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  • Writer's pictureLeila Roker

Why are employers so unhappy with Gen Z? Can this generation revolutionize the workplace?



Gen Z is known as one of the most disruptive generations in the workplace with their high expectations for salary, work-life balance, career development, diversity requirements, and career development opportunities- but older generations don’t seem to be too fond of this revolutionary approach. In an April survey, ResumeBuilder found that 74% of managers and business leaders reported that they find Gen Z more difficult to work with than other generations.


Although employers may not be thrilled about this new generation’s standards, Gen Z is expected to make up more than 25% of the global workforce by 2025, according to the World Economic Forum. But despite their power in numbers, this new generation of workers faces record-breaking inflation, a volatile job market, and the emergence of AI- so what do realistic career paths look like for Gen Z? And can their extremely high expectations be met?


Generation Z (born 1997-2012) emerged into a job market that was anything but normal. Amongst the COVID-19 pandemic, working from home, and job losses in the millions, Gen Z developed a deep distrust with employers that most develop much later in their careers. And they may have been tipped off on the realities of workplace dysphoria by millennials.


Millennials may be considered the last generation to have tried to follow the ‘Good Old Days’ strategy pioneered by Baby Boomers where they went to college, got a job, changed jobs a couple of times, paid off student loans, bought a house, then settled at a company where they could have a meaningful career, started a family, and finally retired with their 401(k)s. This was anything but the case for millennials.


Why Gen Z is taking notes from millennials


Millennials (born 1981-1996) have been presented with a myriad of challenges in the workplace, causing them to be labeled as the Job Hopping Generation and it’s hard to discern the exact reason as to why many have been disappointed in their careers. Indubitibly some of this turmoil can be attributed to starting their careers at a bad time with the 2008 recession, but from there, employers and employees are split. Many millennial workers attribute their career unrest to low engagement in the workplace. Because employers set high standards while tightening their belts financially, millennials found themselves overworked with little payoff or mentorship in return. The only way they found financial growth was through regularly switching jobs.


Employers; however, say millennials just aren’t cutting it objective-wise and attribute their job-hopping tendencies to being the reason that companies are less invested in their workers because they can’t count on employees' commitment and loyalty. It’s a real chicken and egg dilemma.


Despite millennials’ frustrations within their career, they’re earning more money than any other generation has at their age, but own less because the cost of living has outpaced their wage increases. With a rapidly increasing Consumer Price Index, millennials’ increasing salaries can’t keep up with the interest rates of student loans and skyrocketing prices for home ownership post-Covid. Just 52% of millennials own a home. These discouraging prices have taken a toll: because home ownership is so unattainable, millennials instead are more likely to spend their money on nice clothes or vacations.


Seeing the ramifications of millennials’ job experiences, Generation Z is seeking out financial stability- and is already statistically more financially conscious than their millennial counterparts. And their financial expectations may shock you. Gen Z says they require an average salary of $171,633 to feel financially healthy- the highest income compared to older generations, but the Gen Z median salary rests at just $33,800 per year. Even so, Gen Zers are prepared to work for their money and have even been coined as the ‘Side Hustle’ Generation with 40% of Gen Z workers combining at least two roles. This is mainly done out of necessity and is made possible with hybrid working, but just because it’s a necessity doesn’t mean Gen Z doesn’t find a way to marry passion with an obligation- some of whom have created popular online storefronts, digital consulting freelance, or TikTok accounts.



What is Gen Z looking for in a job?


But when it comes to their ‘main jobs’ what is Gen Z looking for? The short answer is money, work-life balance, and purpose. Handshake found that 80% of Gen Z prioritize salary. Although salary is important, purpose is just as impactful for this generation. When given the choice between a better-paying, but boring job versus work that was more interesting but didn’t pay as well, Gen Z was evenly split between the two options, as cited by Deloitte.


Ultimately, Gen Z values high salaries, benefits like generous Paid Time Off to do leisurely activities to maintain a good work-life balance and mental health, and a sense of purpose in what they’re doing. Another thing Gen Z is looking for that their millennial counterparts missed is mentorship. But in this new job-hopping status quo, Gen Z is expected to hold 17 jobs across 5 different careers in their lifetime, so it begs the question, will employers be invested?


Lastly, Gen Z values Diversity & Inclusion. As the most racially-diverse generation, Gen Zers want to see commitment to diversity in perspective, race, and ethnicity at their place of work.


Which jobs are Gen Z most interested in career-wise? Business, healthcare, and tech- with manufacturing and retail listed as the least appealing for this generation.


Employers are not happy


All this being said, Generation Z doesn’t necessarily get the best wrap in the workplace. So why is that? Because Gen Z so heavily prioritizes work-life balance and mental health, older generations often label them as the ‘Lazy Generation’.



Gen Z’s difference of opinion creates many sources for culture clashes with older generations in the workplace. 55% of Gen Z prefer hybrid working, which is a stark contrast from their older peers. As a digital generation, they also tend to favor instant messaging as a form of communication, which can create a disconnect and miscommunication between older-generation colleagues. This new group also has a different perspective on the classic workplace hierarchy and instead prefers a more collaborative and inclusive environment, which means Gen Z can feel stifled or micromanaged with excessive intervention from middle management.


Employers aren’t responding well to these radical demands and office shakeups. In an April survey by Pollfish, half of employers said they find it difficult to work with Gen Z most or all of the time and two-thirds said they are more likely to fire Gen Z workers than older staffers, sometimes in the first week of employment.


Gen Z faces a tumultuous job market



That’s not all Gen Z has to worry about. Jobs are increasingly demanding for Gen Z, with employers expecting multiple years’ experience for entry-level jobs and having little investment in training. Many employers no longer see the value in training their junior staff and instead thrust them into the gruntwork and expect them to gain expertise through osmosis. Not only are expectations high, there’s competition with AI and the emergence of tools like ChatGPT. So what’s on the horizon for this controversial generation’s career? Well, AI isn’t going anywhere anytime soon so experts recommend learning AI Skills as a strategic career move to keep your seat at the table while incorporating the latest technology.


In terms of the power struggle between employers and Gen Z employees, it remains to be seen who will win. While Generation Z’s tendencies rank unpopular amongst companies, the young generation remains the most populous on earth, so some kind of balance will have to be found to accommodate this disruptive group while satisfying the internal objectives of companies. Even though Gen Z has its side hustle, it will have to find a way to make its main hustle work too.

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