No age group has been more affected by the pandemic than Gen Z.
As COVID-19 wreaked havoc in sectors like hotels and restaurants, the vast number of entry-level jobs in these fields disappeared, hitting a generation just beginning to enter the workforce.
Now, as employers look to recruit staff after the Great Quit and Worker Migration, Gen Z is an attractive group for the courts. But companies looking to recruit and retain this demographic may need to adjust their hiring practices.
“Forty-three percent of Generation Z are considering changing careers or industries because of what they’ve learned or experienced during the pandemic,” says the Center for Generational Kinetics, which has studied this segment of population. “We believe the COVID-19 pandemic is the generation-defining experience for Gen Z and will affect them for the rest of their lives. In the area of employment, there is significant government data that shows Gen Z is leaving current jobs, starting new ones, and reconsidering career paths and work styles.
Members of Generation Z, which includes people born after 1996, have lived a very different life than their parents and Generation Y. They are a generation that generally does not remember a life without smartphones and has no memory of the September 11 attacks beyond the classroom.
In some ways, the priority of these young workers is the same as that of many others looking for a new job: wages. But while some employers might see this as overconfidence on the part of an inexperienced candidate, the reality is a bit more complex.
Yes, there is peer pressure, as salary discussions between friends and colleagues are more common than among older generations. And people who earn significantly less than their counterparts feel that their employer is taking advantage of them. But the lingering effects of the pandemic are also a factor.
“They came of age and crashed because of COVID-19,” says Jason Dorsey, president of the Center for Generational Kinetics (CGK). “They lost their jobs. They lost their earning potential at a time when inflation was high and the main thing they saw was people losing their jobs. They try to make up for it by seeking a higher salary. And with inflation, they know they have to earn more.
CGK 2022 State of Generation Z report revealed that for 49% of respondents, salary was one of the main factors attracting this generation to a job or a potential employer. That’s up from 37% last year.
Other influential factors include schedule flexibility (32% ranking it as their #1, 2 or 3 priority), benefits (28%) and workplace culture (24%).
Flexibility isn’t just important for attracting Gen Z, it’s essential for retention. The report found that 49% of Gen Z workers saw it as the main factor in staying at work after the first week, jumping 13 points from a year ago.
It’s not just about flexibility in terms of days of the week either. It’s also about having some maneuverability during working hours.
It’s a growing sentiment across the workforce, of course. An Adobe report, The future of timefound that 66% of Gen Z workers would change jobs to better control their work schedule, assuming the salary and job description remained the same.
Gen Z is also incredibly diverse, and that’s core to its members’ beliefs, impacting the type of company they prefer to work for.
“Diversity and equity inclusion are at the heart of this generation,” says Dorsey. “They seek it with employers and they seek it with leadership. This is a very big problem… They are a very social generation and expect leaders to do more in these areas.
Manage a generation
Despite stereotypes (and some high profile complaints about them), Gen Z takes work seriously, the Center says. In fact, after watching their parents weather the Great Recession and seeing the effects of the pandemic, they are much more likely to save money. And they place a high priority on employee benefits, especially mental health coverage.
However, there are some quirks of Gen Z that employers need to be aware of.
First, while the generation’s confidence with technology is unmatched, there is a very real fear of looking stupid at work.
Gen Z employees mean well, but since public speaking and to some extent socializing has been curtailed for this group, an activity like giving a presentation in front of co-workers or even reviewing/checking in with their manager can be an anxiety-inducing event.
The way around this problem is training in soft skills that baby boomers and millennials might take for granted.
Additionally, apps and onboarding via text messaging is a shift companies will need to make to appeal more broadly to this segment of the workforce. That’s because Gen Z didn’t have to rely on email. They grew up communicating through tools like text messages, Snapchat, and FaceTime.
“They want to be able to complete their application on a mobile device,” Dorsey explains. “If they can’t, they won’t finish it.”
Gen Z workers also expect more frequent communication with their manager, perhaps as much as daily. It may seem expensive, but in the end, it could take less time overall. Rather than a shared 30-minute coffee, for example, a quick check-in of a minute or two each day might suffice.
Areas of interest
So which industries intrigue Gen Z the most? Technology, unsurprisingly, tops the list, with nearly half of respondents to CGK’s survey ranking it among the top three sectors they believe will have the best career opportunities.
The others include healthcare (42%), real estate (29%), banking and finance (27%) and education (26%).
Gen Z may have only started entering the workforce in the last five years, but they have numbers on their side. Some 32% of the world’s population fall within its parameters, and they see the world much differently than millennials or baby boomers. And that makes it all the more important that companies learn to speak their language.
“The complexity of this diverse generation and all that they have been through shows us that the generation is still in the process of developing their professional identity and determining their career path,” CGK said in the report. “While the long-term impact of the pandemic on Gen Z remains to be seen, the short-term impact is clear, dramatic and significant.”