Gen Z native, Charlotte Usher, outlines what the next generation will need to thrive in the workplace. TL;DR: The profit ‘at all costs’ mentality is over, and the latest generation will be expecting a commitment to employee well-being, sustainability and environmental care, as well as work place flexibility and a fulfilling work life balance. Media companies take note.
A story earlier this year spread like wildfire throughout social media. Posted to X (at the time Twitter), a recruiter recounted a list of demands she was given by a Gen Z candidate for an internship position, which included a 5-hour work day and a salary of around eight times the average for someone their age. The recruiter concluded: “God bless the future of work”.
This seemed to confirm the worst suspicions of every Boomer and Gen X – that the new generation coming into the workplace were uniquely demanding, self-centred, and entitled.
But does this perception ring true? As a 17-year old, I am categorised as a member of the Gen Z demographic. But denouncing an entire generation as ‘hard to deal with’ is reductive. So why have these attitudes and perceptions arisen – and what can business leaders do to get the best from their future Gen Z hires, who are, after all, the ‘future of work’?
Once in a generation
Every generation has its own struggles. Baby Boomers grew up in a fast-changing world emerging from the devastation of a world war. Gen X experienced the financial slump of the early 90’s, as well as the dot com crash. Many Millennials entered the workforce after the 2008 financial crash. The newest generation, Gen Z, are defined as those born between 1996 and 2010 – and we’ve had plenty to contend with.
Aside from the rocky economy, our schooling and formative teenage years were severely impacted by Covid. Many also missed out on the internships and job experience schemes that are not only vital for CVs, but also for shaping an understanding of working in an office.
At the same time, we are watching the generations before us burn out through over-work. We are educated about our rights in the workplace, as well as ‘better’ ways of working, often communicated on social media platforms. In many ways, we’re learning the lessons of previous generations.
We are a cohort that doesn’t simply ask what they can give an employer, but what an employer can give to us and I would question: What’s wrong with that?
This doesn’t always boil down to more money. Often Gen Z are looking to work for companies that reflect their values. A majority (82%) of Gen Z want mental health days – understandable when 55% of 18- to 24-year-olds received a diagnosis for a mental health condition. Over three-quarters consider it important that their company champions diversity and inclusivity, while 72% want hybrid working.
Many may baulk at these wishes and think “I didn’t have those benefits and values at my first job – why should they?” This only leads to companies and their cultures stagnating, in turn failing to attract top talent.
I have strong views on what I would like to see from my future employees. I also spoke to friends at school about their perceptions on the workplace they will be entering after education. Here are some of our views on what companies should be doing to attract – and retain – upcoming Gen Z talent:
With temperature records being broken year-on-year, surely the time has come for people to turn their focus to the reality of climate change and global heating? As carbon emissions continue to rise with very little being done by Governments or individuals around the world, I can’t help but focus on the destruction that my generation will be left to deal with. Overhearing my parent’s Boomer and Gen X friends claim: “It won’t happen in our lifetime – but our kids will have to deal with it” demonstrates selfishness and a lack of responsibility for the problem. Importantly it highlights how little action is taking place to reduce the impact of climate breakdown, leaving my generation to pick up the pieces and facing a questionable future on this heated planet.
That’s why Gen Z will be looking closely at companies and their attitude to the environment. Will they be polluters that place profit over planet, or will they help to tackle the problem? I will expect my future employees to demonstrate real and actionable sustainability commitments including membership of B Corp and a lean-in to the circular. I will be surprised if fossil fuel companies and other environmental-damaging businesses will have a future because they will need staff to work in them – and my upcoming generation will want these operations to close down. Starting with refusing to work for them or with them.
In early October, Media Makers Meet – Mx3 will be releasing a report on the State of Talent and Culture within the media industry, with a special focus on the challenge on AI, and its impact on hiring, talent and company culture. Further details will be announced soon on our website and social media channels.
Work life balance
We understand that employers can offer flexible working including home working because businesses were able to adapt to this model during Covid when necessity demanded it.
But some sectors are now requiring workers to return to work 5-days a week, which smacks of corporate greed over employee well-being – something businesses were quick to claim was their motivation when it suited them. Now with Covid out of the picture they’ve returned to their commercially focused ways. I would question how well these businesses will fare against competitors happy to offer their team a more flexible approach to working patterns. Flexible working does not mean lazy, in fact flexibility is linked to increased employee productivity, as highlighted in a 2023 paper by the World Economic Forum. It’s a no-brainer.
My generation understands our worth and salary is an important element in the mix of company benefits. Compared to my parent’s generation, more information is now available for employees to cross-check their salary against industry standards, including by diversity.
My generation also understands that employees cannot be hoodwinked into the work hard, play hard mentality of previous generations. We are not afraid of hard work and thrive under pressure, but I would not be enamoured by an organisation that expected me to put in all-nighters or work at the weekend at the drop of a hat, like my parents were expected to do. It feels, at best, like poor business planning and – at worst – a tactic to gain free labour by reducing staff numbers and forcing them to work overtime. Buy four, get one free, if you like. Unfortunately, it’s a practice still adopted in some businesses and one that I would find difficult to stomach.
We shouldn’t be looking to chastise those coming into the workforce and shut them out; we should be looking to listen and learn from them to create dynamic forward-thinking companies where all feel valued. And for those companies still ignoring the climate crisis, your future – as is the case with ours – is at risk if you do not engage with this generation of fired and passionate individuals that are the future of the workforce.
Gen Z Native & Intern at GingerMay