Jobs and the Future of Work

How can employers leverage the power of Gen Z in the workplace?

This article is published in collaboration with the Edelman Trust Institute

Flexibility and work-life balance ... new Edelman research finds Gen Z has high work expectations. Image: Unsplash/Arlington Research

Cydney Roach
Global Chair, Employee Experience, Edelman
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Future of Work

  • Gen Z is influencing conversations about social issues and organizational transparency, according to the 2023 Edelman Trust Barometer.
  • The Edelman report recommends that employers should tap into Gen Z’s sentiment to create an employee value proposition that resonates with today’s workforce.
  • Gen Z is the most diverse generation yet, and they are bringing their values and perspectives to the workplace.
  • They are also more likely to value work-life balance and flexibility.

With high levels of trust placed in employers come equally stratospheric expectations from employees. The 2023 Edelman Trust Barometer Special Report: Trust at Work reveals insights on how sweeping these expectations are across geographies and demographics. Gen Z is a catalyst for all generations of workers demanding more from their employers.

In Edelman's seminal 2021 Power of Gen Z brand report, we learned that this generation wields an outsized influence on other consumers of all generations. So in this year’s Trust at Work research, we wanted to see if Gen Z also has that “gravitational pull” on colleagues of all generations. Indeed, they do.

Ninety-three percent of employees told us that their 20-something coworkers influence how they think about topics such as work-life boundaries, self-advocacy, fair pay, and work as identity. In other words, Gen Z is helping all generations in the workplace redefine the meaning of work.

Gen Z is helping all generations in the workplace redefine the meaning of work.

It’s fascinating to observe how Gen Z’s influence is the convergence point of other findings in this survey. Not only are they demanding more influence at work, but they are also pushing for more meaning at work and serving as change agents in these areas:

Labor union issues. Gen Z and Millennial employees believe that if a large group of employees exert strong pressure, they can get the organization to change almost anything about itself. This is why you now see an organization’s youngest employees initiating labor petitions – not only among deskless worker populations, such as in retail and quick-serve restaurants, but in new sectors of white-collar employees. Older generation workers say that coworkers in their 20s are making them open to unions or labor organizations.

Social issues. Gen Z and Millennial employees engage in conversations about important societal issues with their coworkers more frequently than other generations in the organization. In that way, they are bringing the outside world into the workplace.

Organizational issues. They are also a significant channel, broadcasting about their companies to the outside world. Gen Z employees tell us they’re sharing news coverage about their employers on social media at least once a week, and what’s more, they’re also posting their own content about their company at the same clip. Gen Z workers are leading the way in demanding a workplace reset for all generations. In fact, 72 percent of all employees say it is more important than ever that employers rethink what work really means to employees today. Why this existential question? Employees say, “Because of everything that has happened in the world over the past few years, I am reevaluating how I spend my time.” Behavioral scientists say that after a Black Swan event, such as a 9/11 or Covid-19, it is human nature to go back to our “first principles” – this can mean values, beliefs, or priorities. Employees are looking through the lens of their personal priorities to re-examine what work means to them. It’s critical that employers tap into that employee sentiment to understand how to create an employee value proposition that resonates in the world today.

Have you read?

Gen Z workers are leading the way in demanding a workplace reset for all generations. In fact, 72 percent of all employees say it is more important than ever that employers rethink what work really means to employees today. Why this existential question? Employees say, “Because of everything that has happened in the world over the past few years, I am reevaluating how I spend my time.” Behavioral scientists say that after a Black Swan event, such as a 9/11 or Covid-19, it is human nature to go back to our “first principles” – this can mean values, beliefs, or priorities. Employees are looking through the lens of their personal priorities to re-examine what work means to them. It’s critical that employers tap into that employee sentiment to understand how to create an employee value proposition that resonates in the world today.

These are some of the ways that employees are indicating they want more impact from their roles and guidance on how employers can make it happen:

  • On average, 80 percent of employees want more personal empowerment at work. They are demanding more influence within the organization. They want their knowledge and sentiment around strategy, operations, planning, and culture to not only be heard but to be actioned. Guidance: Build the infrastructure to operationalize worker insights and let their influence be felt at governance levels.
  • When considering a job, 74 percent of employees want their work to help shape the future in a meaningful way. On average, 71 percent of workers want their work to reflect their values, provide a sense of purpose and have social impact. In fact, they say these expectations are so important that they could be a deal breaker when considering a job. Guidance: Build opportunities to connect your people to purpose and social impact via their jobs.
  • On average, 83 percent of employees say career advancement – competitive wages, work experience, learning and development, and career opportunities – are extremely important. Guidance: Re-examine your employee value proposition and employer brand to ensure they address these issues that are so critical to attracting and retaining the people who ensure your talent strategy helps drive business performance.

It’s clear that employees need to feel like they’re making an impact, so show them how the organization is doing that. And don’t underestimate younger employees’ ability to help you drive actions that build trust. Leverage the power of Gen Z.

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