Blog Post

Conversations with Gen Z: Old Ways, New Normals, and Shaping the Future of Work

Cornerstone Editors

Gen Z’s steady entry into the workforce has come with a wave of preparatory thinkpieces, advice columns and data breakdowns—rivalling even Millennial content. But there’s an important reason: as the first "digital natives," Gen Z brings transformational changes, industry-wide rethinking and reshaping the world of work—again.

Born after 1995, Gen Z is the most ethnically-diverse generation in the U.S. to date and among the most educated. They had their first smartphones in elementary school, and see themselves as content creators, not just consumers (56% say they use social media to express themselves creatively). With this comes a penchant for instant gratification—even in their careers. But that doesn’t mean they lack work ethic or discipline.

Still, most Gen Zers report feeling unprepared for the workforce. And in many ways, the workforce itself isn’t quite ready for them: companies are increasingly experiencing generational challenges due to mismatched experience and expectations. Even the digitally-inclined Millennials are likely to clash with Gen Z, according to some experts.

The best way to overcome this generational challenge is to give both Gen Z and their future managers the tools and training they need to work best together. In fact, 75% of the Gen Z workers in one study said that a boss or manager’s ability to coach and mentor them is of absolute importance. Millennial manager Casey Brecker, a team lead with Cornerstone’s Associate Client Executive (ACE) department, and Gen Z Associate Client Executive (ACE) Tina Phan, can attest to the importance of having these resources. Read on to hear about their experience working together.

Can you tell us a little bit about yourselves and your work relationship?

Brecker: I've been at Cornerstone for almost four years now. I lead our ACE team, and have been in this role for just about a year now. [Phan] was my backfill for the role, so I hired her in October of 2019.

Phan: I've been at Cornerstone for almost two years. I started on the Healthcare Corporate Account Development (CAD) team and then was promoted to the ACE team. Casey is my direct manager.

What was the learning curve like for you when it comes to entering the workforce—or, in your case, Casey, managing a Gen Z employee?

Phan: The soft skills I’ve developed through various jobs throughout high school and college helped prepare me as I entered the workforce. But I quickly realized how important it is to actively reskill and upskill in all areas as I progress in my career. To learn, I found myself modeling my work based on my peers who I admire. I connected with many of them to get a better sense of what they’ve done to make them successful in their role and that helped me understand what areas I could improve on, what I needed to do to be successful in my own role, and how I can make an overall impact at the organization.

Brecker: I've learned a lot in almost a year of management.Gen Z is making a really big shift in the corporate world. Everyone is reframing the way they retain them. A big part of it is managers being supportive, mentoring, letting them make mistakes—and also asking for Gen Z’s opinions to learn from them. Gen Z’s approach is fresh and reminds me to avoid getting caught up in the ways we usually do things.

Growing in the Workforce: Different Expectations and New Trajectories

The linear "corporate ladder" was already well on its way to being an outdated concept before Gen Z entered the workforce. Do you have a sense of there being a new bar for success or career progress now?

Brecker: What I've noticed in interviewing candidates is that Gen Zers are extremely motivated, really eager to advance and already thinking about their next role. In addition to covering Phan’s to-do list during our weekly check-ins, we make it a priority to regularly talk about her development, career growth and what we can do to get her there.

Phan: One of the things that attracted me to Cornerstone was seeing people in my department move linearly or laterally within the company, depending on what they want their career trajectory to look like. And that's one thing that Gen Zers really hope to do is drive their own career path.

There is a belief that Gen Z—having been so indoctrinated by the instant gratification of social media—expects more rapid and immediate movement in their career. Have either of you felt that?

Phan: I would say more importantly Gen Zers want to know that the company we work for is committed to investing in our development. We are eager to work and build on our skills, both technical skills and soft skills, as well as gain valuable career experience for our future. The job market is full of talent so at times we may feel expendable. But we also see companies as expendable if they don’t support our career advancement. We can easily find new opportunities through our social networks if the job we are in now isn’t right for us. That is why it’s so important that companies are in tune with the needs of their Gen Z employees.

Brecker:What's going to engage Gen Z coming into the workforce is that motivation to get to that next step and a culture of development and engagement. The freedom to face challenges on their own, but also having a mentor and a coach to help guide them along the way.

It certainly was an adjustment for me at first. I had to make more time in our check-ins to discuss development opportunities and slow down to thoughtfully coach. But after a few weeks, we got in a groove, and now Tina is one of our best team members in the department and is incredibly proactive and self-sufficient.

Cornerstone has launched several digital learning courses specifically geared toward the Gen Z audience. Have you taken those courses yet, and what did you think?

Phan: Yes, the courses were very digestible (5 minutes or less) and got information across effectively and efficiently. They provided great insight on how Gen Zers think, operate, and interact.

Brecker: The courses were extremely informative in distinguishing Gen Z myths versus realities. From the training it is clear that this generation is driven, has a hunger for personal development, and craves in-person interaction. As a manager, I learned in order to succeed as a team and retain your people it’s extremely important to set clear expectations, create a space to motivate and form authentic relationships. These are courses everyone should make time to take!

To find out more about Cornerstone’s Digital Native Advancement (DNA) Program and the newly-launched "Plan Z" initiative, click here.

Related Resources

Want to keep learning? Explore our products, customer stories, and the latest industry insights.

4 Ways to Expand Your Social Media Recruiting Strategy

Blog Post

4 Ways to Expand Your Social Media Recruiting Strategy

Social media is ubiquitous, and companies are using it in many different and innovative ways for enhancing their sales, marketing and customer services. So why is it then that many HR departments still fail to see social media as more than a job board? Outside of the office, the same HR people happily engage with friends on Facebook, share news and ideas on Twitter, look at pictures on Instagram and send snaps on Snapchat. But when they put their work hat on they seemingly forget why they use social in the way they (and hundreds of millions of other users) do every day, and resort back to just posting jobs (in a boring way) on social media! Of course there is nothing wrong with job posting, and it's often an effective approach to reaching an audience, but not all of the time. According to LinkedIn, only 12 percent of the working population are actively seeking new employment. So, if all you do is post jobs on your LinkedIn, Twitter or Facebook page, you are consciously ignoring the other 88 percent of the working population who might be interested in hearing more about your company in general. Creating and sharing interesting content about your company such as employee stories or volunteer days help bring your employer brand to life. It might even trigger people to reach out to you and find out more about your job opportunities. In truth, mixing up your social media feeds with a variety of content will provide more depth and candidate engagement. Here are four ways to expand your social media strategy and engage with new potential candidates. 1) Candidate Sourcing With people using an average of more than five social networks, sourcing talent via social media makes absolute sense. Branch out from just using LinkedIn and look to sites like Twitter, Facebook and Google+ to search for and engage with prospective talent. Try search tools like Followerwonk to search Twitter bios for keywords and job titles, a clever Chrome browser extension called Intelligence Search that easily searches Facebook and using the search bar at the top of Google+. They will help you identify new talent. If you are looking to build social media pipelines then try Hello Talent. It is a great free tool that allows you to build talent pipelines from many different social networks by using a browser extension. 2) Competitor Monitoring Social media is a fantastic source of information and data. By using tools like Hootsuite and Tweetdeck, you can monitor the social media activity of your competitors. Both of these tools allow you to set up search columns, where you can enter things like keywords, hashtags, Twitter names and track when any of these are mentioned on sites such as Twitter. You can use the interact or use the insights accordingly. 3) Resources for Candidates Consider your Facebook page (or Twitter channel) as a real-time customer services channel for you to engage and communicate with both new and existing candidates in the recruitment process. Provide links to your social media pages to candidates at all stages in the process and encourage them to visit the pages and ask questions about any part of the process. You can also share useful information about working for the company, including locations, employees and other relevant news. 4) Live Recruitment Events Not everyone can attend the many recruitment events happening every month. But by using social media like Twitter, Facebook Live, Instagram and Snapchat, you can easily provide live commentary for these events you attend or host. Real-time video via Facebook Live and interaction via Twitter chats are superb examples of ways to regularly engage with a live audience of potential candidates. With social media firmly established in our working lives, I question how much more evidence HR departments will need to fully embrace this "new" form of candidate engagement. Photo: Twenty20

Cartoon Coffee Break: Unconventional Recruiting

Blog Post

Cartoon Coffee Break: Unconventional Recruiting

Editor's Note: This post is part of our "Cartoon Coffee Break" series. While we take talent management seriously, we also know it's important to have a good laugh. Check back every two weeks for a new ReWork cartoon. Missed the Recruiting Trends conference? From the state of recruiting automation adoption, to the role that the human element still plays in recruiting, our recap covers everything you need to know. Header photo: Creative Commons

The Latest Office Benefit Is Tackling Student Debt

Blog Post

The Latest Office Benefit Is Tackling Student Debt

Modern companies are more than just employers — increasingly, they are also gyms, cafeterias and even laundromats. As perks like yoga class, free lunch and complimentary dry cleaning become the norm, companies continue to push the boundaries on ways to attract and retain top talent by providing much more than a paycheck to employees. The latest in the slew of new workplace benefits? Student loan assistance. In April, Chegg partnered with to give full-time employees extra cash for student loan reduction. Then in September, consulting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers announced it would provide up to $1,200 to help employees pay off loans annually. As a benefit, student loan assistance programs are certainly still in their infancy— one survey found that only 3 percent of companies offer such a benefit. But experts say that may soon change as companies seek to differentiate themselves in a competitive hiring environment. "We think student loan benefits are poised to be the next big benefit; similar to what 401(k) matching was when it was first introduced," says Dana Rosenberg, who leads employer and affinity group partnerships at Earnest, a lender that offers student loan refinancing and works with companies to create loan pay-down programs. The Burden of Student Debt Such programs could be extremely attractive to debt-laden Millennials. Around 40 million Americans collectively carry $1.2 trillion in student loan debt, and the graduating class of 2015 was the most indebted class in history with an average debt of $35,000 (a superlative they won't hold for long come May 2016.) For employers looking to adjust benefits to correspond to the changing demographics of their employee base, student loan programs hit the mark. "In 2016, our employees will be 80 percent millennials, and we also hire close to 11,000 employees directly out of school each year," says Terri McClements, Washington Metro managing partner of PwC. With student debt often preventing young people from participating in 401(k) plans and reaching traditional life milestones, the benefit could potentially make a large impact on employees' financial and personal well-being. A study from the American Student Association found that 73 percent of people with student loans reported putting off saving for retirement or other investments due to their debt, 75 percent reported delaying a home purchase and 27 percent reported it was difficult to buy daily necessities. "Student loans can be a very stressful thing to deal with, so if we can give our employees peace of mind, that's great," says Caroline Gennaro, corporate communications manager at Chegg. The Allure for Employers Student debt assistance programs aren't just attractive to employees, either. Rosenberg says there are significant benefits for the organizations that offer them as well. "Employers that offer programs to help their employees get out from under their debt load are seeing big benefits: increased retention, more competitive recruiting and, perhaps most importantly, happier employees who have additional cash flow to put towards their life goals," Rosenberg explains. Rosenberg says happier employees are more engaged employees, who tend to be more productive. Studies show that companies with high employee engagement experience lower turnover and have double the rate of organizational success than their less-engaged counterparts. Student loan benefit programs may also lead to a more diverse workforce, attracting employees whose financial backgrounds meant they had to take on more debt for their education. "Diversity and inclusion are also very important to us, so the ability to offer this benefit can help minorities who come out of school with a higher debt burden," says McClements. A Promising Response Companies say the response to their student loan assistance programs have been overwhelmingly positive. Chegg has had more than 80 people sign up since they started their program this summer, and they've already eliminated roughly 86 years of collective loan repayments for their employees. Companies are also finding these programs are a way to differentiate themselves from organizations that may offer more generic benefits. "As a company in the San Francisco Bay Area, we are always looking to attract the best and brightest in the industry, and this benefit is a big draw," says Gennaro. Photo: Shutterstock

Schedule a personalized 1:1

Talk to a Cornerstone expert about how we can help with your organization’s unique people management needs.

© Cornerstone 2022