Understanding Gen Z in the workplace

Marlo Oster

The workplace is changing. With baby boomers retiring at record rates, Millennials have become the largest generation in the U.S. workforce. But there’s another generation just behind them: Gen Z. In order for your organization to stay competitive, it’s imperative that you begin to educate yourself on Gen Z in the workplace.

In this post, we’ll break down the differences between each generation currently in the workforce, what makes members of Gen Z tick, and how to attract and retain Gen Z workers.

How and why generations differ

Every generation grows up surrounded by different local, national, and global circumstances that stimulate different values and dreams for the future. That’s not to say every member of a generation is exactly the same, but people who grow up at the same time have shared the same experiences, economies, and events. This generally leads members of the same generation to have similar wants, needs, preferences, values, and aspirations.

For example, Gen Zers are particularly environmentally-conscious because they’ve inherited a planet that’s undergoing a climate crisis due to the careless actions of older generations. Baby boomers grew up in a more affluent time when hard work was king and conformity was seen as more of a virtue than a flaw. So, baby boomers have generally grown up to be team players concerned with acquiring visual representations of their status, such as expensive cars and big homes.

Of course, these things won’t hold true for each individual who falls within a certain generation, but generally, every generation has its own idea of what’s acceptable and what success looks like. While many baby boomers may think it’s unacceptable to jump around from job to job because they value security and climbing the corporate ladder, many Millennials think it’s strange to stay at one job because they value freedom and diversity. 

Baby boomers

Approximate birth date: 1946-1964

What they lived through:

  • Cold War
  • Watergate
  • John F. Kennedy assassination 
  • Civil rights movement
  • Vietnam War
  • Moon landing
  • Woodstock

What they value:

  • In-person communication
  • Formalities
  • Tradition
  • Physical paper
  • Hard work
  • Being part of a team
  • Optimism
  • Personal gratification

Gen X

Approximate birth date: 1965-1980

What they lived through: 

  • Fall of the Berlin Wall
  • Rise of divorce rates
  • MTV
  • Cable 
  • Rise of the Internet
  • Rise of the personal computer
  • War on Drugs
  • Energy crisis
  • Rodney King beating
  • Desert Storm (first Iraq War)

What they value: 

  • Self-reliance
  • Practicality 
  • Informality
  • Diversity


Approximate birth date: 1981-1995ish

What they lived through: 

  • Y2K
  • 9/11
  • War on Terror/Iraq War
  • Election of President Barack Obama
  • Rise of social media
  • Great Recession

What they value: 

  • Collaboration
  • Creativity
  • Flexibility
  • Work-life balance
  • Mental health
  • Freedom
  • Activism and social justice
  • Diversity

📌 Learn more: Understanding Millennials in the Workplace

Gen Z

Approximate birth date: 1995-2012ish

What they lived through: 

  • Climate Crisis
  • Great Recession
  • Rise of school/mass shootings
  • Election of President Trump
  • COVID-19 pandemic
  • Rise of mental illness

What they value: 

  • Structure and security
  • Face-to-face communication
  • Activism and social justice
  • Environmentalism
  • Diversity
  • Tech-savviness
  • Mental health

Gen Z in the workplace: Background and facts 

Gen Zers have a reputation as the kids who dance on TikTok, eat Tide Pods, and make us all include our pronouns on our email signatures. These stereotypes might be true, but Gen Zers are growing older and beginning to enter the workplace. Soon, they’ll make up a substantial proportion of the workforce. So, it’s time to get to know our newest coworkers!

Generation Z (aka Gen Z, Gen Zers, iGen, and centennials) were born between 1995 and 2012 (approximately). This means they are currently 10-27 years old. There aren’t many in the workforce yet, only about 5%, but by 2025, Gen Z will make up 27% of workers! With baby boomers retiring, Gen Zers will soon be a major presence in the workplace.

As a generation, they have experienced blow after blow throughout the defining years of their lives. They are the first generation that doesn’t remember 9/11, but they experienced its repercussions. For example, they practiced emergency evacuation and active shooter drills throughout their school days. During the Great Recession of 2008, their families were losing their jobs and struggling to get by. Some have had major life milestones over Zoom, like their graduation ceremony or prom. And some have delayed going to college as opposed to attending remotely.

Defining characteristics of Gen Z 

Members of Gen Z have a few common characteristics, but keep in mind that not everyone falls within these descriptions.

  • Gen Zers care about activism and social justice
  • Gen Zers are more risk-averse compared to Millennials and Gen X
  • Gen Zers are anxious about climate change
  • Gen Zers are more likely to identify as LGBTQ+
  • Gen Zers are digital natives and value their privacy online
  • Gen Zers are comfortable talking about and taking care of their mental health
  • Gen Zers are the most racially diverse generation 
  • Gen Zers are the most educated generation

Common challenges managing Gen Z

There are not many Gen Zers in the workforce yet, but their numbers are growing, and savvy managers (like yourself 😉) know they must adapt their managing strategies to attract and retain the newest additions to their offices. So what should you expect when managing members of Gen Z?

1. Gen Z is the most tech-savvy generation yet

Gen Zers are digital natives. They grew up with 24/7 access to the internet. As a result, they don’t have patience for out-of-date or non-intuitive tech at work. They expect those they work with to understand the importance of using up-to-date technology, so it’s a good idea to update your hardware and software.

As a result of their access to the internet, they also feel the burden of being constantly connected and value the ability to sign off and unplug. They seek work-life balance and are unlikely to stay in a workplace that does not allow them to disconnect at the end of the day.

2. Gen Z cares about the environment and social justice

Gen Zers are anxious about the future, especially climate change and the environmental impact that previous generations have burdened them with. They are comfortable with activism and are more likely to speak up and act on social justice issues and movements.

They expect the company they work for to share their values on these issues, and empty words are not enough. Companies must demonstrate their commitment to these issues through their actions. Managers will need to make decisions that align with Gen Zers’ values on climate change, social justice, diversity, and inclusion.

3. Gen Z thinks about diversity differently

To Gen Z, diversity is not just about race or gender. Gen Zers know that you can’t hire a token woman or person of color on your team and call it diversity.

To Gen Z, diversity includes sexual orientation and gender identity. Many Gen Zers identify as third-gender or non-binary. Diversity also includes those with neurodiversity, such as autism spectrum disorder and ADHD, mental health, and learning challenges. Outdated methods of accommodating those with disabilities are not enough for them.

Gen Z has no tolerance for inequality in the workplace. If your company is behind the times, you’ll want to integrate diversity and inclusion training into your workplace. This means more than just a one-off workshop. Like committing to social justice and taking action, companies need to commit to learning about diversity and inclusion and making their workplace equitable. 

4. Gen Z values mental health and work-life balance

Gen Z has been called the most depressed generation, but they are also the most active and vocal when it comes to taking care of their mental health.

Gen Z demands work-life balance and non-toxic work environments. They won’t tolerate bullying, such as being guilted by their managers for taking sick leave or vacations. They want understanding from their managers when they are feeling burnt out and to be given new and challenging projects that motivate them intrinsically.

You might have heard of “quiet quitting,” which means doing your job and no more than that, as opposed to taking on extra work and going that extra mile. Gen Z will “act their wage,” clocking out when they are supposed to and doing the bare minimum if they aren’t satisfied with their work and with the company they work for.

Advice for managing Gen Z

Hiring Gen Z

There are several strategies you can employ to attract and hire the top Gen Z talent. You’ll have an easier time if your company has shown alignment with the values that are important to Gen Z, such as taking strong action on social justice and environmental issues.

Salary is an important part of attracting Gen Z employees, but they are also likely to take a more interesting job that pays less, so make sure you include opportunities for growth in the roles you hire for.

While Gen Z workers like free food, they are looking for more than just flashy perks in a job. A solid benefits package, including care for mental health, is very desirable.

Gen Z is extremely adaptable. They expect positions to be remote or at least have a remote option so that they can work wherever and whenever they want.

A great strategy for finding Gen Zers is to partner with colleges to attract top talent and create an internal internship or apprenticeship program that gives a clear career path within your organization.

When preparing to interview members of Gen Z, make sure you ask about their gender pronouns when you first meet them. Gen Z is also more likely to ask why THEY should work for YOU, so be prepared to sell your organization. 

Communicating with Gen Z

Gen Z grew up with social media, text messaging, and always having access to the internet. So while you might think they are always connected and able to respond, they actually value their time offline. If their managers try to contact them outside of work, they probably won’t respond, and worse, they will lose respect for you and the organization. Keep communication inside working hours!

And it doesn’t stop there. Gen Z is also turned off by heavy-handed communication from managers. While they want their managers to be attentive and supportive when needed, managers should definitely be wary of over-communicating and micromanaging

Motivating and retaining Gen Z

Gen Z are motivated by opportunities to do interesting and challenging work. To accommodate this, some companies have developed internal marketplaces for various projects so that employees can take on the projects that most interest them and utilize their unique skills.

They also want to know their work matters, so be clear about the impact of the work they do. How are they individually contributing to the team, the mission, and the organization? Check in with regular one-on-one meetings, remind them of their value, and give meaningful, constructive feedback.

Finally, one of their favorite perks is free food. With the cost of living going up, you can’t go wrong with offering delicious meals to show your appreciation. Just make sure it’s not a ploy to replace real benefits, such as healthcare, raises, and promotions. Gen Z will see right through that.

Gen Z is less likely to be loyal to just one organization, as they can easily adapt to new workplaces and freelance comfortably. So you can’t skimp on a good salary, challenging and rewarding projects, a generous benefits package, and ample work-life balance (...also free food 🍕🍱🍜).

Gen Z in the workplace: What to expect

As more and more Gen Zers enter the workforce, businesses will need to prepare and adapt in order to attract and retain top talent. The sooner businesses prioritize the things that Gen Z values, the better.

Improving your organization’s work-life balance, expanding its diversity and inclusion, taking action on social issues, and investing in fair compensation will ultimately benefit all generations in the workplace.

Manage all generations, no matter their differences

Charma provides tools and AI to help you manage agendas for both one-on-one meetings and team meetings, action items, team collaboration, 360 reviews, continuous feedback & recognition, and transparent goal-tracking — all in one place. Our platform enables open communication, which accelerates employee development, helps teams achieve goals, and strengthens the manager-employee relationship — which is key to attracting and retaining members of Gen Z. Try adopting Charma to help facilitate continuous feedback in the workplace.

Reach out to our team at any time if you have questions about our articles, guides, or products.

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