Executive Forums 24 August 2021 / 8 minutes read

Giving Gen Z a Purpose

  • employees
  • genz
  • purpose

    Generation Z makes up roughly 20% of the global workforce, and it’s only going to increase. To attract, engage, and keep Gen Z employees, companies must connect their work to purpose, practice modern leadership, and focus on wellbeing.


    What Motivates The Zoomers?

    As if on cue as they enter the workplace, the generational focus has shifted from the Millennials to the Zoomers.

    Also known as Gen Z, Plurals, Globals, post-Millennials, Internet Generation, and numerous other names, the cohort born between 1996 and 2010 is tech-savvy and makes up the largest demographic wave ever.

    These young people:

    • Watched their parents struggle through the recession
    • Are less likely than earlier generations to drink, smoke cigarettes, or get pregnant at an early age
    • Have higher IQs than their predecessors at the same age, even though they read less
    • Are environmentally conscientious; adventurous in the kitchen; and very much in tune with issues related to mental health, suicide, and sleep deprivation

    They’re pragmatists who’ve been surrounded by mobile technology all their lives, though that doesn’t necessarily make them digitally literate*. They typically see themselves as being loyal, compassionate, thoughtful, open-minded, responsible, and determined. Oddly, they see each other as competitive, spontaneous, adventuresome, and curious—all characteristics that they do not see readily in themselves.

    Recognizing how little is widely known about the next wave of employees and entrepreneurs, we thought it wise to help you better understand what motivates them as a group.


    Profiling Your Audience

    Gen Z workers are an ambitious lot, with opportunity for promotion typically considered a top priority by 52% (compared to 36% of millennial workers.) Should they find themselves short on skills, Generation Z isn’t shy about picking up what they need using the Internet. Unlike Baby Boomers’ belief that an employer should train them, Zoomers are more likely to think that it is the job of employees to train themselves. They’re comfortable working remotely, and an overwhelming majority prefers to work for a medium-sized or large company.

    Having grown up in a post-9/11 world, and layered atop the recession of 2008-10, they’re an unsettled, insecure generation worried about student debt, an ability to own a home, and whether they’ll be able to live as well as their parents have. They’re less inclined than their elders to trust the news or organized groups like political parties or religious organizations, preferring to use social media as their primary news source. They are multitaskers, progressives, and purposeful souls, already aware of their capabilities and the power they can achieve.

    Typically pragmatic about money and entrepreneurial, they also seek independence, aren’t afraid to work hard, and want to be fairly compensated for their efforts.

    Despite all this, members of Generation Z are arguably less about climbing the corporate ladder and more about a desire to belong and be associated with inspiring, relatable purposes.


    How Zoomers Communicate

    Zoomers typically spend several hours each day watching their favorite shows on Netflix or similar platforms. These habits are pointing to potential streaming industry consolidation as channels like Disney, Cartoon Network, and Nickelodeon continue a steady decline initiated ten years ago…despite the increase in viewing caused by the pandemic. Disney has already closed operations in Scandinavia, the U.K., Australia, and Southeast Asia.

    This is a generation that has grown up in a digital world, so they’re more inclined to hear messages that come from trusted influencers than from advertising. They’re likely to see those trusted influencers as their friends, and in many instances those same influencers are having actual conversations with their followers through social media platforms, as opposed to celebrities or paid endorsers.

    Furthermore, the increase in online viewing habits, coupled with lowered tendencies of Zoomers to read for pleasure or use a dictionary, has led to a marked decline in vocabulary usage and reading among schoolchildren in New Zealand. British children report spending 8% less time reading, with one in 4 reporting they don’t read at all for pleasure. This compares with a Childwise report that by age 11 having a cell phone is nearly universal and Zoomers spend an average of 3:20 daily on their phones.


    About Handling Money

    Angie Read, co-author of Marketing to Gen Z: The Rules for Reaching This Vast—and Very Different—Generation of Influencers, refers to them as “old souls in young bodies, with more in common with their grandparents and great-grandparents than with the generation just before them.” They are hardworking, financially responsible, independent, determined, and have more conservative views of success regarding money, education, and career advancement.

    Yet Gen Z is more than just a throwback to earlier days, as this generation is motivated by social rewards, mentorship, and constant feedback. They demand flexible schedules, want experiences more than things, and are constantly on the lookout for personal growth opportunities.

    A Harvard Business Review article stated that about 70% of Generation Z was self-employed, e.g. selling things online, and only 12% had “traditional” teen jobs, such as waiting tables. A Morgan Stanley report projected that while the U.S. labor force expands, that of other G10 countries will contract. This development alleviates concerns over America’s aging population; As of 2019, Millennials and Generation Z accounted for 38% of the U.S. workforce, and is expected to rise to 58% by 2030.


    Zoomers On The Job

    81% of Generation Z believes obtaining a college degree is necessary in achieving career goals, though 2/3 of them are concerned about how to pay for it. According to the World Economic Forum, 77% of Generation Z expects to work harder than previous generations. As a result, barely one in two recruits from Generation Z are willing to negotiate a higher salary, even though, as of 2019, the U.S. labor market is very tight, meaning the balance of power is currently in favor of job seekers, collectively.

    More than their predecessors, Generation Z employees want to make a difference in their jobs and are highly connected to social issues. After all, they’ve never known a world without war and the threat of domestic terrorism.

    Translation: They crave safety and financial security, simultaneously expecting structure, clear directions, transparency, and preferring face-to-face communication.

    All of which means that to attract, engage, and keep Gen Z employees, companies must connect their work to purpose, practice modern leadership, and focus on wellbeing.

    As a side note, Adecco reports 83% of today’s students believe three years or less is the appropriate amount of time to spend at their first job. This is potentially problematic, of course, given the recent trend among employers to want a minimum of three years experience for even the most entry-level of positions.


    Keeping Gen Z Working For You

    Anyone looking to motivate Gen Z needs to take a stand on issues that are important to them, such as gender, racial, and sexual orientation equality. It’s important to demonstrate they’re valued collaborators and that you respect their opinions and input. Treat them like the adults they see themselves as, even if (or, arguably, ESPECIALLY if) there’s a significant age difference between you.

    Anyone managing members of Generation Z can motivate them with raises, promotions, and a very positive long-term job-outlook. And you’re sure to keep members of Generation Z with your organization longer by offering praise, frequent rewards, a flexible schedule, and allowing both freelance work and side hustles.

    Offer mentoring and educational opportunities to help your staff build their portfolios. They’ll appreciate the chance to have real examples of their work in a digital and dynamic resumé, and recognize that you’re supporting their continued career growth beyond your doors.

    As with any employee, one needs to engage and inspire members of Generation Z so that they, in turn, will inspire your brand. Be completely transparent and authentic to earn their trust, and whatever you do, do not talk down to them! Operate with integrity at all times.


    Remaining Flexible Is Important

    COVID has forced most businesses to become more flexible. It’s a lesson sure to have direct benefit in your dealings with younger members of Generation Z, many of whom have only known a remote work environment.

    The Wall Street Journal reports they yearn for the “spontaneous collaboration and coaching” that come from being in an office setting. And U.K. Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak prompted a debate by suggesting the importance of young people returning to the office to ensure their career progression.

    However, Zoomers overall have made it abundantly clear they have gotten used to working from home and would like to continue doing so to maintain flexibility, control, and balance in their lives.


    Our Advice Moving Forward

    Take advantage of Gen Z’s tech-savvy skills and offer online training and certifications. Also, consider being more lenient on cell phone policies, as Gen Zs are always connected but not necessarily distracted. Set aside your own biases and let this generation of employees do what they do best. You might be pleasantly surprised.

    Try a flexible approach to scheduling for remote or traditional staff. Generation Z is less likely to have a work cut-off time, or home/work separation. They often start and stop projects throughout the day and night, which can prove to be very productive for your organization and a significant help to your bottom line.

    Monster reports Generation Z makes up roughly 20% of the global workforce, and it’s only going to increase. Treat each employee as an individual, regardless of their age. Always promote collaboration, and work a little harder to understand each person’s unique preferences and work style.

    And, if you are still unsure how to proceed from here, talk to the leader of your REF peer group to get some other ideas.



    * The 2018 International Computer and Information Literacy Study, conducted on 42,000 eighth-graders (or equivalents) from 14 countries and educational systems, found only 2% were proficient enough with information devices to justify that description. Only 19% could work independently with computers to gather information and manage their work.

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