Real Leaders

Gen Z Demands Change in the Workplace. What Should Brands (and Employers) Keep in Mind?

From mental health benefits to stricter work-life boundaries, Gen Zers are changing the definition of a thriving workplace and demanding change at all levels of an organization.

Gen Z is a generation of unique thinkers who have changed how we live, work, and shop. Not only do they demand and expect their beloved brands to be socially and environmentally conscious, but they also insist on working for companies who are purposeful in advocating for ESG. As they enter the workforce, Gen Zers seek companies that demonstrate the same values they hold dear and are not afraid to hold them accountable when they don’t. 

According to a Deloitte report, 49% of Gen Zers said they made choices regarding the type of work they will do and the companies they are willing to work for based on their values and ethics.

As a very individualistic generation, Gen Zers are finding their own ways to move the needle for their generation and those to follow, including delegating to senior team members, asking for mental health days, establishing more work/life balance, and setting their own hours for more flexibility. For this group, championing change is non-negotiable. So how can businesses support this growing workforce to attract and retain talent? Below are five ways that Gen Z employees are demanding change in the workplace:

This group is hyper-aware of empty brand missions

According to data from Knit, only 25% of Gen Zers think brands are genuine in their efforts to make the world a better place. Organizations can no longer get by on surface attempts to appear authentic on social issues when an entire generation of workers won’t hesitate to call them out. As true digital natives, Gen Zers are more sophisticated and critical consumers of media than any generation before them. That means being hyper-aware of empty brand missions, greenwashing, and false company promises. Knit data also cites nearly a third of this generation has canceled a brand due to a recent marketing campaign, ad, or brand affiliation in the past. Unfortunately, the majority of Gen Zers don’t have faith that businesses are having a positive impact on the world. This group is unafraid to challenge the status quo and call companies out on unethical business practices. Businesses that implement authentic initiatives to narrow the gender wage gap, improve wealth inequality, dedicate resources to the mental well-being of employees and genuinely support environmental initiatives will draw the attention of young talent. 

Mental health initiatives are the norm, not a bonus

According to McKinsey, Gen Z is one generation more likely to report having been diagnosed with or struggling with a mental health condition than Gen Xers or Baby Boomers. Deloitte reported 46% of Gen Zers claimed to be stressed or anxious most of the time and cited the intense demands of their work environments as their primary reason for burnout. It is an epidemic, and this group is more likely to seek support and treatment than others in the past and recognizes the importance of self-care and support. That includes being prepared to walk away from a current job if these needs aren’t being met. This poses a significant retention problem for employers, with Knit reporting that 63% of Gen Z employees expect their employer to offer mental health benefits second only to a 401K. Employers will lose out if they don’t seriously consider developing safe, secure environments with strategies to help support mental and emotional well-being.

A bold, in-your-face approach to DE&I

This group demands a more transparent DE&I strategy and practices. They look beyond the next cubicle and into the highest board rooms for representation and understanding and have zero fear in holding those in charge accountable. The Gen Z generation is already a very diverse group and demands employers to be a progressive tool for social change. This includes not just hiring a diverse workforce but creating clear paths for promotions, professional development, and more for all employees equally. A well-crafted DE&I agenda must go beyond celebrating or acknowledging important dates and address systemic inequalities at the foundation. This will keep young employees engaged in the business and the company’s growth but will lead to more innovation, a positive work environment, and more revenue. In fact, according to McKinsey & Company, companies with more gender diversity were 21% more likely to experience more profitability than industry competitors, and those that were more culturally and ethnically diverse were 33% more likely to outperform. 

Commitment to work-life balance

According to the Deloitte report, 75% of Gen Z employees prefer hybrid or remote work. Flexible work often offers opportunities to save more free time for loved ones. It can positively impact mental health, which we know is a significant factor in deciding where to work. This group understands that work is often just a paycheck; that their well-being and work-life balance are necessary. A Microsoft study indicated that Gen Zers are leaving jobs over well-being and mental health, lack of work-life balance, and a lack of flexibility almost equally. Work-life balance can look different to each employee, and leading companies understand this. They offer various options, from flexible hours or remote work to unlimited vacation time to support this balance.

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Gen Z inspires organizations to rethink workplace norms with their call to address mental health, work flexibility, learning and development opportunities, and a greater commitment from companies to implement ESG initiatives for a more positive impact on the world. Employers can attract and retain talent in the younger generations by aligning with these values, listening to their needs, and allowing Gen Z employees to have a seat at the table to discuss what matters in their work environments. In nurturing Gen Z employee relations, businesses can generate a more positive work environment, promote innovation, contribute to improved mental health and well-being, and, as a result, stands to claim a more significant market share. 

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