Future of Work

Generation Z expect a sense of belonging in the workplace

As Gen Z makes up a greater portion of the workforce, leadership teams must embed a true sense of belonging into work culture, argue two employers.

As Gen Z makes up a greater portion of the workforce, leadership teams must embed a true sense of belonging into work culture, argue two employers. Image: Pexels/ Tima Miroshnichenko

Dan Manian
CEO, Donut
Essence Wagstaff
CX documentation specialist, Donut
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Future of Work

  • Generation Z employees expect a sense of belonging in an organization's culture, both in and out of work, according to research.
  • While roughly 80% of Gen Zers want to work for an employer that aligns with their beliefs.
  • As Gen Z makes up a greater portion of the workforce, leadership teams must embed a true sense of belonging into work culture, argue two employers.

Dan Manian is the CEO of Donut, and Essence Wagstaff is Donut’s CX documentation specialist.

Until about two years ago, office perks revolved around free food and drinks, ping pong tables, standing desks, and other amenities that encouraged employees to spend more time at the office. But the workplace has changed dramatically since then, a new generation has entered the scene, and the era of the snack wall is dead.

Generation Z is starting to represent a more significant share of the workforce (they’ll make up more than a quarter of it by 2025), and they’re looking for new benefits that speak to their beliefs. The perks they want go beyond the office: Gen Z expects a culture of belonging in the workplace.

In practice, younger employees prioritize working for organizations that match their values, foster their growth, and promote connections with colleagues. Overall, a sense of belonging, both in and outside work, will be the most significant benefit that recruiters can offer new talent. Bringing true inclusivity, growth, and community into the workplace—whether you’re fully remote, hybrid, or always in the office—is how your company can stand out for young job seekers.

What your company stands for is just as important as what your company does

Your organization doesn’t have to be non-profit or mission-based to be driven by purpose. For example, our company, Donut, exists to help people create meaningful connections in their workplaces through interpersonal bonds or tackling societal issues.

Values can live in how work gets done, the benefits you offer, or how you speak up about specific causes. From employing actively inclusive hiring practices to hosting company-wide volunteer initiatives, showing that your company cares about making the world a better place creates an inclusive environment for Gen Z and beyond.

Millennials started this push, but Gen Z is continuing to demand that employers take a stance on social issues. Roughly 80% of Gen Zers want to work for an employer that aligns with their beliefs. And their rationale makes sense—if they’re spending much of their time at work, they want to bring their whole self to work, including their values and personal identities. By standing for causes, companies demonstrate that they are a socially conscious, inclusive, and safe place to work and will accept all employees for exactly who they are.

At Donut, we believe belonging and inclusivity should be integrated into your workplace day-to-day, not something passively stated or assumed. To live that practice, we hold action-focused DEI discussions every two weeks. We provide content on topics ranging from overarching social issues to how we can foster inclusive business practices. Afterward, we discuss in small groups our personal takeaways and the actions we can take following the discussion. Showcasing our values in our day-to-day work, and creating space for our team to discuss important subjects together, ensures that they’re entrenched in every part of our business and in the way we treat each other.

Finding a mentor remotely can feel impossible—your company can make it the standard

A greater sense of belonging starts with ensuring all individuals feel valued at work. Younger workers, including members of Gen Z, look for that respect in tangible benefits like job growth and training. One recent study found that Gen Z cites opportunities to learn and grow as a crucial factor they look for in company culture. And it isn’t just talk—another survey found that 74% of Millenial and Gen Z respondents were planning to leave their current companies due to a lack of development opportunities.

Mentorship is crucial to helping young teammates feel connected to the company, develop new skills, and learn the ropes. It’s also a commitment to looking out for your employees’ future. Creating bonds between leadership and younger employees breaks down walls internally and ensures individuals from all backgrounds are given equal opportunities and attention. In addition, having a trusted mentor can transform how someone feels about their workplace: 90% of workers who have a mentor report being happy in their job.

Mentorship is vital to ensure your internship programs are valuable. In an office, much of the intern experience is learning from those around you. Bringing that to the remote experience is key to fostering fresh talent.

To ensure mentorship lives at the heart of company culture, leadership teams can embed those connections into the onboarding process, matching new employees with senior team members or peers. Companies can also set up specific Slack channels and Donut Intros to connect co-workers down the line, tailoring the programs for particular mentorship needs.

At Donut, we utilize “skip-level” meetings—meeting with your boss’s boss—to give the whole organization the opportunity to directly learn from, ask questions, and provide feedback to senior leaders. While these aren’t formal mentorship programs, they help us prioritize learning from each other across experience levels. I take part in these regularly, allowing me to gain insight into the passions and ideas of younger or newer team members.

Setting up an intentional mentorship program shows Gen Z you’re committed to their growth. People want to offer advice, and Gen Z is ready to hear it. All you need to do is help them connect.

Meeting friends at work was the norm, but now Gen Z struggles to bond through the screen

The office used to be the standard place to meet your first friends in adulthood, but remote work and empty offices can make it difficult to forge new bonds. After the shift to WFH, 52% of employees report craving more connections at work. Unfortunately, Gen Z is feeling the brunt of this, having onboarded virtually and missed out on the heyday of office happy hours, coffee chats, and celebrations.

The fact is that while friendships may seem outside of an employer’s scope, they play a massive role in how people feel about their workplace. Whether or not someone develops friendships at work affects how included they feel, if they’re excited to go to work, or if they’re happy with their job. Workers who report lower levels of connection at work have a 313% stronger intention to quit.

So how can you bridge the gaps and create opportunities for colleagues to develop genuine human relationships? The key is creating opportunities for organic connections within your organization. That means you should actively encourage bonding and spontaneous side chatter as a part of your workplace culture – even if that happens virtually.

For example, we recreate the office water-cooler by prompting conversations among colleagues in separate roles and departments. We often open our meetings with, or use our own app in Slack to discuss, a non-work related prompt, asking questions like “what’s your favorite vacation destination?” or “do you make your bed in the morning?” These prompts break the ice and create an environment that encourages new ideas and collaboration.

Companies can find many moments throughout the days, weeks, and years to celebrate individual differences outside of work:

  • Create Slack channels that share hot takes, specific interests, or significant milestones.
  • Leaders can open all-hands meetings with photos of what team members have loved lately (a fancy dinner they cooked, a trip they took, an event they attended).
  • Leadership can encourage participation in non-work related virtual get-togethers, like book club meetings or discussions of the latest hit shows.

Bonding over things that aren’t the latest project or deliverable helps build real connections within a company. As Gen Z makes up a greater portion of the workforce, leadership teams must embed a true sense of belonging into work culture – making it work across virtual and in-person settings. A connected team will be more excited to work together toward your organization’s common goals. Embracing differences, supporting goals, and fostering friendships are fundamental to creating true belonging within any organization.

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