Forum Institutional

Gen Z and the end of work as we know it

Gen Z have a different set of priorities when it comes to the world of work than those that came before them. Pictured here a group of co-workers huddled together and sharing over a conversation while looking into a laptop.

Gen Z have a different set of priorities when it comes to the world of work than their previous generation. Image: Pexels/Canva Studio

Kathy Bloomgarden
Chief Executive Officer, Ruder Finn
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This article is part of: World Economic Forum Annual Meeting

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  • By 2025, 27% of the workforce in OECD countries will be Gen Z.
  • But this generation has a different set of priorities, caring more about flexibility, values and diversity than others that came before them.

The future workforce depends on Gen Z. It is the one-click, all-digital generation, growing up in a borderless world. And, by 2025, 27% of the workforce in OECD countries will be Gen Z.

Gen Z — seen as those born from the late 90s to early 2010s — value salary less than any other generation and see remote work as a top priority. They are also the most diverse, with the Census Bureau projecting this generation will be majority non-white by 2026.

How can companies compete for this talent and build cultures that meet their needs?

Most of Gen Z are not opposed to a corporate job — they’re just not as likely as other generations of employees to make compromises for a workplace that doesn’t fit their values.

This generation cares greatly about autonomy and work-life balance — almost two-thirds of Gen Z would prefer to work for themselves in a start-up. About half report that they would quit their job if it interfered with their work-life balance.

Commitment from business leaders is needed to engage this new generation of workers, while still accommodating the established members of the workforce.

The future workforce depends on Gen Z — companies must adapt.
The future workforce depends on Gen Z — companies must adapt. Image: McKinsey & Company

To attract the future of the workforce, business leaders should implement an empathetic leadership style incorporating five key elements:

1) Foster intra-preneurism

Business leaders need to foster an independent environment that enables creativity and mirrors a start-up’s culture.

Amazon CEO Andy Jassy attributed part of the company’s time of extraordinary growth — 300% faster than expected in 15 months — to the internal structure of small autonomous units.

Famously, Amazon's leadership principles stated that teams should be small enough to be fed with two pizzas. For employees, this creates a structure that is akin to a collection of startups, each with the benefit of resources and support of the mega corporation.

John Chambers, the former CEO of Cisco, pioneered the concept of “spin-ins.” By setting up Cisco as the sole investor in a startup and then buying the company once the product was completed, “spins in” created start-up cultures in acquisitions before they were folded into Cisco’s growing portfolio. Cisco acquired start-ups like Insieme Networks and Nuova Systems with this strategy, forming the basis of some of its most successful products. Chambers was able to turn Cisco into a $47 billion company over his nearly 30-year tenure.

2) Flexibility is key for Gen Z

Gen Z has a keen eye on work-life balance. A recent study sampling 35,000 workers across 34 markets, found that almost two in four Gen Z individuals would prefer to be unemployed over being stuck in a job they don’t like.

The Microsoft Stories podcast recently discussed closing the generational gap on flexible working, emphasizing the benefits of adapting to the new workplace demands.

73% of employees now desire permanent flexible work options, while 67% of employees want more in-person work and collaboration post-pandemic. Ultimately, what employees want across the board is the best of both worlds. For younger people especially, flexibility is key.

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3) Encourage diversity

Business leaders need to follow through on commitments to diversity, equity and inclusion to meet the new standard expected by Gen Z employees.

Diversity matters to Gen Z — not just race and gender, but also identity and sexual orientation. Once siloed to HR, practicing and promoting diversity must come from an organization’s top-level to ensure that these values are represented authentically.

Different industries are moving to act on matters of diversity and inclusion. In a first-of-its-kind move for the pharmaceutical industry, Sanofi recently launched a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion board that includes three outside advisors. Along with this launch, Sanofi has set a target date of 2025 to have “representative leadership”.

4) Commit to globally-guided values

Even as companies shrink their global supply chains and move towards reshoring, employees are pushing leadership to take a position on critical issues in a way that extends corporations’ global view.

Pressure from employees, investors and consumers were contributing factors to many multinational businesses suspending their sales and operations in Russia following the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Gen Z is also experiencing high levels of eco-anxiety as a result of climate change. Demand is surging for climate-related jobs that align with their environmentally focused sense of purpose. According to a recent study, 64% of surveyed 18-to-22-year-olds consider it important for their employers to act on environmental issues.

5) Train them in future skills

Implementing training and reskilling programs can benefit all generations of employees and increase retention overall. Business leaders should consider how they can implement these programs within their organizational structure to open up their hiring processes in non-traditional ways.

More than 100 U.S companies, including IBM, have pledged to make higher-wage jobs with the promise of a stable career path more accessible to people without bachelor’s degrees.

Nearly two-thirds of workers in the United States do not fulfill the four-year college degree requirement, and degree screenings hit minority communities hard. Mitigating this standard could open an additional 1.4 million jobs to people without college degrees in the next five years.

As corporate leaders seek to hire top talent, it is vital that those looking to bring in Gen Z do not forget that this is a generation like none before it — they should be treated as such.

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