As U.S. job openings continue to reach historic highs, companies urgently need Gen Z workers. And according to a new study, the businesses that win them—and keep them—will be the companies that put a laser-like focus on understanding what matters most to them.
With this in mind, a new report from The Conference Board explores the most important motivations of Gen Z, expected to represent nearly a third of the workforce by 2025. Based on more than 100 interviews, Gen Zers place the biggest premium on five critical values: adequate compensation, control, safety and wellness, growth, and purpose. While these objectives are important to all generations of employees, for those born in 1997 or later they are imperatives.
The report also explores what makes Gen Z a force to be reckoned with. Unlike previous generations, their comfort with evolving technology and using social media to amplify their concerns makes them unique. Also influencing their views, Gen Zers completed their education remotely and started their careers during especially turbulent times—the COVID-19 pandemic, extraordinary economic uncertainty, geopolitical turmoil, and deep societal unrest.
The insights in the study reflect virtual focus groups and online polls with Gen Z workers—both hourly and knowledge workers—between November 2022 and January 2023.
Based on study results, companies should do the following to best attract, engage, and retain Gen Z workers:
1. Reevaluate starting salaries and increase pay transparency.
- Gen Zers readily share salary information with one another both via social media and in person.
- Gen Zers view adequate compensation as a matter of both respect and equity.
2. Give them as much flexibility as possible over where and when they work.
- For knowledge workers, this can mean the opportunity to work remotely at least some of the time.
- For hourly workers, it can mean having some say in the shifts assigned to them and knowing their shifts well in advance so that they can plan for personal commitments.
- Gen Zers still crave in-person interactions though. Consider flexible work environments supplemented with opportunities for in-person interaction such as periodic in-person team meetings, team-bonding activities, and networking meetups.
“Many Gen Z knowledge workers finished their education and started their careers on virtual platforms during the pandemic. For them, hybrid work is the expectation,” said Robin Erickson, PhD, Vice President of Human Capital at The Conference Board. “Business leaders should discuss the importance of schedule flexibility and hybrid work with the entire C-suite to ensure their buy in and update policies about where and when work is accomplished to optimize worker autonomy and control.”
“Business leaders should discuss the importance of schedule flexibility and hybrid work with the entire C-suite to ensure their buy in and update policies about where and when work is accomplished…”
— Robin Erickson, PhD, The Conference Board
3. Provide opportunities for development—both internal and external.
- In the wake of the Great Resignation, many Gen Zers noted that a lack of growth opportunities would be a reason to leave a job.
- Employees and managers should work together to create personalized career pathing plans and transparently discuss growth opportunities, both within the company and externally.
- Establish how each job contributes toward career advancement and how roles and responsibilities will evolve in the future.
- Offer workers opportunities and resources to develop skills that are not only relevant to their desired career advancement, but also support long-term employability in a shifting work landscape.
- Assign workers to projects that align with their professional interests and provide stretch assignments.
- Encourage workers to take risks by creating a failure-tolerant culture: analyze failures and celebrate small successes.
- Employers should also create opportunities for workers to network with senior staff, shadow high-level projects, and tackle independent projects.
“Many Gen Zers say adequate compensation isn’t enough to stay with a company—they need opportunities to learn and grow,” said Barbara Lombardo, PhD, Distinguished Principal Research Fellow and Program Director at The Conference Board. “Organizations must make sure these opportunities are not only available but are clearly communicated. Employees need to know they’ll be able to build and advance a career at the company—because for many of them, finding a new job is not difficult given the current labor shortage.”
4. Develop a culture of safety and wellness that genuinely supports employees while on the job and respects their boundaries beyond the workplace.
- Gen Zers want their employers to help support their physical and psychological safety and their pursuit of mental and physical wellness.
- For workers in customer-facing roles, this can mean support when faced with customer hostility, which has increased significantly since the onset of the pandemic.
- Many expressed concerns about corporate cultures that expect them to sacrifice their personal life for their careers.
- Survey employees’ well-being to ascertain mental health wellness and seek feedback on established policies and benefits.
5. Ensure leaders are living the organization’s values in how they communicate with and treat employees.
- Organizational mission, values, and purpose are high priorities when choosing an employer for many Gen Zers, and many said they would leave a job if their employer’s values did not align with their own.
- Leaders and managers need to set expectations and help their employees understand the organizational impact and importance of the work they do.
- Allowing Gen Zers to take ownership of their tasks and giving them autonomy to make decisions will also help them feel invested in the outcome of their work.