Gen Z Characteristics Employers Need to Understand

By Robert Half August 3, 2018 at 6:00pm

If you think millennials are the youngest group in the workforce, think again. We now have Generation Z — those born between 1990 and 1999 — and they’re bringing similarly distinctive ideas with them.

To get a closer look, we talked to several Gen Zers who are on the Student Advisory Committee of Enactus, an international organization dedicated to inspiring students.

Recent college graduate Benjamin Shetler says he looks for a number of things when he’s considering job opportunities, but there’s one thing the company must have: the opportunity to grow.

“For me, when choosing a career, the most important thing is career advancement,” says Shetler, an alumni of Penn State – Altoona. “Lack of it has actually ruled out a couple of companies I was considering.”

Among the young professionals just starting to venture into the job market, Shetler is not alone. Ninety-five percent of respondents to a survey conducted by Enactus said that career advancement opportunities were either important or very important when choosing an employer after graduation.

It’s one of the distinctive preferences and values Generation Z is bringing to the workplace. To successfully recruit and retain them, companies need to be aware of Gen Z characteristics that influence their career choices and attitudes.

Here’s what else the survey revealed:

Gen Z wants to grow and learn

Given the amount of attention perks like flexible hours and remote work options get these days, you might assume that they’re priorities for Gen Z. And you’d be right. A healthy number of respondents (72 percent and 53 percent, respectively) deemed those options important when asked to name the top factors they considered when choosing an employer.

But here’s what’s surprising: The perks paled in comparison with the opportunity to develop their skills on the job. The top three factors respondents named were career advancement opportunities (95 percent), a manager they can learn from (93 percent) and professional development and training opportunities (91 percent).

“When I interview for a job, it’s not just for that job,” says Lauren Lindsay, a University of Florida grad. “It’s for that career path. If I’m not interested in the next steps after that job, it’s probably not a good fit.”

That’s why it’s important to frequently discuss career goals with Gen Z, to give them specific steps they need to take to get to the next level, and to provide them with frequent opportunities to develop and deepen their skills through training or mentoring. If they feel like their career is stagnant, they won’t hesitate to look for a new job.

Communication is key

When asked what skill was most important to their future success in the workplace, Gen Zers said communication. In fact, 89 percent said it would be very important to their own career success.

While managers can foster Gen Z’s desire to communicate by encouraging teams to use digital platforms, like Slack or Hipchat for chatting, Robert Half research shows that when it comes to interacting with their manager and coworkers, many in Gen Z actually prefer in-person communication. This may surprise some managers, given Gen Z’s well-known affinity for all things digital. But it’s backed up by survey results indicating that they prefer a work environment that allows them to collaborate with a small group in an office, as opposed to working autonomously at an off-site location or with a virtual team.

Quality face time is important to them, and they say they’re motivated when their manager stops by their desk to discuss projects, or schedules regular one-on-one meetings to discuss their performance and ask questions. “Asking questions is key,” says Madison Gosch, a student at Roberts Wesleyan College. “The more questions you ask the fewer mistakes you will make.”

They’re ambitious

In terms of Gen Z characteristics, this group also expects a lot of themselves, and they’re not willing to wait long to take the next step in their career. One-fourth of survey respondents said they plan to be managing employees in a corporate environment by the time they’re five years out of college. Another 34 percent expect to be working their way up the corporate ladder, although not yet among the management ranks, and 20 percent hope to be starting their own business.

This is why mentoring, professional development and training opportunities are so important to this generation: They’re determined to make their mark, and quickly. Smart employers will give them the help they need to reach their career goals.

“We are the leaders of today – not just tomorrow,” says Evangel University grad Allison Newport. “Too often employers wait to promote qualified Gen Z leaders because we lack years of experience. Mentoring and coaching from more experienced leaders goes a long way in developing management potential in Gen Z.”

In line with expecting swift career advancement, Gen Z professionals also seek strong starting salaries. In the survey, 84 percent said they looked for generous pay when choosing an employer; the majority expect to make between $31,000 and $60,000 in their first job out of college. The Robert Half Salary Guides can help managers set appropriate salaries in their region and industry for dozens of entry-level positions.

They take their careers very seriously

Though they’re confident and ambitious, Gen Z professionals also know they’ll have to prove themselves in the workplace. When asked what they’re most fearful about when it comes to starting their first job, 39 percent said not learning quickly enough and making mistakes.

Forty-two percent of respondents also said that they’re afraid they’ll choose the wrong job and miss out on something else. That could be why they expect to work for four different organizations over the course of their career. “There are so many opportunities out there, especially for graduates who want to have a wide breadth of experiences and seek opportunities where they can leave their marks on this world, so choosing the wrong path is a big fear,” says Erin Burrows, a senior at Florida Southern College.

One thing they’re not worried about: their ability to get along with coworkers, particularly professionals in their own cohort or those in Generations X and Y. They’re not as confident about working with Baby Boomers, but a majority of respondents (60 percent) still indicated that it wouldn’t be difficult to collaborate with the older generation.

Gen Z wants the truth

Given Gen Z’s desire to grow and learn on the job, it’s no surprise that mentoring ability was second on the list of characteristics they want in a boss. This group is used to getting a lot of guidance from parents, teachers, coaches and counselors.

But they want that guidance to be genuine: Honesty/integrity topped the list of traits they’re looking for in a boss. In other words, they don’t want empty praise, despite their (somewhat unfair) reputation for being the generation that expects a trophy for everything. Instead, they want straightforward feedback and clear performance standards that will help them advance their career.

They also want someone with passion and vision, someone who believes in their employees and the company’s mission. “A manager who invests in his or her team is vital,” Newport says. “Gen Z won’t thrive under a disengaged manager.”

Experts say that Gen Z will make up 20 percent of the total workforce by 2020. As such, understanding common Gen Z characteristics is critical. Knowing what inspires them and taking steps to address those motivating factors can help ensure your company remains an employer of choice.

Hiring members of Gen Z? Here's what they're seeking from your company:

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