Gen Z — born between 1997 and 2012 — continues to enter the workforce at a time when finance leaders are navigating a tight labor market and all the trends that come with it. With an unprecedented number of generations in the workforce, leadership's approaches to things like talent management, work environment, technology implementation, and employee perks must accommodate many people with different expectations of what a job should provide outside of pay and benefits.
As companies build for growth and prepare for their futures, leadership should evaluate which elements of work are most important to young employees. By doing this, CFOs and their fellow executives can better understand how to keep employees long-term and position the company to pursue future growth.
Which Trends Can Be Dismissed?
For those who are in the Gen Z thought leadership space, the idea that the latest work trends all originate from young people is bogus, according to Sam Chen, co-founder of Gen Z recruitment platform Fetti. Younger candidates’ ideal workplace doesn’t come with fluff or extravagant perks, but rather authenticity and sincerity in creating a path toward individual growth and success. “While perks like free snacks and game rooms can be appealing, they shouldn't overshadow factors like fair compensation, meaningful work, and growth opportunities,” said Chen.
“The aftermath of the pandemic has underscored the importance of mental and emotional well-being,” she continued. “Executives should embrace this priority by instating initiatives that foster work-life equilibrium and offering mental health resources and stress management support.”
Andrew Roth, founder of dcdx, a Gen Z research and strategy firm, said trends constantly come and go, with only the most impactful ones sticking around. According to him, it’s less about the trends occurring and more about what themes can be drawn from those trends and guide workplace improvements.
“Quiet quitting, lazy girl jobs, bare minimum Mondays — they will keep coming,” said Roth. “Each of these, in their way, highlights the role that young people want a job to play in their lives. Rather than dismiss or ignore these as individual and isolated trends, view them as a collective call for respecting the new role of work in life for Gen Z.”
What Gen-Z Wants Outside of Compensation
Besides fair and transparent pay, younger employees want their employers to provide a productive environment without being trite.
Many leaders, who have wasted allocations toward mental health benefits, are still unclear on how exactly to provide these services so that their teams use and benefit from them. Besides providing support for the internal impacts intense or stressful work may cause, Chen advises companies to decide how they want to support employees’ mental health. She says it’s about developing a corporate vision with talent in mind.
“Executives should take center stage in articulating the company's mission and demonstrating how each employee contributes to this greater cause,” Chen said. When employees realize their work's meaningful impact, it fuels higher morale and engagement, she said.
Much like Chen, Roth believes young people who enter finance are looking for a clear picture of what success in their role looks like now and what growth looks like long term.
“We talk a lot [internally] about the idea of an authentically actionable culture,” Roth said. “By actionable, we mean culture is not what you say, it's what you do. What actions, activities, approaches, or conversations can you do or have to back up words on a page? And by authentic, we mean ‘actions and activities can not be copied.’ They must speak directly to the ethos and values of the company.”
Gen-Z Views On Retirement
According to Roth, the economic environment has forced Gen Z workers to largely abandon retirement aspirations, which is noteworthy to CFOs who allocate toward employee retirement plans.
“From what we see of Gen Z, there is a somewhat anti-savings mentality ingrained in many young folks,” he said. “Many Gen-Zers ask themselves, ‘Why save when the world is burning?’ [and] ‘Why wait when you can live now?’ Clearly, there is a lack of financial literacy and a strong presence of get-rich-quick-type mentalities that propagate the lack of long-term financial planning within the generation.”
Chen, however, disagrees. According to her, current economic conditions, including skepticism about the long-term survival of Social Security benefits, have led younger people to be more conscious about financing their later years.
“While older generations often emphasized traditional retirement savings tools like 401(k)s and IRAs, Gen Z may be more open to diverse approaches” and focus more on self-reliant retirement planning and wealth-building, she continued. “They might consider a mix of investments, freelance work, entrepreneurship, and side gigs to secure their financial future.”
How CFOs Can Make a Difference
While trends and generalizations about the young workforce can help, CFOs and other executives should identify what makes their situation different to attract younger talent, said Jay Jung, fractional CFO of Embarc. Rather than follow the pack with their decision-making, Jung believes CFOs should make people-centric choices with as little outside influence as possible.
“Every industry and company is different, and what you read on blogs, LinkedIn, and Twitter can be a reference but your most important source of information is your team,” said Jung. “What works for Apple and Meta may not work for you. What doesn’t work for Zoom may be fine for your company.”
And, like Chen and Roth, Jung recommends employers do their best to make their employees feel as if their voices are heard — and suggests maybe the best way to do that is in person.
“I think leadership should highlight the benefits of the in-person workplace. The benefits to the employee are things like mentorship, training, and development opportunities. Camaraderie and companionship, too. These things you don’t get when you are only on Zoom. Don’t just emphasize efficiency; keep an open mind and hear your employees,” he said. “Make sure everyone has a voice. Don’t miss the silent majority.”