What's next for Gen Z — a critical cohort that's expected to constitute more than a quarter of the U.S. workforce by 2025? How have their expectations changed in light of the global pandemic? And how can employers leverage new workforce models, digital tech and emerging trends to more effectively retain these valuable young pros?

Here's everything you need to know.

know your cohort: who are Gen Zers?

It's difficult to generalize about a generation that's unprecedentedly diverse and numbers 65 million strong. That said, here's a quick recap — just a few salient facts about Gen Z to ensure we're all on the same page:

  • Anyone born between 1997 and 2012 belongs to Gen Z, which means they arrived into a world of proliferating digital connectivity. Ubiquitous screens and devices were and are their only frame of reference.
  • They're especially proactive about diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace. A full 88 percent of Gen Zers, for example, believe that conversations with recruiters or employers should begin with a discussion of their gender pronouns.
  • The majority of Gen Zers lived through two traumas during formative years: first, the Great Recession of 2008, then the ongoing fallout and disruption from COVID-19.

Crucially, on this last point, there's evidence that COVID-19 has had a disproportionately negative economic impact on Gen Z compared to other generations. Among older Gen Zers (those between the ages of 18 and 23), for example, more than half say that someone in their household either lost a job or suffered a pay cut during the pandemic.

Needless to say, there's way more we could unpack here. But for now, let's pause to consider why factors like these are translating into new career pathways for members of Gen Z — and how employers can adapt to retain more of them in turn.

recognizing Gen Z: new career realities

As generations go, you might be tempted to ask: Is Gen Z really so different from their older counterparts in the workforce?

But undeniably, in certain respects at least, the answer is yes.

Consider the following superlatives, which come from a large-scale study about the future of work, for starters. Compared to all other generations in the workforce:

  • Gen Zers are the least satisfied with their jobs.
  • They're the least satisfied with their current work-life balance.
  • They feel the most pressure to work 9-5 business hours, even though roughly one in four believe they would be more productive working flexible hours (and for almost half of them, that includes routinely working from bed).

Setting aside the relative merits of a bed-head workflow, the first two bullet points tell the complete story. After all, if this really is how members of Gen Z feel, should it be any surprise that the majority of them will look for new jobs in the next 12 months?

Probably not. So let's look at what organizations can do to start reversing the tide.

3 key retention levers for employers

1. the right communication is absolutely key

Effective, empathic communication — set to the right cadence — probably matters to all employees, no matter which generation they belong to. But it can be the difference between resignation and retention for Gen Z employees.

Take the finding of this report, for example: Communication is the primary quality Gen Z employees are looking for in their managers. 

And what's more, the majority of Gen Zers say they expect mentorship from managers along with it. By comparison, the same is true for only about half of Millennial employees.

Interestingly, the desire for better, more frequent communication appears to be characteristic of Gen Z employees in both the white- and blue-collar occupations right now. Among Gen Z employees who work in manufacturing, for example, one survey found that 69 percent would like to receive additional feedback about their on-the-job performance, and more than one in three say they aren’t getting enough face time with their direct supervisors. 

Finally, per the point about gender pronouns mentioned earlier, don't underestimate Gen Zer's expectations around inclusive language, either. This holds for white- and blue-collar employers alike. 

2. if you ask for travel, expect to see parachutes

With the rise of mass remote work, geographically distributed teams are effectively collaborating in brand-new ways. And if you ask most members of Gen Z, they'll tell you they like it that way.

Ask them about work-related travel, on the other hand, and you'll find they're overwhelmingly against it.

According to one survey, 92 percent of Gen Z employees would simply quit their jobs if they were asked to travel for work. What's more, these early-in-career professionals think their employers should be proactively taking action in this department. In fact, 93 percent said they expect their companies to make changes to their policies around business travel in order to protect employees' health and safety.

Is your business making changes accordingly? Either way, what the strength of these preferences makes clear is that organizations will have to be mindful of them going forward.

3. focus on meaning and purpose

To a larger degree than previous generations, Gen Z employees expect to find meaning and purpose through their work. Indeed, not finding those two things was cited among the top-three career fears for 61 percent of Gen Z employees in one survey.

It's up to you to give it to them — and your ability to do so will depend heavily on your organization's culture. How collaborative is your workplace? Are employees being challenged and mentored? Are there channels in place to enable all employees, including those who work remotely, to build relationships?

Answering these questions (and getting the answers right!) is going to bear directly on your ability to retain Gen Z employees going forward. After all, for one in five Gen Z employees, relationships with colleagues are among the most important motivating factors for "getting or keeping" a job. The implications for retention, in other words, are fairly obvious.

what's next?

Hopefully, these insights have helped shed light on some of the most important career drivers for Gen Z talent — and most of all, how you can leverage the latest developments to retain high-value young contributors down the line.

Looking for more human capital intelligence? Head back to our learning center for actionable guidance to help your business grow, or connect with Randstad today to learn how we can solve your workforce challenges from end to end.