Gen Z on the Future of Work They Actually Want

Cornerstone Editors

The global workforce is welcoming a new generation of employees. By the end of 2020, polls predict that between 24 and 36 percent of workers will belong to the generation of people born between 1995 and 2012, also known as Gen Z. This generation came of age in a highly technologized world, and one full of economic uncertainty. The struggles they have faced, combined with their tech-driven social lives, shape their expectations for work, the people who lead them, and their organizations’ HR departments. But what exactly do these expectations look like?

Gen Z workers cite flexibility and a desire to feel their jobs make a difference in the world as their top employment concerns. Above all, Gen Z wants to feel heard by their employers. HR departments that listen to their Gen Z employees will be better equipped to create working conditions that help them and their companies thrive.

More Than Traditional Benefits

Most workers want traditional benefits like health insurance, time off and paid parental leave. Gen Z employees still want these things, but they also want employers to go a step further, especially in terms of providing mental health support. In a survey from Mind Share Partners, 75% of Gen Z respondents reported that they had left a job for mental health reasons.

"We can’t just keep going all the time," says Madison H., a social media manager from Miami, FL. "I’ve worked for people who treated us like robots, not recognizing how mental health changes how well you can do your job. If you get burned out, you’ll probably quit, so HR departments need to figure out ways to take care of their employees’ mental health. Time off helps, but mental health resources like free counseling are even better."

Offices Need Private Space and Flexibility

For Gen Z, office noise is the number one productivity killer, but not everyone agrees on how to fix it. Open floor plans have been shown to decrease productivity, so it’s no surprise Gen Z is begging for some privacy.

"I hate open offices," says Luis R., a graphic designer in Orlando, FL. "Doesn’t everyone? Where I work used to have one—then they did a big redesign. They made an open area with big tables where we can work together on projects; then there are smaller rooms, quiet rooms, where we have our own desks and can concentrate. It’s great."

Gen Z also wants flexibility in where and how they work. This is more than a desire to work from home. They're asking for flexible schedules and looking for trust from their employers that they will get the job done while taking care of their personal commitments.

"Sometimes you have to bring your kid into the office or you need to go to the doctor," says Harper, a paralegal in Atlanta, GA. "It’s great when you can go take care of what you need to, and your boss just lets you do it because they know they don’t have to watch you every second."

Gen Z Wants to Make a Difference

While Gen Z workers note that volunteering with their workplaces can be fun, extra work beyond their paid hours can put a strain on other commitments. Instead, about 45% of Gen Z workers expect their companies to already be doing good in the world, according to a survey by Girls with Impact. Businesses that take environmental sustainability and the human impact of their practices seriously will win over Gen Z employees.

"I can’t work for a company that’s destroying the world," says Kinsey, an office specialist in New York. "I want to call it stewardship. The people I work for need to be good stewards of the environment, and they need to make sure they’re not buying products from exploitative manufacturers in developing countries. I’d say my generation is really socially conscious. Our decisions matter, even the little ones."

Gen Z: "Treat Us Like People"

Gen Z workers also noted that HR departments might mistakenly assume that because they are so digitally savvy, they prefer only online communication. The reality is the opposite. Gen Z workers spend so much time using technology that they would prefer human interactions in the workplace to be done face to face

The main message that Gen Z has for its new HR departments is: Listen to us. "We want to be heard, not just seen as another cog in the machine," Kinsey says. "We need to be able to provide feedback and have it be heard. If you can give us a way to talk to the people who are making decisions, we’ll do better jobs, and the company will be better for it, too."

Want to learn more about how you can help Gen Z employees thrive at work? Check out Cornerstone’s DNA, or Digital Native Advancement, program.

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