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gen z in the workplace

The Impact of Gen Z on the Workplace

Organizations experienced a shift in employee sentiment that ramped up during the pandemic and accelerated in its wake. As a result, the top-down, control-and-command mode of leadership that dominated the workplace started to fade as companies made room for discussions about employee well-being, belonging, and purpose.

Meanwhile, the latest generation to enter the workplace started to hit its stride. Now, company leaders are trying to understand how Gen Z workers will fit into their evolving environments. As “Zoomers” flesh out company teams and Boomers retire in greater numbers, many leaders are deciphering what these younger employees want and need to become team players.

Executives don’t need a crystal ball. The latest wave of employees desires all the people-centric priorities heightened by the pandemic. The catch is that they are more determined than their older colleagues that their employers meet these standards. The quest for meaning, ethics, and purpose will increase as Gen Z floods the working population. They are the voice of the future and are starting to make themselves heard.

Gen Z Defined

Gen Z is just beginning to impact the workplace, but it won’t be long before they catch up with or move past previous generations. Savvy business leaders are doing their homework on who their freshmen team members are and what drives them.

First, they need to get a handle on the volume of workers this generation will represent. Johns Hopkins University reports that over 100,000 Baby Boomers reach 65 every day, and Glassdoor estimates that Zoomers will surpass Boomers at work for the first time next year. By 2030, Gen Z will make up approximately 30 percent of the workforce. So, the working population will change dramatically in just over half a decade,

Pew Research, the organization most accept as the authority on defining generational age spans, says Gen Zers are those born between 1997 and 2012. Due to the shift in US demographics, Johns Hopkins notes they will be the most diverse generation in history. Their research team also lists a series of events that helped form Gen Z workers’ outlook. Many came of age during:

  • A global pandemic
  • Increased social instability
  • Political turmoil
  • Wars and their impact on the US
  • Growing inflation and a jittery economy
  • Mounting student loan debt
  • A housing crisis

These and other distinct factors, like rapidly accelerating technology, shape the perspectives of the newest cohort of workers. They’re not the only generation that has faced waves of adversity and change. But they may be the first to collectively take a firm stance on their expectations from their employers and the organizational culture they will need to thrive. As Aaron Terrazas and Daniel Zhao predict in Glassdoor’s 2024 Workplace Trends report:

“The coming year will represent a pivotal moment of cultural change that U.S. companies cannot ignore as Gen Z workers make up a rapidly growing share of our workforce.”

What Does Gen Z Want?

Researchers at Johns Hopkins (JH) report that Gen Z’s expectations about work culture are beginning to shake up how employers interact with their staff. Based on their assessment of their university’s students, the Johns Hopkins team created a list of what these future employees will require from places where they work. Among their priorities:

  • Greater diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI)
    Gen Z values a far more diversified world than previous generations and wants to work for organizations that welcome qualified workers regardless of ethnicity, background, gender, sexual orientation, age, and neurodiversity. They will look for companies authentically and uncompromisingly dedicated to DEI in the workplace.

  • Greater flexibility
    Many of the youngest workers started their careers during the work-from-home (WFH) trend caused by the pandemic. As a result, they are unwilling to revert to the nine-to-five, Monday-Friday, on-site schedules people accepted as normal before the health crisis. But in addition to demanding flexibility, many Gen Zers are also eager to spend time in person with their teams. They are interested in work arrangements where they can maximize their effectiveness, maintain a work-life balance, and build professional relationships.

  • A focus on companies’ ethics and social awareness
    Johns Hopkins reports that 77 percent of Gen Z respondents in their study say it’s vital that they work for an organization with ethics that align with their own. They derive a feeling of purpose working for companies that live out their stated core values and are especially committed to employers dedicated to sustainability and the environment.

What Happens When Employers Don’t Meet Gen Z’s Needs?

Like every generation, employee engagement is the key to win/win relationships between Gen Z workers and their employers. High engagement reflects employees’ commitment to their jobs and is the key to boosting morale, productivity, retention, and customer service. Gen Zers become engaged when they work for companies that live up to their views on social concerns and offer work schedules that enhance their performance.

Johns Hopkins discovered that the probability of younger workers not being engaged at work is higher than that of their older colleagues. This may be because employers are still evolving in their ability to meet this generation’s needs. JH cites a Gallop poll that found 54 percent of Gen Z workers are disengaged.

JH research also found that Gen Z workers report higher stress and burnout at work. According to Gallop, 68 percent of younger employees report feeling stressed on the job most of the time. Stress and burnout go beyond low engagement in derailing employees at work. Given that this generation will soon form a high percentage of the workforce, employers who don’t act to meet their needs will find it hard to remain competitive.

Steps Employers Can Take to Appeal to Gen Z

Johns Hopkins specialists outline six tactics for organizations to attract, engage, and retain Gen Z employees.

  1. Promote Mental Health Awareness
    Gen Z is not alone in its desire for employers to prioritize their mental health, but they will be more inclined than older workers to leave companies that fall short in this area. To better engage all their staff, employers should destigmatize mental health issues and offer access to appropriate services. Corresponding to that, they should cultivate empathetic management and prioritize employee wellbeing.

  2. Promote Diversity & Inclusion
    As noted above, companies must do more than write DEI policies to live up to Gen Z’s standards. And organizations won’t meet their expectations by merely hiring a diverse workforce. Leaders must create a workplace culture that ensures all employees experience equity, inclusion, and a sense of belonging.

  3. Encourage Focus on Career and Growth
    Gen Z workers don’t want to just collect a paycheck in status quo jobs. They are eager for opportunities to expand their skills and knowledge so they can build careers. Those who spent part of their college years and first jobs isolated by the pandemic crave mentorship, guidance, and training options. These young workers will seek employers who make growth and career ladders part of their employee value proposition.

  4. Improved Communication
    Despite being digital natives, Gen Z employees crave human interaction. Johns Hopkins found that over half of those in this generation prefer talking personally rather than via text or email. Companies can accommodate them by connecting using more video calls, scheduling one-on-one check-ins, holding meaningful meetings, and organizing team bonding activities.

  5. Environmental, Sustainable, and Social Responsibility Accountability
    Gen Z workers want to be people who make a difference in their communities and the world. Beyond monetary compensation, they want to associate with companies that influence better societal outcomes. Company leaders should evaluate the positive impact their enterprise has or could have, make it part of their framework, and highlight their efforts in these areas.

  6. Equal Pay
    Gen Z employees don’t just want favorable compensation; they want an employer who is transparent about equal pay. Johns Hopkins found that 62 percent of those now entering the workforce would be more likely to accept jobs from companies committed to equal pay.

In an article for, Cal DiJulius sums up the impact this generation will have on the workplace:

“Innovation and change are integral to Gen Z's ethos. Their preference for purpose over paycheck, their desire for meaningful engagement, and their quest for authenticity in the workplace are not just passing trends but are reshaping the future of work. As organizations, it's imperative to recognize and adapt to these shifts.

The narrative of Gen Z is still being written, and it's a story of resilience, adaptability, and purpose. By reworking culture, emphasizing purpose, and providing an environment that aligns with their values, companies can unlock the potential of this dynamic generation.”