Attracting and Retaining Gen Z: Understanding the Needs and Expectations of the Next Generation Workforce

Gen Z, born between around 1997 and 2012, entered the workforce during the pandemic. Working at this time was significantly different compared to the pre-pandemic environment. They arrived at a time when:

  • Everyone started to rethink their priorities
  • The popularity of working from home grew
  • The world underwent a permanent transformation

With the rise of Gen Zers in the workplace, how can employers meet the needs and expectations of the newest generation? These people care about more than just job security and salary. They value interesting work and businesses committed to societal challengesOpens in a new tab. like sustainability and climate change. To attract and retain them, employers must show they share these values.

Radically distinct from their predecessors, this generation’s approach to career is different. Their outlook on success in life and the workplace is unique. Being brought up in the aftermath of the Great Recession may shed some light on their character and values. But don’t just assume that they’re pragmatic, risk-averse, and non-entrepreneurial.

Get to Know Gen Z

Since 2020, Gen Z influencers, especially those on TikTok, have rebranded and repackaged some historical workplace hostility. If we look at culture outside of the work — such as Dolly Parton’s “9 to 5” — we can see that what the media touts as new concepts have been around for decades. These ideas have been rebranded as quiet quitting, rage applying, bare minimum Mondays, etc.

Given the controversy, is it hard to work with this generation? Let’s look at some trends:

  • They are the most racially and ethnically diverse generation to date. 
  • They are on course to become the most educated batch of individuals ever.
  • Gen Zers enter the labor force at a later ageOpens in a new tab.. In 2018, only 19% of 15–17-year-olds said they had worked the year before. This is a decrease from 2002 when 30% of 15- to 17-year-old millennials admitted to being employed already.
  • This group is more dedicated to work and studies. Possible reasons include fewer parental duties, enabling them to focus on personal development.

These point to their capability to contribute to professional workplaces today. Despite this, there are still many negative stereotypes surrounding this generation.

LinkedIn Top Voice and Gen Z Historian Khalil GreeneOpens in a new tab. says:

“Misconceptions people have are that we don’t want to work or that we’re lazy or disloyal. And I think that misconception stems from a misinterpretation on boundaries set. This means that for so long, in corporate America, it’s been okay for policies to permit you to stay over a time that was never agreed upon, for [employers] to demand you to push yourself beyond like your limits in terms of mental health [and/or] physical health and to stay at a company for years on end — even when you’re not enjoying the work. Gen Z is standing up to those really toxic norms and making sure that they are prioritizing themselves over their workplaces.”

Strong employee relationships improve productivity, morale, and organizational success. Read “How To Build Strong Relationships With Your Employees? (6 Useful Tips)”Opens in a new tab. to work harmoniously with Gen Z teammates.

Millennials and Gen Z

Traditional values and practices shift over time, creating differences between worker demographics as time passes. Gen Z has a lot in common with the preceding generation, Millennials, but it also has its own ways of doing things.

Focusing on assigning blame for intergenerational disparities leads to more complaints and ridicule. The millennials often approached differences with a blame mindset. Unfortunately, this does not lead to productive solutions or growth.

Managers at present not only need to know how to handle young, inexperienced workers. Gen Z is considered the most ambitious group. They are financially well-off, educated, and diverse compared to any other group. Nonetheless, leaders need to consider how the youth’s experiences shape such character and traits.

We have written a piece to help entice the members of the largest workforce to become part of your team. Explore “Millennials and Workplace Flexibility (What Should Employers do to Attract Millennials to Their Company?)”Opens in a new tab. for tips.

Ideal Workplace

The new generation has preferences for the companies they work for, the perks they expect, and the principles they believe in. Many businesses are adjusting to meet their needs. 

Among the most crucial changes that they want to see implemented in the workplace are: 

  • A healthier work-life balance
  • Cultural sensitivity
  • Nonstandard perks such as flexible working setups, pet insurance, paid time off, and mental health days
  • The availability of job postings across multiple social media sites 
  • Improved services for those with cognitive, emotional, or physical impairments
  • Businesses that put fun and adaptability ahead of a rigid structure

For a SaaS company co-founder Chelsea CohenOpens in a new tab.:

“They’re also more likely to master separating corporate work from their personal life. This is a generation of self-aware individuals. They see the millennial workaholic lifestyle as a red flag because they’ve seen its adverse health effects. Overall, they’re a generation of observers and refiners – those are the people employers will be seeking soon to manage our technology-driven work culture.”

Delve into “Non-Traditional Employee Benefits That Attract and Retain Top Talent”Opens in a new tab. to know more.

Lack of Work Experience

Top 12% global keynote speaker Ryan JenkinsOpens in a new tab. writes:

“Over 50 percent of human resource managers feel that skills shortages have worsened or greatly worsened in their organizations in the last two years; and less than 10 percent report skills shortage improvements. And 51 percent say education systems have done little or nothing to help address the skills shortage issue. Only 26 percent of Gen Z perceive education as a barrier to workplace success. Gen Z feels their education did not prepare them for work or job seeking, and they do not feel confident that they will meet employers’ expectations in the above ways. To help Gen Z build these critical cognitive, social and emotional skills, educators and employers will need to rethink what and how they educate and train.”

Gen Z also tends to spend their summers in enrichment activities, which can help them compete for top-tier higher education. However, unemployed graduates or older workers now fill lower-level employment, denying young people the chance to learn about workplace norms and effective communication. Lack of early job experience may also lead to:

  • Excessive work expectations
  • Low commitment
  • High turnover among new hires

Managing Expectations: Engaging Young Employees

Harvard Business School professor and author Tsedal NeeleyOpens in a new tab. believes that organizations have a duty to engage their younger workers, particularly in remote work settings. Younger employees want a feeling of community, belonging, and purpose in their work.

According to a Bankrate surveyOpens in a new tab., Gen Z workers are unlikely to stay at a company that doesn’t have this quality. Ms. Neeley advises businesses to develop onboarding procedures that let remote workers spend their first month participating in the following:

  • Regular meetings
  • Training sessions
  • Team projects

These activities are part of the retention plan and will guarantee that remote workers can lead and work in this setting.

A Realistic Job Preview

It’s also beneficial to provide new hires with a realistic career preview. Employees can be mentally ready to manage any problems that come their way. That is, by being given a thorough review of the following:

  • Scope of responsibilities
  • Working circumstances
  • Both positive and negative aspects of the work

Moreover, a realistic job preview is an excellent technique for enhancing applicants’ job fit. Particularly for Gen Z employees who frequently have an idealized image of the workplace, it helps manage expectations. New workers often think:

  • Their jobs will be fulfilling
  • Their bosses will take note of what they have to say and act on it
  • Their schedules will be flexible
  • They will enjoy working with everyone they encounter

As such, if their experiences reflect otherwise, they may get disillusioned. When their reality doesn’t meet these expectations, Gen Z may soon lose hope and quit their jobs after three months.

Employers must manage and set expectations and boundaries, and improve transparency about what a job entails. Details about the duties, working hours, travel requirements, and working environment should be immediately discussed during or before onboarding. Talk about the pros and cons of working for the company in addition to an employee’s growth path.

Psychological Contract

Erin ShrimptonOpens in a new tab., a chartered organizational psychologist and LinkedIn Learning Instructor, recommends:

“Now is a pretty good time to delve into your own beliefs, assumptions, and expectations about your job and then lay the cards out with your manager and colleagues to see if everyone is on the same page… But first, you need to get clear on those expectations… and how they have changed over the past couple of years. It might help to ask yourself questions like:

What are your expectations on: 

  • About how you connect with the team?
  • How often do you engage with your manager?
  • The level of autonomy and flexibility you have to get your job done?
  • The learning, development, and mentorship you’ll experience when working virtually?
  • How do you learn about the wider organization and its priorities?

Then, think through the things that might have brought you motivation pre-2020 and reassess what your expectations are now. Ask yourself: What would give you the kind of boost you need to bring energy and commitment to your work?”

Unspoken or hidden expectations that members of Gen Z have can complicate an employee’s entry into a company. It also impacts their attitudes, sentiments, and behaviors. This is called a psychological contract. It outlines what management anticipates from employees and vice versa.

Gen Z employees typically expect management to do the following:

  • Compensate fairly
  • Provide necessary training
  • Treat people with respect

On the other hand, employers expect their new hires to work hard and comply with instructions. When these expectations are not met, it can lead to low productivity, low job satisfaction, high turnover, and even theft.

An in-depth interview with each new hire is crucial in setting expectations and boundaries. Learn about what they intend to do at the workplace and expect from it. This is especially critical for Gen Z and Millennials. They value positive attitudes, clear targets, open communication, and feedback. 

However, there can be a gap between what a supervisor thinks they provide and what their employees want. For instance, supervisors might say they value open communication but might not implement office practices that encourage it.

Managing expectations is a two-way process. As employers, meeting the expectations of your Gen Z employees will significantly improve their productivity and loyalty.


Gen Z employees often experience higher levels of fear and uncertainty about the workplace, highlighting the need for effective onboarding practices. Top companies recognize this and start onboarding as soon as the offer is accepted. However, only a small percentage of new employeesOpens in a new tab. report that their company does a good job with onboarding. The majority feel they lack the knowledge and tools to perform their job optimally.

Effective onboarding strategies are a vital tool for businesses and managers to use. Onboarding refers to formal and informal techniques, initiatives, and rules organizations use to help newcomers acclimate. Onboarding clarifies an employee’s role and environment in the company. It also provides them with the practical and intangible resources they need to be fully functional team members.

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Charlotte HughesOpens in a new tab., CEO and principal consultant of a DEI boutique management firm, highlights:

“Younger workers are more likely to define diversity as a mix of experiences, identities, ideas, and opinions, rather than [a] more traditional definition of diversity, such as underrepresented racial, ethnic, and gender demographics. Prior generations, namely Gen Xers and Baby Boomers, identify with the latter definition of diversity. For these older generations, diversity is about respectfully integrating people of various demographics into one workplace.”

Assess and Intentionally Remove Barriers

Create an effective DEI strategic plan. Employers have to be deliberate in their choices. They may need to review current policies, procedures, and systems. The goal is to identify any potential impediments to equity, fairness, and accessibility. This evaluation should identify areas where the human resources (HR) department can contribute value. Likewise, they can effect long-term change and remove barriers to equity.

Create a Culture of Inclusion

Provide the workers with tools to improve fairness and build a culture of psychological safety, belonging, and inclusion. Leaders should support this change in culture with projects that give everyone a sense of connection. In addition, they are partly responsible for making it safe for people to bring their whole selves to work.

Demonstrate Visible Commitment to Inclusion

Visibility and representation are crucial when making a DEI strategy plan that speaks to Gen Z. HR should go out of its way to show that everyone is welcome and celebrate differences. This will help potential workers feel welcome and appreciated, which will make them more interested in joining the company.

Communication Skills

Organizations recruiting new staff members tend to place a premium on effective communication and interpersonal skills. This includes not only the content of what is being said. It also factors in delivery in terms of the following:

  • Word selection
  • Tone
  • Body language
  • Facial expressions
  • Eye contact

The ability to read, comprehend, and manage interactions with others is essential for success in any career. However, the widespread use of smartphones in the everyday life of younger people has affected their social skills. Most of them prefer digital communication to in-person interactions.

74% of the timeOpens in a new tab., Gen Z and Millennials engage digitally. Technology is a convenient way to communicate, but it can hinder their ability to develop crucial communication skills. Some of these are:

  • Active listening
  • Asking questions
  • Developing relationships
  • Resolving disputes

Face-to-face interactions help cultivate trust in team members. Increased trust improves productivity, so the onus is on employers to create team-building exercises or projects. Conversely, the new generation must get acquainted with workplace conversation norms.

Talking to Gen Z

Managers may need to help new hires adapt to different modes of workplace communication. Effective communication is central to workplace productivity. Some employees do best communicating digitally, while others prefer face-to-face. However, all employees should be able to communicate with each other regardless of the channel.

Leaders should address when and how to use each communication channel. Some things to consider would be the formality of communication while at work or the type of language to use. For example:

  • Is the use of emojis acceptable?
  • What kind of language can people use at work?
  • Will there be a specific way to address superiors?

The most valuable skills for recent graduates ranked by employers are communication skills, critical thinking, and the ability to apply knowledge to the real world. That is, despite a severe lack of preparation in these areas.

The development of social skills can improve the following:

  • Self-esteem
  • Autonomy
  • Stress management

The last part is the most significant for Gen Z. Rising awareness of mental health concerns means that people are better equipped to handle stress, but workplaces must allow employees to use the tools available.

Face-to-face Interactions

Many people desire and enjoy remote work. However, there are drawbacks. Young remote workers, according to surveysOpens in a new tab., may feel anxious, isolated, or unmoored to their companies. Researchers contend that skipping office work could jeopardize the younger workers’ personal and professional lives in the future. Conventional encounters that previous generations took for granted include:

  • Learning from more experienced coworkers
  • Mingling with bosses
  • Settling into the routine of a day on the job
  • Or even just being face-to-face with others

It’s unfamiliar ground, so in-person engagements will probably leave a lasting impression on these individuals.

The Future of More Gen Z at Work

Are you a manager struggling to understand and integrate Gen Z employees into your workplace? You’re not alone! Gen Zers may have different ideas about the realities of the workplace compared to previous generations. After all, they grew up in the era of smartphones, social media, and social justice movements.

But fear not! You can help them adjust to their new environment by:

  • Taking the time to manage their expectations
  • Providing them with a realistic job preview
  • Engaging in a psychological contract
  • Promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion
  • Effectively communicating with them
  • Fostering autonomy and greater workplace flexibility

Employers need to ensure that employees have job satisfaction. But cultivating a growth mentality in your team and providing adequate support can also drive lower turnover rates.

Don’t let the arrival of Gen Z catch you off-guard. Prepare now for mutual success.

The connection between the two aspects of task appraisal may be more complicated than it seems. Do these two elements interact negatively or positively, or is there another aspect at play? Check out “​​Job Satisfaction vs. Job Performance”Opens in a new tab. for more information.

Better yet, read the “Difference Between Employee Engagement and Job Satisfaction” to distinguish performance, satisfaction, and engagement from one another.

Related Questions

  1. Is Generation Z experiencing greater stress than any other generation in the work environment?

GallupOpens in a new tab. found them to be the most disengaged and stressed out at work. Burnout will affect workplace performance and career progress, increasing worker turnover. “The Big Quit”Opens in a new tab. predicts that 72% will leave their jobs this year while 77% worldwide are looking for a new career. To mitigate this, experts recommendOpens in a new tab.:

  • Creating a culture of purpose and impact
  • Addressing mental health issues
  • Understanding how organizations cause stress for workers
  1. What are some problems with Gen Zs at work?

Working with Gen Z is challenging most of the time, according to corporate executivesOpens in a new tab.. In a separate studyOpens in a new tab., they also indicated:

  • A preference for working midnight shifts over regular business hours
  • A propensity for job-hopping
  • Willingness to leave employers that don’t give them the tools they need to do their jobs more effectively

Steve Todd

Steve Todd, founder of Open Sourced Workplace and is a recognized thought leader in workplace strategy and the future of work. With a passion for work from anywhere, Steve has successfully implemented transformative strategies that enhance productivity and employee satisfaction. Through Open Sourced Workplace, he fosters collaboration among HR, facilities management, technology, and real estate professionals, providing valuable insights and resources. As a speaker and contributor to various publications, Steve remains dedicated to staying at the forefront of workplace innovation, helping organizations thrive in today's dynamic work environment.

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