Cracking the Gen Z Code: Think You Know Them? Think Again.

It’s been a given that when one generation of workers retires, there’d be a new generation to take their place in the workforce. That “given” might be changing, as the current crop of 18 to 22-year-olds (known as Generation Z or Gen Z) is finding different ways to earn a living. With job openings on the rise and 10,000 baby boomers retiring daily, what can you do to attract workers who have a more independent mindset than previous generations?

Born in 1995 and after, Gen Z came of age during difficult economic times that culminated in 2009. A New York Times article compared Gen Z to the Traditionalist Generation (born before 1946). By growing up in a time of recession, they’re more pragmatic and skeptical than their slightly older peers.1 Both professionally and financially, stability will likely be very important to Gen Z.

For one thing, they want to be in charge of their own destiny, even more so than earlier generations. Instant access, social media, and digital technology have always been part of their world, and virtual connections are the norm. Because they have nearly unlimited access to information, media, and data, they tend to be aware of the world around them, making them arguably the savviest generation in history.

Who’s the boss?

So, how does this generation envision their careers? Here are some important findings uncovered in an extensive survey of Gen Zers by Northeastern University:3

  • In general, Gen Z is composed of self-starters who have a strong desire to be autonomous. 63% of them report that they want colleges to teach them about being an entrepreneur.
  • 42% expect to be self-employed later in life, and this percentage is higher among minorities.
  • Despite the rising cost of higher education, 81% of Gen Z members surveyed believe going to college is extremely important.
  • Gen Z has a lot of anxiety around debt, and not only student loan debt. They’re very interested in being well educated about finances.

Gen Z snapshot

Like their millennial counterparts, Gen Z is composed of digital natives who are constantly connected.

According to Digitalist Magazine, Gen Z (which some call the iGeneration or heads-down generation) was born with a digital device in their hand. They will try to swipe any graphic they see, will not memorize anything they can Google, and really don’t need to know how to use a pencil.1

They’re accustomed to accessing information and entertainment instantaneously, and prefer to solve problems by turning to YouTube or other video platforms for tutorials and ways to troubleshoot before asking for help.2

Shifting gears in the workplace

Against this backdrop, attracting the next generation to traditional jobs will be challenging. While you may not be able to change the inherent job duties, you can adjust the job experience.

Flexible work schedules, including part-time and freelance opportunities, are expected to be a big part of the Gen Z world. Supporting this fact: there are now 53.7 million freelance workers in the U.S. — a third of the nation’s workforce.4 For those who do choose to work for a company, these young employees do not expect to remain with the same business for more than a few years.

For recruiters and company leaders, hiring and retaining employees from Gen Z with its evolving preferences about work means modernizing decades-old policies on acceptable work hours and other business norms.

Be ready to communicate continually, using a variety of platforms.

Know where to find Gen Z by connecting to the same professional networks (which will frequently change).

Be transparent, since this generation is skeptical and demands authenticity.

Offer flexibility, which will be increasingly important as we move away from the traditional 9-to-5 structure and work becomes more about life and less about work.

Planning to call their own shots

Interest in entrepreneurship runs high in Gen Z. Even though only 6.6% of the American workforce is currently self-employed,2 the growth of online retailing and devices from, which allows small businesses to process credit cards from their smartphones, is making self-employment more achievable.

Prepare to allot more money to retrain existing staff to cover positions that are difficult to fill as more employees turn to less traditional income opportunities.

Adapt to the new reality of the “liquid workforce,” which is focused around projects rather than roles.

Use internships to teach Gen Z various aspects of your business.

In light of the dramatic workplace changes that Gen Z and millennials are demanding, it is critical for business owners to find new ways to attract and engage employees. In short, recruiting in this environment will require employers to be “part wizard, part astronaut, part diplomat, and part guidance counselor.”5

The age of one-size-fits-all HR is over

Need HR solutions as personal as the business you run? With ADP® as your strategic HR partner, we can design a strategy that responds to changing economic conditions, the digital revolution, the freelance economy, and changing talent demands.

1 “8 Important Things You Must Learn From Millennials,” June 2015.
2 “What Gen Z’s Arrival In The Workforce Means For Recruiters,” October 2015.
3 “Generation Z Is Entrepreneurial, Wants to Chart Its Own Future.
4 “ADP, Reinventing HR for the Digital Economy.”
5 “Recruiting’s New Reality: A People-Centric Paradox,” July 2015.

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