World War Z: Is Generation Z set to transform the workplace?

Generation Z is getting to work. Those born after 1995 will make up a third of employees by 2025, and by that time, some reckon they’ll have shaken up the workplace. [1] But are they right?

Written by Mind Tools
Published 09 July 2021
World War Z: Is Generation Z set to transform the workplace?

Meet Gen Z’s “digital natives” 

Gen X had Ceefax, Gen Z has Siri. The internet has been around as long as Gen Zers have. And big data – a finger tap away – has created “digital natives.”  

Raised on social media, they communicate, play and create online. And for some, this digital prowess gives Gen Zers a head start at remote working – now and the other side of the pandemic. 

What does Gen Z want? 

Digital chops have raised expectations, too. If Gen Z doesn't like your work’s messaging app, they’ll tell you to your (virtual) face. Just ask Jason Dorsey, President at The Center for Generational Kinetics. He says Gen Z’s connectedness comes with “higher expectations of technology and organizations.” [2] But what do they expect? 

Like an app that remembers your favorite pizza topping, Gen Z has grown up in an age of personalization. And while other generations get antsy over data privacy, 66% of Gen Zers expect websites to "talk" to each other to offer a better experience. [3] 

But experience goes beyond shopping. According to a McKinsey study, Gen Z is made up of “self-learners” more comfortable learning online than in a classroom. [4] 

Sound familiar? Consumer learners have been around before Gen Z started job hunting. You’ve probably read how Netflix-streaming Millennials or Gen Y (born between 1980 and 1995) demand a similar experience from other parts of life. Including learning!  

So, are Gen Z studies breaking new ground, or re-hashing what we already know? 

Gen Y and Gen Z concerns 

A Deloitte study found that workplace attitudes between Gen Z and Millennials are virtually similar.  

  • 25% of Millennials and 27% of Gen Z learn new work skills on their own time.  

  • 41% vs. 46% feel stressed all or most of the time. Two-thirds of each group worry about their finances.  

  • 44% vs. 49% make choices over what they’ll do – and who they’ll work for – based on personal ethics. [5] 

There’s also little to separate the groups in their biggest concerns: healthcare, climate change, and unemployment. 

Crossing the generations 

Generationism is based on the belief that we share character traits with people who come-of-age around the same time. The thinking goes, you and your generation will be shaped by the things you experience together. 

But as the Deloitte study shows, some events shape everyone – whatever their life stage. Conducted during the pandemic, it’s maybe no surprise the results show that healthcare and unemployment worry Gen Z and Millennials. Or that both feel stressed over their finances.   

A quarter of millennials and 22% of Gen Zers say they’d like to work in the office “a little to a lot less often” than before the pandemic. But another Deloitte study from 2021 found that all participants identify “flexibility/adaptability” as one of the three most critical workforce traits.  

An IBM study reviewed 20 studies into generations. It found few – if any – differences in work attitudes between generations. For example, Baby Boomers (born between 1945 and 1964) have the same job satisfaction levels as Generation X (1965 to 1980). And Millennials differ from Gen X by a “very small” 0.14%.  

The research suggests that any shared differences between generations are more likely down to your life stage rather than your birthday. 

Preparing the workplace for Gen Z and beyond 

Whether you play the generation game or not, you can take steps to prepare and engage your workplace for Gen Z – and all your employees. 

1) Create a diverse and inclusive workforce. 69% of Gen Xers say they’re more likely to apply for a job at a racially and ethnically diverse company. [7] 

When recruiting, you can use “blind” CVs that remove demographic information that can lead to unconscious bias around arbitrary factors such as race or gender.  

2) Up your social responsibility. 82% of Gen Zers feel it’s important their job contributes to the greater good. [8] Climate change, for example, tops their list of greatest concerns.  

So, choose and identify your commitments to sustainability and equality. Get everyone on board, measure and publish your progress as you go.  

3) Offer mental health support. 31% of millennials and 35% of Gen Z say they’ve taken time off work due to stress and anxiety caused by the pandemic. But almost half gave reasons other than stress for their absence. [9] 

Truth is, most of us feel anxious right now. And leaders can fight stigma by saying it’s okay to take mental health days. You should also encourage people to make use of flexible working hours if you have them. 

4) Provide for ‘consumer learners’. Gen Z may be better prepared, but many of us are acclimatizing to remote working during the pandemic. You can make it easy for all employees to access on-demand learning resources and offer bespoke L&D that meets demand for personalization.    

5) Set expectations. Despite the tough talk of demanding Gen Zers, 60% want clear job descriptions and regular performance conversations with managers. [10] Frequent one-on-ones can help you identify personality traits, parts of the job people like, and ways they like to work.  

Follow these steps and you’ll focus on individuals rather than groups. And if you don’t get it right the first time, keep trying. As McKinsey reports, “For Gen Zers, the key point is not to define themselves through only one stereotype but rather for individuals to experiment with different ways of being themselves and to shape their individual identities over time.” [11] 



[1] [7] [10] Forbes. (2021). How Gen-Z Is Bringing A Fresh Perspective To The World Of Work [online]. Available here. [Accessed July 1, 2021] 

[2] [3] Business Wire. (2020). Generation Influence: Gen Z Study Reveals a New Digital Paradigm [online]. Available here. [Accessed July 1, 2021] 

[4] [11] McKinsey. (2018). ‘True Gen’: Generation Z and its implications for companies [online]. Available here. [Accessed July 1, 2021.] 

[5] [9] Deloitte. (2021). The Deloitte Global 2021 Millennial and Gen Z Survey [online]. Available here. [Accessed July 1, 2021] 

[6] IBM, (2015). Generational Differences at Work Are Much Ado About Very Little [online]. Available here. [Accessed July 1, 2021] 

[8] WARC, (2021). Generation Z is on a mission to build a better normal for all [online]. Available here. [Accessed July 1, 2021] 

About the author

Mind Tools

Mind Tools

Mind Tools was started in 1996 to offer practical online learning to people in the workplace.

By the time they joined Emerald in March 2019, they had grown into the one of the world’s most comprehensive learning resources, with millions of individual learners in 50 countries worldwide.

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