Employing Gen Z: Opportunities and Potential

Today’s professionals have reason to be hopeful. Despite the unprecedented impact of a global pandemic, work as we know it has changed for good. Now is a chance for all to hit refresh as the first of Gen Z joins the workforce. Also known as zoomers, these youth have never known a world without the Internet – born from 1995 to 2012, they learnt to walk as technology took great leaps to fit an entire world in the palm of their hand. Even the youngest of this cohort enjoys almost uninterrupted access to devices, learning as much from influencers as they do from school.

It is tempting to simply return to business as usual, but we all face a paradigm shift with Gen Z; by 2025 they will make up 25% of the Asia Pacific (APAC) population[1] alongside millennials. While the professional landscape as we know it could change irreversibly, there is great potential for positive change as they navigate their careers.

Both millennials and zoomers have lived with COVID-19, and it has taken a toll. Almost 50% of this group feel burnt out due to the intensity of their workloads[2]. Though the pandemic forced employers to look beyond office-based perks to raise morale, more than half of zoomers surveyed agree that while their organisation now talks more about mental health, it has not resulted in any meaningful impact on employees.

Employers can do more than promote ‘business as usual’; they could recognise those who performed at a high level in difficult times, commit to supporting mental health, and build resilience. Acknowledging hardships experienced collectively can do more than just increase morale; leaders who model speaking openly about stress and taking steps to prevent burnout may help address concerns of the 12% of Gen Z who left their job because it was detrimental to their mental health, with another 12% specifically citing burnout as their reason for leaving.

Attrition aside, the stigma of mental health issues in an increasingly stressful world can be supported without singling out or discriminating against employees. Moreover, it is an opportunity for potential leaders to influence without authority and develop executive presence centred around authenticity rather than results alone. Company-wide initiatives are not only easier to implement and measure for employee engagement – benefits can bolster positive employer branding through initiatives such as paid days off for mental health or sponsoring gym costs.

While these measures may seem superficial, when executed with purpose, they can showcase the company as a worthwhile place to work. This can also motivate young professionals to feel less isolated and motivate themselves – and the proof is in the pudding. Zoomers rate a positive work experience as the top priority when making employment decisions, followed by product or service quality and the ability of business leaders to project empathy[3].

Catering to emerging needs doesn’t necessarily mean giving up hard-earned benefits, or caving to pressure from impatient or vocal teammates. This is especially true when it comes to the labour market. There are, however, longstanding assumptions that millennials and zoomers do not know what they want or do not believe in hard work – perhaps unfairly attributed to millennials’ job hopping and zoomers refusing to come in early, stay late or perform overtime. Where is this cognitive dissonance coming from, and how do we combat it?

Our lived experience of the COVID-19 pandemic alone should tell us the reality – many worked harder and longer, blurring the lines between time spent on work versus time at home. So, if millennials and zoomers arguably contribute as much as anyone else – why is there this lingering sense that they are entitled? The answer is simple: no one is free of bias. Unconscious bias in the workplace can be a source of tension, but it is also a window of opportunity as we try to redefine what social capital and influence mean in the new normal.

Ensuring flexibility in a life less defined by work is something generations before millennials and zoomers expect upon reaching the C suite or saving enough to retire comfortably. It can seem jarring and elicit negative feelings when zoomers articulate needing downtime to do their best work or cite FIRE (Financial Independence Retire Early) as a personal mission or mantra.

It is understandably hard to recognise unconscious biases against colleagues, especially when based on sensitive demographics such as age, gender and income. That said, it is particularly important for leaders to address this on a personal level and take steps to ensure that pay equity, internal hiring or promotion are not impacted by their own blind spots when it comes to identifying, developing and retaining talent.

Working with business partners from other functions is good business acumen here: being strategic about such risks and managing them through checks and balances can ensure that inclusive hiring policies, internal transfers or leadership searches aren’t derailed by otherwise good intentions.

Presenteeism for example will present a unique problem – in our newly hybrid workplaces, merely showing up should not factor into performance, and some may struggle with this when they felt rewarded for attendance in the past. Similarly, rewarding employees who declare they want a promotion or a raise should not be considered an easy fix for talent management either.

Objectives and key results, or OKRs, must be defined at the individual and team levels and measured against the business outcomes desired from the entire function over time. Planning for this can provide clarity on career progression for each team member and optimise workforce planning – not just for management, but anyone who might need such structure to be motivated and perform.

While it may seem daunting at first, there are ready talent pools for leaders who advocate for and sponsor such initiatives – graduate or management trainee programmes hire from polytechnics and universities while career conversion programmes for professionals looking to pivot are gaining popularity. These regular cohorts of newly skilled employees can be effective for attrition, filling junior or generalist roles (as existing hires progress further in their field or organisation), and contribute to the local economy by boosting employment rates.

These programmes also provide a framework for transferable skills – especially attractive due to salary increases expected upon successful completion and securing job offers. Such a condensed yet structured and skills-based approach to talent shortages can be a powerful value proposition for employers when faced with cash-rich companies or strong consumer brands competing for the same candidates. Offering job security and stability to grow in their role does appeal to zoomers; good work/life balance, learning and development opportunities, and a high salary were their top three reasons for choosing their current organisation[4].

It is common these days to hear it’s a jobseeker’s market; recruiters jostle for talent, yet zoomer candidates are either disengaged to the extent of ‘ghosting’ interviewers or so laser focused on determining the best company or salary that they end up with analysis paralysis. It is worthwhile to consider how this group feels about working for financial security amid an economic downturn – and how it impacts the mental health they value highly.

Cost of living is the top concern when it comes to finances; about half of millennials and zoomers say they live from paycheck to paycheck and worry about covering expenses[5]. It is clear from rising costs and inflation that these are not unfounded concerns – in 2021, 40 per cent of zoomers in Singapore said they feel anxious or stressed all or most of the time[6].

Managers and leadership teams may struggle to see an opportunity in such a gloomy outlook; how can they incentivise workers who can’t seem to make ends meet? Adding to this complexity are recruiters appearing to work against rather than with qualified candidates, who typically avoid changing jobs due to the stigma of job-hopping or the hassle of applying and interviewing while still employed. There is also a widely held belief that HR representatives are not interested in giving the ‘best price’ or highest salary, and that any negotiation could result in the offer being rescinded entirely.

Given these challenges, it can be a losing battle to try and address a pervasive disconnect with the hiring process and how it fails to serve zoomers looking for work. It is no wonder then that some have decided to decentralise what was previously highly guarded data to ensure their efforts pay off – and progressive employers could learn a thing or two when it comes to salary equity and total rewards.

Millennials still tend to accept the idea of overtime as a means of paying their dues or earning promotions as a result of tenure or seniority. Zoomers prefer being paid ‘upfront’ for work they will do in the short- to mid-term and don’t necessarily believe that being highly skilled contributors who create real impact for the company is compatible with filial piety or seniority in the workplace.

The difference here, interestingly, could be in the fine print: millennials entered the workforce in a time when transport and meal allowances were common as part of standard employment contract clauses for documented overtime; this was the norm to earn lucrative bonuses. Zoomers operate in an age where contracts state explicitly what working hours are and that any overtime will not be compensated. They also want to break down barriers and build trust through transparency, especially when it comes to what they are paid for.

In the tech industry for example, anonymous lists outline software engineer (SWE) salaries by years of experience (YOE) and internal banding per function. It is almost impossible to trace a single culprit when almost every company hiring SWEs is represented, which can only mean that many employees contribute data to demystify salary negotiations. Perhaps that could explain the ‘ghosting’ some interviewers encounter?

From websites like levels.fyi[7] to some governments now compelling employers to reveal salaries in job postings, the signal is clear as day – previous attitudes and taboos about discussing the cost of living, and being paid enough to afford it, have changed. Companies will need to do the same to keep the typical zoomer’s attention, and stay in the game.

Employing Gen Z doesn’t have to feel forced or awkward, but it isn’t as simple as getting interns to run your social media or make Tik Toks for hiring either. These tools are a means to an end for zoomers: they want authenticity, diversity, and to feel a sense of belonging. While these may appear idealistic at first glance, they are key to what Gen Z considers a positive workplace experience.

Zoomers want to be seen and feel heard – they should be involved in what the company does, how it delivers to customers and have a say in how they are treated. They want to work for leaders who go beyond culture and values to shape policies in ways that recognise individuals – people who come together for a common cause and positive impact. Successful initiatives could look like a diverse or rotating group of employees working internally with the leadership team for decisions related to any kind of organisational or functional transformation.

Maybe zoomer priorities make more sense now; against the cost of living a life worthy of their hopes and aspirations, these core drivers benefit their mental health and reinforce healthy boundaries for personal goals like communitybuilding and wellness. The expectations of millennials and zoomers on these goals may diverge though, due to their respective roles in evolving employment and breaking the cycle of how we have traditionally joined and participated in the workforce.

Finally, they process a high volume of information faster than any generation before them, but that does not mean they are unfocused or lacking ambition – they are always seeking mutual understanding and to be better. Whether that is through mental and physical well-being, financial security or learning and development, it is up to employers to make their bets on holistic strategies that can win zoomers’ hearts and minds. What we can be sure of is that Gen Z has revitalised our world of work and can help co-create meaningful opportunities for all. ⬛

1 Kim, A., McInerney, P., Smith, T. R., and Yamakawa, N. What makes Asia-Pacific’s Generation Z different? McKinsey & Company. 2020, June 29. Retrieved from: https://www.mckinsey.com/capabilities/growth-marketing-and-sales/our-insights/what-makes-asia-pacifics-generation-z-different
2 Deloitte. The Deloitte Global 2022 Gen Z and Millennial Survey. 2022. Available at: https://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/Deloitte/global/Documents/deloitte-2022-genz-millennial-survey.pdf
3 Gaspar, C., and Waxer, C. Generation Z Behavior: Let’s Make a Difference but Also Watch What Celebrities Buy. SAP. n. d. Retrieved from: https://insights.sap.com/generation-z-behavior-explained/
4 Deloitte. The Deloitte Global 2022 Gen Z and Millennial Survey. 2022. Available at: https://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/Deloitte/global/Documents/deloitte-2022-genz-millennial-survey.pdf
5 Ibid
6 Tan, M. Singapore millennials more stressed than global average: survey. The Business Times. 2021, June 17. Retrieved from: https://www.businesstimes.com.sg/global-enterprise/singapore-millennials-more-stressed-than-global-average-survey
7 levels.fyi is an online platform that helps in comparing career levels and compensation packages across different companies. See: https://www.levels.fyi/


Tasha Enright is a Singaporean career coach and talent consultant who advocates for personal growth and meaningful work that is informed by Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI). She is a youth community lead for the Somerset Belt Project, Mentor/Advisor at Tech For She and member of the *SCAPE board of directors. Tasha was formerly Singapore Managing Director at Girls in Tech, a global nonprofit, and has been in the business of people and culture since 2012.

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