What Gen Z Wants From Work

While Generation Z is known for its reliance on technology, the incoming segment of the workforce may actually most crave old-fashioned human connection in the workplace.

The human element topped all other factors when it came to what Gen Zers–defined in this research as those born between 1995 and 2002–want out of their future employers, according to a recent survey conducted by RainmakerThinking, a management-research, training and consulting firm. The Voice of Generation Z: What Post-Millennials are Saying About Work explored the attitudes of more than 4,000 current and future workers, finding that their No. 1 priority for a prospective job is supportive leadership, followed by positive relationships at work. Scheduling flexibility took the third spot, while factors like extra pay for doing extra work, convenient location and creative freedom were considered the least important aspects.

Participants were asked to elaborate on their picks with open-ended responses; out of 836 comments, 41 percent emphasized the importance of the human connection in the workplace. Drilling down into these responses, 22 percent cited the overall need for respect, recognition and gratitude, while 16 percent noted the importance of co-worker relationships and 15 percent centered on interactions with supervisors.

Bruce Tulgan, founder and CEO of RainmakerThinking–which has been studying young people in the workplace for 25 years–says the data run counter to stereotypes that Gen Z are only concerned with screentime, and not face-to-face interactions. However, he notes, research, including from his company, has shown a growing soft-skills gap in this rising workforce segment.

“On the one hand, today’s young people are not as comfortable or good at interpersonal communication, of course largely due to growing up communicating on hand-held supercomputers,” Tulgan says. “On the other hand, the human element–particularly, supportive leadership and relationships with co-workers–is what matters most to them.”

That opens up an interesting challenge for employers, who are already welcoming Gen Zers into their ranks. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the Gen Z population tops out at about 61 million people, who will comprise about 20 percent of the workforce in the next two years.

Tulgan says managers across all levels should be more engaged in coaching employees to enable supportive and ongoing communication. Employers should also invest in onboarding and ongoing training focused on soft skills, particularly interpersonal communication.

“And HR needs to do what’s necessary to promote positive relationships–teamwork and collaboration–between and among people in the workplace,” he adds.

Another idea that emerged in the research was equality in the workplace–supporting common conceptions that employers need to get their D&I strategies right-sided to recruit Gen Zers. Equality was the second most common theme that survey respondents mentioned in their open-ended responses, with nearly three-quarters of such comments centering on fair pay, particularly across gender lines.

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Jen Colletta
Jen Colletta is managing editor at HRE. She earned bachelor's and master's degrees in writing from La Salle University in Philadelphia and spent 10 years as a newspaper reporter and editor before joining HRE. She can be reached at [email protected]