How to retain Gen Z talent and cultivate an inclusive workspace

Gen Z’s thoughts on the workplace: Expectations, trends, and alternatives to traditional education

Written by Kaisa Laane, work experience student, aged 17. 

Generation Z, born between circa 1997 and 2012, is reshaping the workplace with distinct perspectives and values. Known for digital fluency and an egalitarian mindset, they emphasise work-life balance, technology, and diversity. It’s important to note that many Gen Z individuals are now considering alternative qualifications like apprenticeships, T-levels and internships over traditional university, though university enrolment rates remain high.

Rethinking work ethics

Unlike previous generations who believed in the mantra “the harder you work, the greater the return,” Gen Z feels they should not give corporations more time or effort than what they are compensated for. This approach, sometimes misinterpreted as laziness, is actually driven by a keen awareness of capitalism and its potential for worker exploitation.

Personal freedoms often take precedence over professional achievements for Gen Z, especially in the UK, where 75% of employees report experiencing a toxic workplace culture according to a 2023 survey by Oak Engage. Additionally, 53% of UK employees feel overworked according to Visier’s 2023 Censuswide survey. These experiences, perhaps witnessed by Gen Z in their parents and grandparents, have led many Gen Z members to become more selective in their employment choices, reluctant to accept subpar working conditions.

Economic pressures exacerbate these feelings, with 61% of Gen Z believing that buying a house will become harder or impossible according to a Deloitte report in 2023. This contributes to a pessimistic outlook, with existentialism becoming more prevalent in social circles as they perceive themselves as condemned to work their whole lives without meaningful returns.

Technological integration

Gen Z, as digital natives, expects seamless technological integration in the workplace. A 2021 Dell Technologies survey found that 80% of Gen Z believes technology and automation will create a more equitable work environment by minimising biases and rewarding merit. 

However, a theme of frustration has arisen among the youth from older colleagues’ over-reliance on them for technical issues, and there may be a perception that older workers are reluctant to learn these skills themselves. 

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI)

DEI is essential for Gen Z. They seek workplaces that reflect their diverse identities and support inclusive policies. According to a  Deloitte report in 2023, less than half of Gen Z (48%) believe businesses have a positive impact on society, and only 33% are very satisfied with their employer’s DEI efforts. 

They also value accommodating and accepting disabled individuals in all sectors, and mental health is a significant concern. Companies failing to support mental health or disability needs are often viewed unfavourably and avoided as a result.

Environmental responsibility

Sustainability and environmental responsibility are critical to Gen Z. They prefer companies committed to reducing their environmental impact such as reducing paper waste, reflecting changes they make in their own lives. According to Deloitte’s 2024 survey 20% of Gen Z have changed jobs or industries due to environmental concerns, with another 26% planning to in the future. Approximately 53% believe their companies have deprioritised sustainability due to external factors like COVID-19 and the war in Ukraine.

Alternative education paths

While many Gen Z individuals still value higher education, an increasing number are exploring alternative routes to professional success and expect employers to respect these equally. The rising cost of university education and living expenses prompt many to consider gap years to earn money. Young students interested in humanities often pursue apprenticeships and practical schools instead of traditional university degrees. This shift is partly due to the stigma against arts degrees, perceived as less ‘valuable’, with political figures like Rishi Sunak criticising “rip-off degrees“, driving students away from arts careers.

Interestingly, those interested in science and technology are also drawn to non-traditional education paths due to the potential for earning wages whilst studying, which is often impossible at university. However, this cohort generally has a higher drive to attend university, as STEM degrees are perceived to lead to higher earning careers, resulting in higher rates of university applications.

How to appeal to Generation Z

Meeting Gen Z’s expectations may seem challenging, but it is simpler than anticipated. They ask for fewer restrictive measures, such as dress codes that suppress their identities, and a shift away from unspoken rules demanding perpetual overachievement. Instead, there should be a focus on compassion and understanding, recognising that everyone is navigating the same challenging circumstances, and we all have different ideas of success.

Conclusion

Gen Z’s vision for the future workplace includes technological integration, diversity, mental health support, and environmental responsibility. As they continue to enter the workforce, employers and educational institutions must adapt to these evolving preferences and expectations. By doing so, they can attract and retain top talent while fostering a more innovative and inclusive professional environment.

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