Gen Z's expectations at work

The incoming generation of professionals is bringing with them a unique and evolving set of priorities

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The nature and composition of the workforce is changing rapidly, as older professionals retire and a younger generation moves up the ranks.

Born between the late 1990s and 2012, Generation Z or Gen Z – also known as Zoomers, the iGeneration or post-millennials – are emerging as ambitious founders, directors and managers, planning career paths and emerging as new leaders.

According to McKinsey & Company, by 2025, the group will make up a quarter of the Asia–Pacific region’s population – the same as millennials (born 1980–1995).

Different expectations

As the Gen Z population grows older, a host of questions open up for firms, including the differences in terms of their employment expectations, how to manage them, goals for advancement and retention strategies.

So, how do Gen Z behave in the workplace? Although there are some geographical differences, there are some common trends. Some of their expectations stem from the socio-economic environment in which Gen Z grew up; most of them don’t even remember a time without smartphones.

‘Gen Z, in general, refers to people born between 1997 and 2012. They mostly grow up in an affluent society where people do not need to struggle to make ends meet,’ says Johnson Kong, managing director, non-assurance at BDO Hong Kong. ‘They are growing up in an era of information explosion when the internet, social media and advanced technology are developing at an exponential pace.’

Given that Zoomers have built a large part of their lives and social presence online through social media, Kong believes that they can quickly and intuitively adapt to new technologies.

Issue consciousness

Gen Z’s behaviour and attitudes toward work are not totally dissimilar from previous generations but there are some differences.

‘Compared with millennials, while the monetary reward is still a very important consideration, Gen Z are more conscious about issues such as work-life balance, flexibility, environment, social justice and racial and gender equality. Privacy and independence are also important to Gen Z,’ says Kong.

In its report on Gen Z in the workplace, Deloitte explored the core values and working styles of this generation. Responses suggest that Gen Z still prioritises financial security over ‘personal fulfilment’ and looks for diverse and entrepreneurial opportunities, which also offer the safety of stable employment.

Kong also points out that Gen Z tends to have a mindset of achieving quick success and making enough money to retire early to enjoy life. This is also related to what they have witnessed in the online world.

‘Many successful individuals ride on the waves of technological advancements, digital transformation and virtual assets developments, and accumulate wealth in a relatively short period,’ says Kong.

New trajectory

Deloitte notes that Gen Z is entering the workforce at ‘a key inflection point in the evolution of work.’ For the previous generations, a first job might have meant starting at the bottom of the ladder, which could help new entrants to the workforce learn basic but necessary skills, often through boring tasks. However, technology and automation have eliminated many of the more manual and repetitive tasks and pushed people to rethink work.

‘Taking years to elevate up a career path from junior to a senior management position is too long and not appealing. Many Gen Z are interested in creating their own start-up business or becoming a key opinion leader,’ says Kong.

‘This also fits in well with their expectation of work-life balance, flexibility, and independence.’

In terms of working styles, Kong suggests that Gen Z prefers to work on their own in an online remote environment and focus on individual success and growth. The Deloitte survey affirms that although Gen Z prefers individual tasks, they will value physical connections, preferring ‘independence but not isolation’.

The Covid effect

The Covid-19 pandemic also reshaped work culture, enabling more flexible approaches. In an AB interview earlier this year, Eric Ng ACCA, chief strategy officer at HR service provider KOS International, noted that lockdowns around the world led to shifting priorities for staff and forced employers to rethink the purpose of their office spaces.

With many employees prioritising work-life balance and reflecting on the nature of work, ‘candidates might think of more aspects of their jobs such as the meaning of their work and whether their opinions are valued,’ Ng said.

In the post-Covid era, as Gen-Z grows and becomes the dominant group in the workforce, companies may have to rethink how they attract, hire and retain this new group of professionals.

In his interview in the June issue of AB, David Yu FCCA, CEO of recruitment company Hudson Greater China, said that employers welcoming and meeting the expectations of young and ambitious talent is important. ‘Adapting corporate culture and even organisational structure to their ideas is a matter of long-term survival to a company, as Gen Z takes over as the main workforce.’

Kong says that the traditional ways of hiring people, such as through advertising in career posts and corporate websites, are no longer very effective. Gen Z is more likely to look at social media than job ads and, according to Deloitte, they are very keen on working in industries that they interact with in their personal lives.

Internet tools and social media are now the main channels to reach out to Gen Z job seekers, while employee referrals are also effective, suggests Kong.

The most important persuader, however, is the nature of a company. Kong says that being a purpose-led organisation with a strong employer brand, culture and values is more appealing to Gen Z jobseekers.

There are some practical means to attract them, such as providing competitive financial rewards and flexible benefits packages, prioritising work-life balance by offering flexible hours and remote working opportunities, and structured training programmes. Exposing staff to a variety of work and putting in place wellness and sustainability programmes are also methods of attraction.

Zhang Mengying – journalist

More information

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