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What Gen Z want from work — as told by 3 Gen Z changemakers

What Gen Z want from work — as told by 3 Gen Z changemakers

There’s a new cohort influencing the world of work. Engaging Gen Z at work — and on their terms — could mean attracting, and retaining, some of the most tenacious and innovative employees ever. Here’s how.

Part 1. Demystifying Generation Z
Part 2. Gen-Z approach to work
Part 3. How to attract Generation Z
Part 4. Watch the full discussion

Demystifying Generation Z

Gen Z are no longer the ‘up and coming’ work generation, they are here. And yet, many businesses are still tripping up, trying to work how to appeal to Gen Z and how to communicate with them.

🗯 “I think it’s shocking how much companies talk about not being able to attract Gen Z and how many of them don’t talk to Gen Z. That’s rule number one. If you want to understand someone, go talk to them.”

— Samantha Hornsby

So that’s exactly what we did. We sat down (virtually) with employment experts who also happen to be bona fide Gen Z-ers to find out the what, where, and how of hiring and retaining Gen Z talent.

The Gen Z work experience — in their own words

what employers need to know about hiring gen-z

In the conversation, we had:

The conversation was chaired by Gareth Jones, CEO of Headstart, and brought to light some key takeaways that leaders can use to put Gen Z hiring strategies into action. 

Here’s what you need to know.

What shapes Gen Z’s approach to work?

Gen Z’s entry into the world of work would be unrecognizable for the generations that came before them. The economic, political, and environmental landscapes have all changed. As a result, Gen Z job seekers are having to adapt too. 

For Gen Z’s parents and grandparents, applying for an apprenticeship almost guaranteed a job — for life, if they wanted it. Even low-skilled work provided security in the form of a regular paycheck. Buying a house and settling down in your 20s was the norm, not the exception. “In today’s world, that’s something quite far-fetched”, argues Amina.

Growing up with information and instability

Gen Z are, of course, the first truly digital generation. This is a group of people who don’t know a time before Facebook, and are the same age as Google. 

Where other generations may have been sheltered from global news, Gen Z have been exposed to the instability and fear of climate change, discrimination, and terror — and, as a result, they’ve grown up fast.

🗯 “I don’t think that employers or businesses understand that we grew up hearing — about the Great Recession, the housing crisis, and how that was affecting family and people around us… we carry this information, because we grew up with this information, literally, at our fingertips.”

— Lily Fothergill

The ‘Age of Information’ has empowered Gen Z and fueled their principles. But it also puts them at risk of information overload: “We’ve got 4000 ads hitting our screens every single day!”, says Lily. 

Finding their own way in the world of work

More than one-third of young people in the U.K. had at least one monetized side hustle in 2020. This is a generation of entrepreneurs and quick thinkers. They also appear to have a better handle on work/life balance as well. 

🗯 “We’re focusing on personal fulfillment, we don’t see the need […] to exhaust ourselves for the sake of productivity.”

— Amina Aweis

These are all fantastic qualities that any company should be fighting to get through its doors. Imagine what Gen Z could help achieve in the workplace if given the opportunity.

Where should you engage Gen Z for job prospects?

Organizations need to be proactive in attracting Gen Z. An outreach program is a must, otherwise “Companies are expecting young people to know they exist”, explains Samantha.

Of the companies who are doing outreach, most are doing it in the wrong places, and with the wrong values too. Traditional job ads might work for Gen X and Y, but job board posting is seen as “archaic” to Generation Z.

🗯 “Who goes on […] Businesses are constantly trying to post all this information [on job boards]… it’s just kind of shouting. There’s no sense of building up a presence on social media, a community — something which we can really, really connect to.”

— Lily Fothergill

How to attract Generation Z to your company


Inclusion before diversity

Diversity is a non-negotiable for Generation Z. That’s no secret. But they’re also pushing businesses to think inclusively before targeting diversity quotas.

🗯 “Before you reach out to diverse audiences, think about whether that person would be able to thrive in the workplace you are setting up.”

— Lily Fothergill

What did our panel call out for? Reverse mentoring (where junior employees mentor those in more senior roles), progression meetings, and a transparent and accountable complaints reporting procedure. These are all seen as valuable ways of boosting inclusion.


Make it known that their voices will be heard and valued

Times might be tough for early talent (as we found out in our recent report, ‘The State of UK Graduate Recruiting’). But Gen Z won’t be playing the victim card any time soon.

In fact, they appear galvanized to fight for their place in the world of work. And they know their worth, too.

🗯 “Stop underestimating Gen Z… we’ve to think like an adult a lot quicker than past generations. […] Stop seeing it as you doing us a favor…  you need our innovation, you need our creativity, you need our ethic… There’s a lot you can learn from us. So keep an open mind because, at the end of the day, it’s actually in your best interest [to].”

— Amina Aweis


Drop your out-dated applicability measures

Entering the workforce under such challenging circumstances makes you tough. Uni students graduating in the next few years will have learned a great deal of resiliency in recent years. 

They may not have the same qualifications or grades as previous cohorts (and who could blame them?). But they’ll have learned “soft” skills that are equally, if not more, valuable in the world of work.

🗯 “[Gen Z’s] intuition is off the charts, way more than any other generation when they were younger […] Young people haven’t just sat there doing nothing for this entire time, they’ve probably learned more than ever, more than would in a classroom.”

— Samantha Hornsby

That hard work? It deserves to be rewarded. 


Be 100% transparent regarding pay

With most information just a click away, Gen Z expects transparency. Not being upfront about pay and compensation appears suspect, inauthentic, and untrustworthy.

🗯 “We want to know what the pay structure is. We want to know who’s getting paid and why. How many years is the progression? Is this a stable job? We are done with the gig economy.”

Lily Fothergill

This generation wants to leave work insecurity in the past. They’ve seen their brothers, sisters, cousins, and older friends — aka, the Millennials — struggle with “alternative working”. They want something safer for themselves.


Remain flexible in regards to working habits 

The goalposts for accessibility have changed. One of the few upsides of the pandemic has meant working from home has evened out the playing field. This should be a positive for notoriously agile Gen Z.

🗯 “We’re now seeing a lot of these things… were designed to make us feel like it’s not productive to work from home, it’s not productive to have flexible working time when actually the data does show that productivity has increased.”

Amina Aweis

Flying in the face of presenteeism is the Gen Z belief that “just because you’re working for longer hours doesn’t mean you’re being productive”. Given the freedom to design their own working habits, Gen Z may just out-perform all other employees yet.


Educate and entertain

Old-school leadership may prefer a ‘tell and command’ culture, but Gen Z is looking for something altogether more nurturing. Not only will this get early talent in the door, it’ll help retain them, too. 

🗯 “You see a struggle of retaining [Gen Z] because we’re trying to adapt into a work culture that’s, you know, suited to people who are working and used to thrive 20 years ago.”

— Amina Aweis

Skills development and investment in young people is lacking. But as this conversation has shown, Gen Z have serious self-starter potential. So ask yourself: at what point does early talent get enrolled in any kind of progression/development program in my organization?


Get Gen Z content creators to help shape your message

The most successful Gen Z brands were born social. Businesses need to borrow that way of relationship-building too. 

It’s tempting to undervalue content creation, especially when the competition is so fierce. But content puts you in a position to inform, educate, and entertain. This is the type of foundation Gen Z relationships are built on — but you’d better make sure it’s genuine.

When crafting any kind of social media or content campaign, consider:

  • What does Gen Z want to learn from you and what can you teach them? 
  • Who you are as a business — are there trends or hot topics that you can capitalize on to become more relevant to this demographic? 
  • What are your followers’ genuine interests? Can you deliver content that bridges the gap between your world and theirs?

🗯 “We can tell when you don’t have a young person in the room… You need to be getting young people’s input from the outset to make your content actually authentic.”

— Lily Fothergill

– – – – – – – – –

Is your workplace ready for Generation Z?

We’ve all got work to do. Gen Z represents a radically different employee demographic, and we’ll need to change the way we approach them, to win — and keep — their interest. 

Headstart is here to help you facilitate that change. You can start by viewing the entire panel discussion.

Watch the live debate

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