate this. 

Create Gen Z recruitment campaigns that emphasize “real life” as an employee of your company. Use testimonials and other first-person content to showcase firsthand accounts of your culture (this also makes for great social content!). Communicate often and openly, especially to share status updates and feedback during the hiring process. 

Embrace change

This generation was built to evolve. Its members have come of age in a landscape where change is the only constant so they can feel adrift without a sense of forward progression. Embrace this quality by putting these team members at the helm of projects that require outside-of-the-box thinking or the disruption of industry norms. Prioritize new working methods, like incorporating AI into workflows to facilitate speed and offload tedious tasks. And don’t get offended if they question how things are done–it’s in their nature to look for a better, faster, more efficient method. 

Move millennials into management

These workers prefer having managers that most closely mirror them in demographics. 77% of Gen Zers said they would prefer a manager from the millennial generation rather than a Gen X-er or a Baby Boomer. While this is a great reason to help millennials rise through your ranks, it also means Gen Z will need some support in bridging the gap with older generations, and you’ll need to provide the information and resources to help more tenured staffers adapt to working with these younger professionals. Top employers will prioritize finding solutions for successful cross-generational work. 

Employer branding matters even more

While the concept of brand building as a candidate attraction strategy is newer in the recruiting world, it is natural and even expected among Gen Z. This generation’s members have had a handle on personal branding from the moment they posted their first Instagram post.

As an employer, a strong and well-defined employer brand should take a front seat in your Gen Z recruitment efforts. Lead with the aspects of your company culture that matter most to this demographic (many of which we’ve covered above) and create materials specifically designed to target this audience. Use platforms that are mostly native to them, like social media, to communicate that message.

Related: Why Showcasing Your Company Culture on Social Media Matters

Be a force for good

They are deeply invested in doing work that matters and working for organizations that are making a difference. Most of these workers say they wouldn’t apply to a job if the employer didn’t share their core values. This is one more reason to emphasize those core values in your branding that targets the youngest segment of the workforce. 

While Gen Z members don’t expect their companies to take a stand on every topic in the news cycle, they don’t want their employers to sweep those issues under the rug, either. Sending internal communications about how the company is positioned to respond to major crises and providing support for public issues that are impacting employees’ lives are two great ways to demonstrate the company’s commitment to being a force for good. 

Adapt to a Changing Workforce With Help From The Staffing Experts

As the workforce evolves, so too should your approach to attracting the best talent. Let the experts at 4 Corner Resources create a staffing strategy for the modern workplace. Our headhunters will help you define what you are looking for in an ideal candidate, then use our nationwide network and proprietary sourcing methods to narrow down the best talent that meets your unique criteria.

Get a head start on attracting and working with Generation Z by contacting us today.

Pete Newsome

About Pete Newsome

Pete Newsome is the President of 4 Corner Resources, the staffing and recruiting firm he founded in 2005. 4 Corner is a member of the American Staffing Association and TechServe Alliance, and the top-rated staffing company in Central Florida. Recent awards and recognition include being named to Forbes’ Best Recruiting Firms in America, The Seminole 100, and The Golden 100. Pete also founded zengig, to offer comprehensive career advice, tools, and resources for students and professionals. He hosts two podcasts, Hire Calling and Finding Career Zen, and is blazing new trails in recruitment marketing with the latest artificial intelligence (AI) technology. Connect with Pete on LinkedIn