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June 24, 2020

Generation Z in the Workplace: The Impact of COVID-19

What do you do when you’re just getting started in your career, and the whole world turns upside down? 

This is the situation facing Gen Z (anyone born since 1997, according to Pew) — an age group noted by some observers for its pragmatic approach to work and tendency to value both financial and psychological safety. Until March, these expectations seemed well-aligned with nearly a decade’s worth of steady economic growth and stability. But with the economy upended by a global pandemic, what does that mean for Generation Z in the workplace? 

According to a recent survey from social impact consultancy DoSomethingStrategic, only one quarter of young people already in the workforce have not been impacted by job loss as a result of COVID-19, and 40% have lost their job completely. Meanwhile, amongst the younger of the Gen Zers — many of whom saw their older millennial siblings struggle through the Great Recession in 2007-2009 — a whopping 92% report they are worried about the long-term economic impacts of COVID-19. 

We spoke with three experts on Gen Z to find out how employers can align their hiring and retention strategies to reflect shifts in the workforce and respond to this moment. Here’s what they told us. 

1. Invest in learning and well-being

One suggestion for attracting and keeping Generation Z in the workplace: Employers should consider shifting their mindset from a degree-based hiring model to one more focused on competency and hiring for skills, says Jeffery TD Wallace, CEO of LeadersUp — a non-profit organization that connects young talent from overlooked populations with employment opportunities and talent development solutions. 

“You really have to invest in your learning and development infrastructure, and upskill these Gen Zers who are coming into this company,” Wallace says, stressing the importance of professional development, microlearning or certification opportunities to both entice and retain a knowledge-hungry generation.

And while financial compensation is always welcome, Wallace also suggests offering benefits that align closely to their values and “help employees feel well,” such as mental health services, housing assistance, tuition reimbursement and investment programs. 

2. Speak to them, not at them, when defining your culture

Gen Zers’ desire for a workplace culture of stability, comfort and inclusivity will be especially important in the wake of COVID-19, says recruiting strategist and author Jack Whatley. “Culture is the number one factor for success … it handles your psychological and physical needs. They’re not going to want your money if they don’t get along in your environment.” 

It’s also important to remember that “inclusivity” speaks not only to diversity in demographics but to the sense of belonging someone feels in their environment. Instead of dictating how things are done, try listening, Wallace says, and shape your company values around theirs instead. 

“Gen Z wants coaching. They don’t want supervisors; they want folks that are going to challenge them also around their performance, and build out an inclusive environment that is psychologically safe.”

3. Take a “human-first” approach to branding

Building a powerful employer brand campaign doesn’t necessarily mean you have to shell out thousands on advertising, or offer the perks and Instagram-worthy offices that (until recently, at least) have been synonymous with millennial workplace culture. 

“You don’t have to compete with Google if they’re not your competition. All you have to do is be a little bit better than the next guy — no more, no less,” Whatley says.

It’s also worth noting that Gen Z spends a significant amount of time on social media channels actively looking for jobs — perhaps now more than ever. Focusing on social media know-how and improving your online presence may give the biggest ROI, Whatley continues. Beyond being where they are, it’s also important that your company’s brand messaging speaks to who they are:

“We can no longer treat everyone as if they’re a herd of cattle — it’s not a ‘one-size-fits-all’ scenario. The modern workforce now demands a certain level of personalization to what they do. With basic principles rooted in human behavior and psychology, you’ll attract the people that you need.”

4. Remember that authenticity is mutually beneficial

With young job seekers especially attuned to how businesses treat employees in response to the coronavirus, now is a great time to reexamine your image. “Gen Z wants corporate America to do a better job saving the world,” Wallace explains. “That sentiment is going to pay a higher price in employer brand equity.”

Your company’s actions need to reflect your brand’s narrative to match Gen Z’s elevated expectations around brand behavior, Whatley continues. The more genuine and real your actions are, the more likely you are to keep Generation Z in the workplace. 

“It’s incumbent upon us to tell the people what it would really be like to be there, and why we do what we do. Realize that you’re not doing them a favor if you’re not. Stay true to who you are, and what you are.” 

Where do we go from here?

Companies face an uphill battle to address a multitude of challenges brought on by COVID-19. But, it’s imperative not to discount Generation Z in the workplace, as the demographic will soon enough comprise the bulk of your workforce, Wallace says. Small changes your business makes on an individual level can have a big impact as companies collectively look toward rebuilding the world of work:

“The future of America’s economy relies on us not leaving Gen Z out of the growth strategy, and the recovery strategy.”

Article By: Kristy Threlkeld