At Work

Hiring Gen Z? Here’s What You Need to Know

By: Michael McQueen

The last couple of years have seen the entry of the next generation into the workforce. Gen Zs are a unique group – fiercely ambitious, values-driven and highly attuned to the digital world.

Workplaces are increasingly needing to adjust to the new set of employee needs, interests and working styles that has arrived with this generation.

If you are hiring Gen Zs, here are two key attributes you need to know…

1. Gen Zs Need the Office More Than You Think

Gen Zs have never known a world without the Internet. Every sphere of their life, from work to play, is influenced by this. With the internet powerfully shaping their career plans and economic habits, 35% of them currently earn money through online channels. For 17% of Gen Z males and 11% of females, the Internet is where they derive all of their income.[1]

Interestingly, being online is not only Gen Z’s favourite way to pass the time but it is also the place they tend to feel most like themselves. In a 2021 by Coefficient Capital, 45% of Gen Zs say they feel most like their authentic selves online whereas 40% say that they are most authentic in the real world.

This is in stark contrast with older generations. Amongst Gen Xers, only 22% felt most like themselves online and just 7% of Baby Boomers said the same. For these older generations, they felt much more comfortable and authentic offline.[2]

Young man working on laptop
Photo by Štefan Štefančík on Unsplash

However, the story doesn’t end here. Digitally native as they may be, there is a growing awareness within Gen Z of how valuable the analogue world is. Having borne the brunt of COVID-19, 83% of Gen Zs say they have a greater appreciation for in-person interactions and just over half said they felt isolated and disconnected during pandemic lockdowns – a much higher figure than that of their Gen X and Baby Boomer counterparts.[3]

“Digitally native as they may be, there is a growing awareness within Gen Z of how valuable the analogue world is.”

In research conducted a few months into the COVID-19 pandemic, 95% of Gen Z and 93% of Millennials reported they were struggling with remote work. Four in five of this younger cohort reported feeling more disconnected from their workplaces and colleagues – a figure that was significantly lower for their Gen X and Baby Boomer counterparts. This generational divide was most evident when it came to how informed different generations felt in a remote work environment.

While 53% of Gen Xers and 50% of Baby Boomers felt it was harder to feel in the loop while working from home, many more Gen Zs and Millennials reported feeling this way – 74% and 66% respectively.[4]

The reality is that the workplace has traditionally been a key source of connection, belonging and community for young employees and remote work has resulted in Gen Z missing this. A survey by Mainstreet Insights examined this dynamic in late 2021 and found 76% of Gen Z workers said that the workplace was a primary source of meaning and social connection. This compared with 63% of Baby Boomers for whom social and personal networks are far more established.[5]

While their online skills equip them well for remote work, the payoff in employee satisfaction, mental health and corporate culture cannot be ignored. Gen Zs may be digital natives but their need for the analogue world is far greater than we might think.

2. Gen Zs are Speaking a Different Language

Do you think you know what the emojis mean? Considering the unique language of Gen Z, it is likely that you don’t. In the same way Millennials developed their own form of tribal tech-slang, Gen Zs have also developed an emoji-driven lexicon which is uniquely theirs. In her book Digital Body Language, Erica Dhawan examines the dynamics involved in this generation’s very different use of emojis.

“People over 30 generally use emojis to convey what the images always did”, she said, “while younger digital natives ascribe sarcastic meanings to them, or use them as shorthand for an entirely different thought.” The stakes are high when it comes to emoji-based miscommunication – especially in the workplace. “The rise of emoji use at work, such as between remote teams during the pandemic, has created more misunderstanding than ever,” according to Dhawan.[6]

Portrait young woman
Photo by Christina @ on Unsplash

Beyond the emojis and slang they are using, Gen Zs are communicating over different platforms. Research conducted by consulting firm Creative Strategies has revealed a big difference between the tools and platforms employees prefer to use based on their age group. For those over the age of 30, for instance, email is the primary tool used for collaboration in the workplace. For Gen Zs however, email is not even in the top five, with younger people instead preferring Google Docs, Zoom and iMessage.[7]

“Only 21% of business leaders use instant messaging apps like Slack or WhatsApp for work purposes, compared to 81% of Gen Z employees.”

The Creative Strategies researchers also noted that a clear generational bias exists between Microsoft Office and Google Docs with the under 30s preferring to use Google’s tools, and vice versa. Reflecting on this fact, they suggest “Younger people have been influenced by tools they’ve grown up with in the consumer world, and it may not always fit with the most commonly used tools in business. And as these users get older and come to constitute the main part of the workforce, businesses will be forced to adapt their tools to accommodate them.”[8]

To this point, a global workforce survey conducted by Citrix found that only 21% of business leaders use instant messaging apps like Slack or WhatsApp for work purposes, compared to 81% of Gen Z employees. The result of this is that “business leaders are largely inhabiting separate ‘tech bubbles’ from their younger employees,” according to the study’s lead researcher.[9]

Young People and Phone Anxiety

These generational divides only widen when you consider Gen Z’s famed aversion to making phone calls. Research indicates that 81% of this young group report that having to pick up the phone is a source of anxiety and often results in nausea, muscular tension or increased heart rate. Instead, Gen Zs gravitate toward using messenger apps. When asked why this is the case, members of this young cohort say they prefer having the freedom and time to compose messages and respond when it suits them.[10]

Within a decade, Gen Z will represent nearly a third of the working population.[11] Their commitment to a unique set of values and their highly ambitious mindset makes them a force that cannot be ignored. While their digital habits and new language may mean significant adjustments, businesses hoping to maintain their workforce long-term would do well to make Gen Zs welcome.

[1]  2021, ‘The Australian Generation Z Report,’ Millennial Future.

[2]  Sanwal, A. 2021, ‘Gen Z feel more like themselves online,’ CB Insights, 23 December.

[3]  2020, ‘Over 90% of Young Workers Having Difficulty Working from Home, Survey Finds’, Smartsheet, 22 April.

[4]  2020, ‘Over 90% of Young Workers Having Difficulty Working from Home, Survey Finds’, Smartsheet, 22 April.

[5]  Fitzsimmons, C. 2021, ‘The generation most keen on a return to the office – and why it may not be full time,’ The Sydney Morning Herald, 13 June.

[6]  Ishmael, A. 2021, ‘Sending Smiley Emojis? They Now Mean Different Things to Different People,’ The Wall Street Journal, 9 August.

[7]  June, S. 2021, ‘Could Gen Z free the world from email?’ The New York Times, 10 July.

[8]  Bajarin, B. 2020, ‘In the new age of remote work, people under 30 might finally kill email,’ Fast Company, 23 July.

[9]  2021, ‘Work 2035: The Born Digital Effect,’ Fieldwork by Citrix.

[10]  2021, ‘Why Gen Zs Don’t Want Your Phone Call,’ Year 13, 14 November. 

[11]  McCrindle, M. 2021, ‘Australia Towards 2031,’ McCrindle research.

Article supplied with thanks to Michael McQueen.

About the Author: Michael is a trends forecaster, business strategist and award-winning conference speaker.

Feature image: Photo by Leon Ell’ on Unsplash  

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