Olivia Jones, November 23, 2021 | 4 min read

How Gen Z is Changing the Future of Work

How does age affect workplace dynamics? We know that age is a complicated and fraught topic when it comes to discussing social dynamics and workplace politics. But there’s no doubt that age and generational differences play an important role in how company culture develops and thrives. A recent popular article from the New York Times brought this discussion to the forefront. Titled “These 37-Year-Olds Are Afraid of the 23-Year-Olds Who Work for Them“, the article discusses how the changing generational makeup of the workforce is pushing older generations, including millennials, to adapt. In this article, we’ll discuss how Gen Z is changing the face of work.

Who are Millennials?

Millennials are people born between the years 1981 and 1996. That means that in 2021, millennials are between 25 and 40 years old. Millennials were alive and aware during 9/11. They were behind the cultural growth of the internet age in the late 90s and early 2000s. Many millennials were graduating from college or early in their careers when the stock market crashed in 2007.

What is Gen Z?

Gen Z is the generation after millennials, and it includes everyone born between 1997 and 2012. In 2021, members of the Gen Z generation are between 24 and 9 years old. Socially and politically, they share many similarities with millennials, the key difference being that most members of Gen Z don’t remember a time before today’s advanced technology. If millennials were shaped by coming of age during the economic crisis and 9/11, Gen Z has been shaped by coming of age during protests for racial justice and the COVID-19 pandemic. 20% of people aged 20-24 [Gen Z] lost their jobs during the early months of the pandemic.

How Gen Z is changing the future of work

It’s important that we discuss how Gen Z is changing the future of work. There are 67 million Gen Z’ers, and over the next decade, most of them will be entering the workforce, if they haven’t already. Gen Z is the most racially and ethnically diverse US generation, and their unique generational perspective will push corporate America to change and adapt along with them. Here’s how.

Emphasis on social equality

Gen Z’ers are passionate about social justice issues and want their employers to share their concerns. In many cases, they see traditional corporate culture as something that needs to be updated to fit the changing times. 39% of Gen Z’ers who identify as ethnic minorities say they were discriminated against at work often or all of the time. Gen Z’ers are also twice as likely to care about issues of equality than any other generation. This generation expects more comprehensive social inclusion policies from their employers.

Skepticism of big business

For a long time, big businesses with respectability and social cachet haven’t had to work too hard to bring in young talent. The power of a recognizable name, like Goldman Sachs or Facebook, was enough to attract hundreds of qualified applicants. This is no longer the case. Gen Z’ers are suspicious of big business, not seduced by it. They want to see concrete proof that companies are working for social change, and this social activism is an effective predictor of consumer activity among this age group. In one survey, 16.6% of people aged 21-29 said that a company’s activism and philanthropy would attract them to a job opportunity.

Digital natives

As we mentioned, one key feature of Gen Z is that they are digital natives, meaning that they grew up with access to technology like computers, smartphones, and the internet. Unlike previous generations, Gen Z’ers usually don’t remember what it was like to live without these tools of technology. They’re also more comfortable with technology’s rapid evolutions and the widespread use of social media. Gen Z’ers are pushing their employers to keep up with the latest technology.

Career changes

Because many Gen Z’ers have yet to enter the workforce, it’s difficult to say exactly what their career trajectories will look like. But we can take some cues from the millennial generation here and say that Gen Z’ers will likely have the same job-hopping work style as their millennial colleagues. Gen Z is disillusioned with the traditional corporate trajectory; one study suggests that 54% of Gen Z’ers aspire to own their own business. Stagnating wages and rising education costs are driving young people to look for career alternatives.

We could see a corporate leadership void in the coming years as baby boomers and Gen X’ers retire and Gen Z’ers, who increasingly eschew climbing the corporate ladder, make up a greater percentage of the workforce.

Setting trends

In popular culture, the loudest voices are those who are most active on social media, which usually means Gen Z. Gen Z’ers, and their consumption of TV, movies, memes and even TikTok videos are creating significant, powerful cultural and social changes in our world. Young people are setting fashion trends and even bringing back corded headphones. One of the key points of that New York Times article is how even millennials, who not long ago were the trend-setting generation, feel left behind by Gen Z’s rapid cultural evolution and clear dictation of cool-vs-uncool. Any company whose business revolves around selling products or experiences desperately needs to stay plugged into Gen Z and what they find cool or popular.

There are many ways Gen Z is changing the future of work, and because only about 50% of the generation is of working age in 2021, we still don’t know just what their impact will be. We do know this: the future is theirs, and any company looking for longevity would do well to keep an eye on these trends.