Generation Z, or those born between 1997 – 2012, are much different than any other age group interacting in today’s work environment. Whether they’re your children, neighbors, employees, or customers, in-person interaction with the first generation to grow up completely in twine with technology can have its difficulties. As baby boomers retire in droves and millennials climb the corporate ladder, entry to mid-level jobs, regardless of industry, will begin to go to Gen-Z candidates.
With the labor market as competitive as it is, executives who wish to prepare their companies for the influx of young workers may look for strategies to try to become a top workforce destination for the professional Gen-Z’er. Companies should trade fluff for righteousness in the workplace if they are looking to attract the best Gen-Z talent, according to Andrew Roth, CEO and founder of dcdx, a Gen-Z-centric research and consulting firm.
The picturesque foosball or ping pong table in the workspace may have created a warm and welcoming environment for millennials, but, Roth said, Gen-Z employees see right through those tactics and would prefer to go without them.
“The gimmicks are gone,” said Roth. “Sure, a foosball table and free snacks are nice, and they may help to delay the onset of issues for a day or so, but at the core of the wants and needs of this generation is a feeling of safety and security, [and] the protection of our mental and emotional well-being.”
According to Roth, the idea of workers having to exchange a work/life balance with free snacks and drinks doesn’t coincide. “[Amenities] are great, but if they are paired with 70-hour workweeks or toxic bosses that fail to acknowledge and respect the boundaries of work and life, those snacks are only going to make [Gen-Z employees] more hungry for change,” he said.
Roth agreed that the idea of ‘hustling’ through the younger part of your career has become stigmatized among the Gen-Zers. “[Hustle culture] generally is frowned upon,” said Roth. “That’s not to say there are no segments within Gen-Z that live and love hustle culture. But in general, the rejection of the ‘live to work’ mindset and transition to ‘work to live’ is just shining a light on a shared generational desire for balance and respect.”
Compared to their Gen-X or millennial counterparts, Gen-Z’s interpersonal communication skills can be a struggle. While some may view Gen-Z’s shying away from phone calls or in-person conversations as negative, Roth believes executives and managers who are open to different forms of communication may be able to create an ideal work environment for a Gen-Z employee to grow.
“Gen-Z does not have poor interpersonal communication skills; they just communicate differently,” said Roth. “Ask a Gen-Z’er to get up on the spot and present an idea, and it may not go as well as it could, sure. But ask a Gen-Z’er on the spot to text you their best idea, and you may get a much more cohesive, much clearer, and much better idea. It’s just communicating how we are most comfortable doing so.”
Gen-Z wants the same basic things from work that we all want — to feel safe, secure, and respected.
“While I do acknowledge interpersonal communication skills — in person and face to face — are critical for success in work, throwing a Gen-Z’er in the fire by putting them on the spot early on may only serve to weaken trust and damage their psychological safety,” he continued. “If you want an on-the-spot idea — text them. Tell them to send you an audio message. Or just tell them however you feel most comfortable sending it. It will build rapport and show you understand that just because they communicate differently, does not mean they communicate poorly.”
Roth stressed not only the importance of sound communication with Gen-Z employees, but how the communication channels have issues on both ends, and executives who want to create an environment for the workforce of tomorrow must be aware.
“Gen-Z wants the same basic things from work that we all want — to feel safe, secure, and respected,” said Roth. “The ways in which they exhibit those behaviors, and the reasons for those desires, are the only things that differ, but understanding what those are and why they exist are critical to building an empathy-driven relationship with this cohort.”
From the perspective of a generation who went to some, if not all college, in a remote setting, hybrid and remote work has been entrenched in the Gen-Z learning process. With this, there is an expectation of flexibility in work environments. However, unlike the millennials, Roth believes that Gen-Z is looking for organic, authentic in-person opportunities to grow, connect, and build professional relationships.
“It is important to provide Gen-Z workers with the flexibility to be remote, yes. But what we see across industries in both marketing and recruitment is a deeply rooted desire for in-person connection,” he said. “As a generation that lost fundamental years of personal development from COVID-19 in high school, college, and early post-grad lives, we’re hearing and seeing these calls for in-person connection and experience emerge everywhere.”
From a benefits perspective, Roth said opportunities for employees to have mental health and well-being focuses are paramount. Despite many of these benefits going unused by their older coworkers, Gen-Z employees are the ones that would be enticed by a benefits package with mental health treatment available.
As a generation that lost fundamental years of personal development from COVID-19 in high school, college, and early post-grad lives, we’re hearing and seeing these calls for in-person connection and experience emerge everywhere.
“One major distinction for Gen-Z is how companies treat mental health in relation to benefits. Companies that not only acknowledge but proactively support mental health in the workplace through their benefits offerings are likely to succeed in attracting more Gen-Z candidates,” said Roth. “There is no distinction between emotional, physical, and mental health, and this is just one example of how companies can support this generation with benefits.”
Salary is another area where Gen-Z preaches authenticity and openness, unlike their older coworkers. “On TikTok, salary transparency is a norm, and this is influencing how Gen-Z’ers perceive salary negotiation,” said Roth. “It’s possible they may be less likely to initiate negotiations around salary, sure. But you better know damn well that they have researched in every corner of the internet what others in this position are making, and if it’s not fair pay, you’ll find out soon.”