By connecting organizations with the values of Gen Z and the “Class of COVID-19,” talent leaders can provide the systems of support necessary to attract and retain top young talent far into the future.
by Calvin Coffee
July 25, 2022
As a new generation of workers enter the talent pool and begin their careers, successful organizations must understand their circumstances and values. With recent graduates having college experiences thrown sideways by the pandemic, this “Class of COVID” will play a crucial role now and in the future of the changing workplace. Increasingly advocating for more honest, supportive workplaces, this new generation of workers intends to lead with purpose and a digital-ready mindset.
According to iCIMS’ 2022 “Class of COVID” report, 54 percent of HR and recruiting professionals reported their entry-level hiring in 2022 exceeds 2021. Without enough workers to fill current job openings and with fears of The Great Resignation and job hopping, hiring and retaining Generation Z workers is vital to the long-term success of organizations.
Who is Gen Z?
Relegated to their bedrooms for much of their college experience, the graduating classes of 2020, 2021 and 2022 make for a unique class of candidates. While many assume these younger workers will switch jobs at the first opportunity, 91 percent of recent graduates care about how long they stay with their employer and 70 percent of those surveyed want to stay with their employer long term.
“There’s a need for stability for that class of COVID-19. Particularly given everything that’s been going on, many want one thing to be steady, that they can count on and grow their career with,” says Susan Vitale, chief marketing officer at iCIMS. Many are just looking for the right place to grow — and stay. “They’re incredibly talented folks who want to stay within your organization, who want to build a long-term career, who need stability given the last couple of years.”
Given their experience away from in-person learning and age, it makes sense that in-person socialization with their colleagues is important to seven in 10 Gen Zers. “They want to go into an office again, having missed out on that during college and internships,” says Vitale. While that doesn’t mean they prefer a traditional five days in the office work week, it does mean that connecting with colleagues is important.
About 70 percent of college seniors and grads would prefer some remote work, but 90 percent indicate they would go into an office if needed. Even still, about a third of employers who responded to the survey thought that Gen Z had unrealistic expectations in terms of work flexibility.
“Gen Z workers value work-life balance. They value their time and focusing on what they’re passionate about, and doing their best work,” says Christina Gialleli, director of people operations at Epignosis. “Saving hours and hours of pointless commutes definitely helps towards that.”
The ideal workplace for Gen Z is flexible and aligns with their own values. Joining the workforce, it’s essential for most of Gen Z employees to feel like they’re somewhere they belong and are supported. These entry-level workers “want to work for a workplace that they trust. They want to see open communication, they want to see diversity and inclusion and they are going to leave a place if they don’t have that,” says Gialleli. “It’s a great thing for organizations as well. It’s about time everyone started actively becoming a better place to work.”
Gen Zers look for empathy and honesty in their leaders. According to a TalentLMS survey, these workers want transparent, supportive leaders who can listen. It’s important they can go to a leader who understands their way of thinking and can adapt their leadership style.
These values, driven by Gen Z workers, are pushing the workplace forward. The types of honest relationships generated by Gen Z’s commitment to values are refreshing, Gialleli says. Instead of a no-questions-asked style of command and control, it all ties together with finding meaning in their work and “trusting their work and the company they work for. They need to understand why they’re doing whatever they’re doing. It makes for a more honest workplace, which I think is fantastic.”
Ultimately, Gen Z just wants to be supported for success and growth in their jobs and lives. From mental health to increased transparency and flexibility, their requirements push better work practices forward.
These workers want to be seen as whole human beings for which work is just one part of their life — one significant aspect of that is mental health support from their employer. According to the iCIMS survey, 67 percent of college seniors and recent graduates expect their employer to support their mental health through discussions and actions.
There are so many ways to support mental health without much cost. “For companies who don’t prioritize that, it just seems like a mess,” Vitale says. “You can’t have this leaky bucket where you’re putting in all the money and time to hire and then lose them, especially for things you can control.” Workplace flexibility and moving away from five days a week in the office can have a considerable impact.
Mental health days are essential to 82 percent of employed Gen Z workers, as 31 percent find coping with stress at work difficult, and 28 percent find keeping a work-life balance difficult. As a result, this generation of workers “has normalized mental health and talking about it in the workplace,” Gialleli says. “Addressing those needs, getting mental health days at work, getting coaching on stress and training them and helping them out is going to make people happier, and it’s going to make them stay with the company.”
Gen Z workers are driven by passion and a sense of purpose. “They are responsive to the things we share with them around our purpose,” says John Jordan, managing director and head of The Academy at Bank of America. “And they are very engaged in things like employee networks early on and volunteer events early on and really asking insightful questions about what it means to work here and why we are who we are.”
Coming into new organizations, the increased importance of employee value propositions to potential workers is more crucial than ever. According to a recent Bank of America study with Georgetown University, 63 percent of Gen Z and Millennials agree that employee benefits are more important than ever. “We’ve found that [Gen Z] is very interested in comprehensive benefits, not just about money; that’s one small piece of the puzzle,” says Jordan. “They really want to look at the entire experience.”
Two-thirds of job seekers say they must personally align with a company’s mission and core values when applying for a job, according to an iCIMS survey. About 40 percent of recent graduates said it was important for the employer to show they aligned with their values from a social perspective. Further, investments in diversity and inclusion for these young workers are not so much a preference as they are a requirement for their potential employers — 77 percent of Gen Z workers find it important to work for a company that supports diversity, equity and inclusion.
Beyond support for mental health and DEIB initiatives, it is paramount organizations support their talent with internal growth opportunities. Given about 70 percent of these young candidates want to stay with their employer long-term, companies that clearly outline job growth opportunities and a map for moving up in the company can “go a long way to attract the right entry-level talent who just want to feel secure in their work,” says Rebecca Croucher, head of North America marketing at ManpowerGroup.
Gen Z at work
According to a survey by TalentLMS, only 64 percent of working Gen Zers are satisfied with how well their education has prepared them for the workplace. “Not only does Gen Z feel underprepared, the employers really feel that too,” says Misty Frost, CEO of Penn Foster. “This is a wildly different environment they’ve never been in before, and they don’t know how to navigate.”
Penn Foster is launching a free course around strategies for career success to address this dilemma. The program includes courses on communicating with coworkers, managing job expectations and gaining practical life skills in a professional environment. Being deliberate about creating clarity around job roles and expectations is critical for success from day one, Frost says.
For much of the COVID class who have never worked in an office before, connecting entry-level workers to the broader culture of the organization is critical. “The biggest problem is that you start and never really feel like you’re on our team. You never really develop those relationships. Slack is awesome, but it’s only so intimate,” Frost says. “Onboarding and early-stage cultural support are super important in the virtual environment. You have to be very deliberate about creating those experiences so that people can create the connection.”
If given the opportunities and support to succeed and grow in their roles, Gen Z will flourish. “It’s a generation that’s very focused on experience, very focused on an end-to-end benefit, very focused on purpose,” Jordan says. “We have found great onboarding and welcome to the company as a key part of keeping them.” But according to a Gallup study, just 12 percent of employees say their companies do a good job onboarding new hires.
As we move toward the future of work, many entry-level workers expect the shift to virtual in the pandemic to continue growing. “There are different skills coming out of college now, even versus five years ago. They’ve learned to really navigate from a digital perspective,” says Croucher.
Having grown up most of their lives with technology and emerging media, Gen Z’s digital lifestyle makes them more than ready for the new digital world of work. At Bank of America, where 30,000 employees in their financial centers already use virtual reality, new virtually-versed talent can help push digital initiatives into the future of work.
“They’re coming up with all kinds of great ideas, not only about how we can improve training, and where we could use virtual reality, but also just thinking about that technology and how clients might want to use it,” Jordan says. “They’re the ones that dive fastest into the pool, if you will. And they’re the ones who are giving us the fastest feedback. It’s been extremely helpful to open my eyes to things that we may not have even thought about.”
Leave it better than you found it
Investing in the future generations of workers by fostering relationships built on empathy and honesty has an immense impact on organizational success. By connecting employers with the values of Gen Z and the “Class of COVID-19,” talent leaders can provide the systems of support necessary to attract and retain top young talent far into the future.
Being a supportive teammate for future generations of workers and building a better workplace alongside the evolving values of talent will only help organizations move forward.
“We all want good things for our kids, we all want the next generation to be successful,” Jordan says. “As a teammate at the bank, I want to be able to look back when I retire and see that it was left in hands who are very purpose driven, who do care about making it a great place to work and are passing along that investment from one generation to the next.”