Gen Z confuses employers. Here are 7 key insights on recruiting, retaining, and managing them, based on research for my book ‘Generations’ (2024)

Jean M. Twenge is professor of psychology at San Diego State University and the author of Generations: The Real Differences between Gen Z, Millennials, Gen X, Boomers and Silents—and What They Mean for America’s Future. She writes the Generation Tech blog at Substack.

The generational dynamics of the workplace are changing fast. Boomers are retiring, and nearly all workers in their twenties are now Gen Z (born 1995-2012). According to Glassdoor, there are now more Gen Zers in the U.S. workforce than boomers.

That’s a problem, because many companies don’t understand Gen Z. It’s often difficult to separate myth from reality with the generations turning over so quickly.

That’s one reason I wrote my book Generations, which takes a deep dive into more than a dozen large surveys conducted over several decades. That means we can see what teens and young adults say about themselves, compared to previous generations at the same age. In other words, these data can tell us what is actually different about young people now as opposed to their just being young.

Gen Z in the workplace

These analyses revealed seven key insights important for recruiting, retaining, and managing Gen Z.

  • Don’t count on recruiting Gen Z with promises that the job is highly interesting and great for making friends. These job characteristics do have some appeal for Gen Z young adults, but because of their age, not their generation. When assessed at the same age—in one survey, at 18 years old—Gen Z was actually less likely to value jobs that are interesting and where they can make friends than boomers and Gen Xers at the same age.
  • If you’re looking to change up your recruiting strategy, emphasize how the job helps others. Gen Z values jobs that are “directly helpful to others” more than previous generations did. They also express more empathy than young adults 15 years ago and give higher marks to jobs that are “worthwhile to society.” Gen Z wants to make a difference, and that includes at work.
  • Emphasize work-life balance and flexible schedules, and don’t expect as much overtime. Gen Z is less likely to say they expect work to be a central part of their lives; instead, they highly value having time for a life outside of work. When surveyed at 18 in 2021-22, Gen Zers born in 2003-05 were the least willing to work overtime of all cohorts dating back to the 1970s (see figure). They are also less likely to say they expect work to be extremely satisfying. One approach is to give Gen Z the tools they need to get their work done more efficiently, such as by reducing meetings and giving the option of working from home. Still, motivating this group is going to be challenging.

Percent of U.S. 12th graders who say they are willing to work overtime and expect their chosen work to be extremely satisfying, 1976-2022. Source: Data from Monitoring the Future analyzed by Jean Twenge for Generations.

  • Prioritize mental health and wellness. Twice as many Gen Z young adults experience clinical-level depression than millennials at the same age. Perhaps as a result, Gen Z employees are more likely to ask about insurance coverage for mental health treatment and company policies around mental health and wellness. In combination with their emphasis on work-life balance, they are also more likely to request a “mental health day” to recharge. Companies that hire large numbers of college graduates, such as the accounting firm Ernst & Young, have had success offering employees a stipend to cover wellness items.
  • Don’t assume that Gen Z is entitled. Entitlement is a key facet of narcissism, and narcissistic personality traits are actually lower among Gen Z college students than they were when that group was mostly millennials. Gen Z is also less confident in themselves and have lower expectations than millennials did at the same age. Where millennials were highly optimistic, Gen Z is much more pessimistic. While some millennials assumed they would be CEO of the company in 10 years, Gen Z has no such illusions. They are more realistic and practical and may need more encouragement.
  • Gen Z is taking longer to grow up and thus needs more guidance. Teens today are less likely to do adult things like drink alcohol, drive, go on dates, and work during high school. Young adults take longer to get married, have children, and settle into careers, and middle-aged people look and feel younger than their parents or grandparents at the same age. The trajectory of development has slowed down at every stage of the life cycle. In the workplace, this means 22 is the new 18 and 27 is the new 22—young workers don’t have as much experience with independence and decision-making as they used to. In a recent survey of managers, one in five said they’d experienced recent college graduates bringing a parent to their job interview. With slower development, Gen Z often needs precise instructions and explicit mentoring to get up to speed. And yes, you might be seeing their parents.
  • Expect informality. In the survey of managers, 47% said recent interviewees had dressed inappropriately, and 27% said they’d used inappropriate language. The idea of one authentic self—“I am the same person at work and at home”—has been building for decades, and really took off during the pandemic when remote work became the norm. There are clear upsides to being more casual and comfortable, but managers increasingly need to communicate explicit rules for dress and language. Otherwise, you’re going to have young employees showing up for work wearing pajama pants.

The workplace adapts with every generation, and every generation learns to adapt to the workplace. Gen Z is no different, though this process may take longer for them. Once they do, the workplace will never be the same. That’s all the more reason for managers to be ready for them and the sweeping changes they will bring.

More on Gen Z:

  • 3 in 4 Gen Zers are interested in vocational training as uncertainty and AI shape the minds of the next ‘toolbelt generation’
  • Gen Z ignores brand messaging by default. Here’s how to win their attention—and loyalty
  • The kids are not alright: Gen Z and millennial workers are struggling and it’s time for managers to pay attention
  • Meet the 5 types of Gen Z freelancers—and their secret weapon

The opinions expressed in commentary pieces are solely the views of their authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and beliefs ofFortune.

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Gen Z confuses employers. Here are 7 key insights on recruiting, retaining, and managing them, based on research for my book ‘Generations’ (2024)


What are some of the key descriptors that will distinguish Generation Z from earlier generations? ›

  • 7 Unique Characteristics of Generation Z. Articles. ...
  • They're digital natives. “Mum… ...
  • The world they live in has never felt safe. ...
  • They're accepting. ...
  • They're health-conscious. ...
  • They value their privacy. ...
  • They're entrepreneurial and worried about their future prospects. ...
  • They're changing the distinction between childhood and adulthood.

Why it is challenging to retain Gen Z at workplace? ›

There's a social skills gap, and Gen Z needs mentoring

According to research conducted in 2023, 85 percent of recent graduates believe that core social skills (like influencing, persuading, and including others) are essential to advancing in their workplace. But they're not being mentored to hone their abilities.

What are millennials vs Gen Z key differences in the workplace? ›

Millennials tend to be more collaborative and team-oriented, whereas Gen Z values independence and individual achievement more. Gen Z is also more likely to prioritize entrepreneurial pursuits, with many choosing to start their own businesses rather than climb the corporate ladder.

How are Gen Z different from other generations? ›

Gen Z (or Generation Z) grew up with rapid digital changes. As teens, Gen Zers experienced the boom of smartphones, wearables, and virtual assistants, among other disruptive tech. This immersion makes them open to integrating new technology into their lives. Gen Z is already using AI in their daily lives.

How is Gen Z education compared to other generations? ›

Highly educated

Generation Z students are on track to become the most educated generation. They have higher high school graduation rates and lower dropout rates than those who came before. In 2018, 57% of 18 to 21-year olds were in college, compared with 52% of Millennials, and 43% of Gen Xers at similar ages.

What are the five factors that define Generation Z? ›

Five factors defining Generation Z
  • Digital. Digital change is constant, ubiquitous and fast. ...
  • Global. Generation Z are our first truly global generation. ...
  • Social. Generation Z are social in nature. ...
  • Mobile. ...
  • Visual.

What does Gen Z struggle with the most? ›

Gen-Z Faces Financial Challenges, Stress, Anxiety And An Uncertain Future.

What are Gen Z weaknesses? ›

However, Gen Z has certain weaknesses. They have a rather indifferent attitude towards security and prioritize convenience over security . They also experience a low perceived behavioral control and lack education on how to behave securely online .

Why is it so hard to work with Gen Z? ›

Overall, three in four managers say they find the new generation difficult to work with. According to ResumeBuilder, the top three reasons Gen Z is difficult to work with are lack of technological skills, effort, and motivation.

How Gen Z is impacting the workplace? ›

Gen Z cares about mental health and work-life balance

“Work and home life are all so integrated that if you don't pay attention, you could be working all the time,” said Katz. “I think Gen Z is sensitive to that.” Having a work-life balance and maintaining mental and physical health is also important to Gen Z.

What is the work ethic of Gen Z? ›

According to a 2024 workplace survey, Gen Z consider honesty and integrity five times more important than even experience when it comes to their overheads. As an addendum to this, Gen Z are also hungry for feedback. So much so that 73% say they're willing to resign if they don't receive it regularly.

How do you retain Millennial and Gen Z employees? ›

6 ways to attract, engage and retain Gen Z talent
  1. Provide clear development opportunities for their career.
  2. Create an inclusive work culture.
  3. Implement efficient time management.
  4. Make wellbeing a priority.
  5. Invest in the latest technology.
  6. Rethink the experience required in job listings.
Jan 5, 2023

Why is Gen Z the strongest generation? ›

They are constantly connected, always on the go, and extremely tech-savvy. As a result, Gen Z is often lauded for being entrepreneurial, innovative, and open-minded. It's important to recognize the strengths of Gen Z because this generation is quickly becoming the largest demographic in the workforce.

How is Gen Z misunderstood? ›

Often taken as lazy, unappreciative and immature, many of Generation Z's fresh views and new lifestyles have been met with distaste and ignorance by older generations. These quips are often aimed at undermining the competence of our generation.

Why are millennials so different from Gen Z? ›

Generation Z vs Millennials: Key Takeaways

Millennials value stability (34%), while Gen Z puts more of an emphasis on finding their dream job (32%). More Gen Zers follow their parents' influence (42%), compared to their Millennial counterparts (36%).

What is the descriptor of Gen Z? ›

Gen Z are the generation after millennials, and before Gen Alpha, so roughly speaking, they were born between the mid-1990s and early 2010s. They're the first generation of “digital natives”, never knowing a world without the internet.

What are the characteristics of the Gen Z generation? ›

They are pragmatic and value direct communication, authenticity and relevance. They also value self-care. They may be more likely than older people were when they were the age of the Gen Zers to question rules and authority because they are so used to finding what they need on their own.

What distinguishes Gen Y from Gen Z? ›

Next comes Generation Y (more commonly known as Millennials), born between roughly 1981 and 1994. The youngest generation in today's workforce is Gen Z, meaning Generation Z, who were born between 1995 and 2009.

How do you identify Gen Z? ›

The Collins Dictionary define Generation Z as "members of the generation of people born between the mid-1990s and mid-2010s. The Oxford Dictionaries define Generation Z as "the group of people who were born between the late 1990s and the early 2010s, who are regarded as being very familiar with the internet."

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