Deal With It – Employers Need to Embrace Gen Z

As employers, we have spent the last 10-15 years adjusting to the influx of Millennial workers. Many were efficient and hard-working, and some – the ones you read about – were at best quirky and, at worst, entitled and served to soil the reputation of the whole generation. But like most groups analyzed and attacked predominantly for being young, they grew up and we don’t really refer to them as millennials anymore. They’re just our employees now. Most are in their mid-30s and 40s and have, well for lack of a better term – assimilated into the workforce and chilled out. 

But now – here comes Generation Z, which has brought with them a new level of angst and a lack of understanding from the Boomers and Gen X and Y who hire them. These Z employees, born in the mid-1990s to the early 2010s, are in a unique place with employers still hungry for workers but within an environment that in 2023, is now allowing employees to be more selective.  

Like most employers today, I have dealt with this phenomenon personally. And I’m torn because it’s fashionable beyond cliche to rag on Generation Z like we did the Millennials. They have kind of become the new workforce punching bag, especially when some come in with delusional expectations and unrealistic demands of perks and paid vacation time from day one.

Here’s who they are statistically.

  • There are 68 million of them – representing 20% of the population (You can’t ignore one-fifth of the population)
  • A third currently hold a job and 51% are in college, with many getting ready to leave and enter the workforce. (Here they come)
  • According to the American Psychological Association, only 45% percent consider their mental health “good.” (They’ve seen a lot, and they’re skittish)
  • Their communication style is social media, sometimes text (with parents), and email (they have one but rarely use it).  
  • 40% say they’ll leave their job in the next two years (or sooner). Many are still living at home and only 11% are married. 

Companies are still trying to replenish their workforce after the pandemic. But, do employers facing a strong employee job market really have little choice but to adjust to this new group and hire them? Or do they bar the door from these “kids” and say they’re not ready for the workforce?

Tempering Expectations

Let me give you an example from my own law office. I had a Z law clerk who had done a good job for me and we mutually agreed it was time for him to pursue his aspirations to go to the “big” law firm. Ours is a medium-sized launch pad for many employees looking for opportunities with larger firms. And I am more than proud of the experience many have received with our firm who have then parlayed this experience and become very successful in their legal careers.

In this case, my employee had worked for me for a year and a half, but six months after leaving, he was unemployed. Here, we emphasize a work-life balance, but that still means meeting my sometimes demanding expectations. However, we are more collaborative than most law firms and place an emphasis on training. At the new firm, my former employee immediately dealt with work-based culture shock at an old-school law firm that didn’t have a flexible atmosphere which led to being impersonal to this new generation of workers. He soured on them early and, frankly, from all indications, didn’t acquit himself as well as he had hoped. When it was time to offer a permanent position, they mutually agreed to part ways. 

Because Z employees are looking for the right fit, mentally, socially and professionally, he frankly wasn’t that upset. It just wasn’t a good fit for him. In addition to the job itself, culture was a big priority for him, and he “wasn’t feeling it.” He was also thrust into a legal role he wasn’t passionate about. So he ended up calling me for advice as to what his next move should be.  

I reminded him that if you’re not passionate about your job, you’ll never be content with what you’re doing. He took that advice and found a job more suitable for him in a prosecutor’s office. Although this was for a considerable drop in pay, this time he loved what he was doing and dug in. He found his people, his place, and a work culture he could embrace.  

The Balancing Act

So, back to Z employees. What did I learn here? When they feel passion for what they’re doing and a purpose for the hours they’re dedicating to their work, it no longer feels like a job. And even though you can probably say that about any age group, with Zers they seem to be more vocal about it.  

The other lesson here is that employers wanting to get the most out of this new generation of workers have to show something that needs to be added to the landscape of many old-school thinking businesses. That something is the ability to be more demonstrative in displays of mutual respect and civility.  You just have to be careful not to over do it and show timidity or worse abdicate your authority. 

The bottom line with whether to hire Gen Z or not, is in order for your company to grow, you have to continue to replenish it with new workers. And cross pollination among multiple generations keeps things fresh. As with anything, it always just comes down to the phrase I use all the time and that is “adapt or die”.