Would you rather be unemployed or work at a job you hate? Is doing something innovative in your job more important than the level of compensation you receive? Do you believe technology is changing the job market for the better and creating new opportunities?
Your response to those questions depends heavily on one crucial factor – your age, specifically, whether or not you’re a member of Gen Z – those born between 1995 and 2015. Microsoft and YouGov recently polled 754 students aged 17-25 to gain insight and a deeper understanding into how Gen Z feels about entering the workforce, their expectations for employers, and how technology will impact their career paths and the results may surprise you.
Gen Z is the largest generation in history, representing a quarter of the U.S. population, and by 2020, will make up 40% of American consumers. This is the generation that has grown up amid the Global Recession and with war in the Middle East, events that have made them more pragmatic and less idealistic than millennials.
Gen Z is also the first cohort to grow up with the internet in the palm of their hands. As native internet users, they’ve lived their entire lives with unlimited information but limited amounts of time. Gen Z has adapted to this avalanche of knowledge by developing an eight-second filter. Instead of getting lost in the noise, Gen Zers have learned how to swiftly curate information by relying on trending content within apps and allowing online influencers they trust to help them navigate and evaluate the volume of information inundating them.
But perhaps the most interesting and impactful data to come out of this study is Gen Z’s attitude toward work and their careers. According to findings, Gen Z would rather be unemployed than work at a job they hate, crave innovation over compensation, believe technology is changing the job market for the better, and that it is creating new opportunities. In fact, more than half (54.5%), expect to do a job that doesn’t even exist yet.
Coming of age during the recession means this is a generation well aware of downsizing and financial insecurity, and while they possess an entrepreneurial mindset, Gen Z’s enthusiasm is mitigated by their risk-averse nature. They’re big proponents of the gig economy, and 34% would rather be self-employed compared to 40% who would prefer to work for a company. And, while almost 1 out of 3 don’t know what type of career they want, over a quarter (26.4%) say they’re planning to pursue a career in STEM, and software engineering is the top choice for new grads.
Microsoft’s Mark Sparvell, an ed-tech expert and educator for over 25 years, says, “Gen Z is looking for three things in a potential employer: voice, choice, and agency. This is a generation that craves a culture of empowerment. They want to know that what they’re doing has meaning, and has a purpose beyond simply ticking a box, or completing a list of tasks.”
It should come as no surprise that a generation used to speaking their mind on social media expects to have a voice in the workplace. Employers should know Gen Z values an environment where they can have an open dialogue with leadership. They want a voice – the freedom to discuss opinions and ideas with leadership. They want choice – the opportunity for personal and professional growth and learning; and they want agency – the freedom to act independently and make choices. Gen Z thinks globally – issues like equality and representation are priorities for them so companies looking to attract new hires will need to be mindful not only of what the benefits package looks like but whether they offer a culture of empowerment and equal opportunity. These are the keys to long-term employee retention and loyalty.
Gen Z is the most minority-filled generation ever with 49% identifying as non-white. Additionally, 81% have friends who are of a different race as compared to 69% of Millennials, and 59% have friends who are of a different sexual orientation, compared to 53% of Millennials. Companies that take a stance against issues like gender equality or sexual orientation, or are perceived as closed-minded will have a difficult time attracting Gen Z employees.
As the first to live in fully immersed in two worlds – online and offline – Gen Z understands the power of branding more than any generation before. They’ve carefully curated their online presence. Social media isn’t merely a platform for sharing vacation pictures or photos of their lunch; it’s where they live, how they communicate and have many of their most honest and important conversations. Employers trying to attract Gen Z must be equally intentional about their company’s online presence and branding. Gen Z is savvy – they can sniff out artificiality in a heartbeat – but they respect companies and organizations whose online presence is a reflection of company culture and who utilize the latest technology and social media tools.
Ultimately, Gen Z is a values-driven cohort, determined to leave the world a better place for having been part of it. While pragmatic, they are hopeful. They want what generations before them have sought – authenticity and stability – but this socially and environmentally conscious generation also demands and inclusivity and acceptance. Savvy companies hoping to attract this generation will find ways to weave their values and culture into their online presence. By demonstrating that you share their vision for these same values, you’ll earn their respect and discover they’re more than willing to engage with you both as consumers and as employees.
Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.