Gen Z is taking over the workplace: 5 things HR leaders need to know

Organisations hiring new Gen Z employees may need to understand the profile and priorities of this age group to attract and retain the top talent.
By: | July 20, 2023

Today, 9.8 million US jobs remain unfilled—a near-record high. As companies work to fill their open roles, attracting workers from Generation Z will be key to winning the talent war. After all, this generation will soon represent a third of the workforce. Companies that ignore them do so at their peril.

However, to earn the loyalty of this generation, born in 1997 or later, HR leaders need to first understand what makes Gen Z unique.

Gen Zers have been profoundly shaped by completing their education and starting their careers during the COVID-19 pandemic as well as by economic uncertainty, geopolitical unrest and cultural polarisation.

Driving their financial worries are high inflation—made worse by a lack of entry-level wage growth—along with burdensome student loan debt and a slowing economy. Many are concerned about affording even basic necessities, and more than half are now choosing to live with their parents to save money.

Gen Z priorities

All this turmoil has contributed to struggles with mental health. Almost half of Gen Zers report being stressed or anxious all or most of the time. They also report the least-positive life outlook of any generation, including lower levels of emotional and social wellbeing.

Despite the challenges confronting Gen Z, overlooking this younger talent pool is a missed opportunity for employers. They can bring a lot to the workplace, according to research from The Conference Board, which held a series of focus groups with Gen Z workers to understand their motivations better.

In these conversations, Gen Zers stressed that they do not understand why hybrid work is not the norm; they believe they are just as efficient when remote. They know how to collaborate virtually and be productive because many started their careers on virtual platforms due to pandemic lockdowns.

Their familiarity with the speed at which the digital world evolves means they are less resistant to change than some older colleagues. They are receptive to automating tasks and improving processes—and can serve as champions to help make change happen.

But beware: that openness to change also means they are willing to job-hop to get what they want. They also are not afraid to use social media to amplify their concerns—including those with their employers. This includes skepticism of organisational missions and statements of values without action behind them. They want to see companies advance meaningful change on a host of societal challenges. Growing up wholly in the digital era has made Gen Z the “influencer generation,” either influencing or being influenced by ideas and movements.

What can HR do to attract and retain Gen Z?

In the conversations The Conference Board had with Gen Z workers, they emphasised the key elements they are looking for in their jobs. With Gen Z poised to make up one in three workers in just a few years, CHROs and their teams should take note of these five attributes that Gen Z cares most deeply about, in order of their importance.

1.       Above all, HR leaders should ensure companies are providing adequate compensation. Not only will this address Gen Z’s financial concerns, but these employees view it as a matter of both equity and respect. HR leaders will need to begin by reevaluating starting salaries and raises. And if they have not already, they should consider adding pay transparency to their culture and talent strategy.

2.       They should also give Gen Z more control over where and when they work. For knowledge workers, this can mean the opportunity to work remotely at least some of the time. For hourly workers, it can mean having some say in the shifts assigned to them and knowing their shifts well in advance so that they can plan for personal commitments.

3.       It is also critical for HR teams to foster a culture that supports workers’ safety and mental and physical wellness. Gen Zers want their employers to genuinely support them on the job and respect their boundaries and needs outside it. HR leaders should survey employees’ wellbeing and seek feedback on established policies and benefits.

4.       HR leaders should recognise that Gen Zers have something to offer and ensure they have opportunities to grow. In our research, many noted that a lack of growth opportunities would be a reason to leave a job. They also are eager to share their knowledge and skills, such as their facility with technology. HR leaders should work with managers to create and communicate career paths with internal and external development opportunities.

5.       Finally, HR teams should encourage all business leaders to not just talk about a company’s purpose and values but live them. Many Gen Zers in our research said they would leave a job if their employer’s values did not align with their own. By setting expectations, HR can help employees understand the impact and importance of the work they do, and ensure all leaders are living the organisation’s principles in how they communicate with and treat employees.

READ MORE: How Gen Z employees can contribute to the corporate workplace

Even with the US on the precipice of recession, labour shortages will remain widespread across the US. Businesses will urgently need Gen Z workers to fill their ranks. The businesses that win them—and keep them—will be those that put a laser-like focus on understanding what makes them unique and what matters most to them.

About the author: Robin Erickson is Vice-President, Human Capital, for The Conference Board. This article first appeared on