Careers

5 Non-Negotiables For Gen Z Workers In 2023—And Why They Matter


Meeting these needs for Gen Z will satisfy every other working generation, too.

Gen Z, born approximately 1997–2012, are beginning to make an impact in the workforce. As the oldest members of this generation start to find their way in the professional world, they’ve already been fairly vocal about what they want and need from their employer. Leaders interested in recruiting and retaining this talented generation can take heart: what they want isn’t all that complicated.

In many ways, Gen Z is a benchmark generation. What they’re asking for at work and in other areas of life is, oftentimes, what other generations are thinking but just not saying out loud.

Here are five areas where Gen Z (and every other working generation) want to see changes for the better at work.

1. Robust learning & development

Gen Z has already made a name for themselves as a generation highly committed to advancing their skills and thus their careers. According to LinkedIn’s Workplace Learning Report 2021, 76% of Gen Z workers see learning as the key to their advancement. Additionally, LinkedIn found that 67% of Gen Z learners spent more time learning on their platform than in 2019. As a generation, they logged 50% more hours watching online courses than learners of any other age.

These younger workers’ desire to learn, grow and upskill is likely on intensified by the challenging economic conditions of the moment. There’s nothing like an economic downturn to sharpen your focus on becoming more marketable. While this holds true for all working generations, Gen Z especially feels the need to gain a competitive advantage in this fast-changing market.

The best L&D cultures are those where the content to be mastered is not mandated from the top down. L&D that is experienced as a benefit, instead of as a chore, is where employees can self-direct what they want to learn. A buffet of valuable training opportunities can inspire workers of all ages to skill up—and stay put.

2. Real mental health support

Even before the pandemic fully struck the U.S., younger workers were looking for better mental health support from their employers. Then Covid-19 entered the picture, forever changing how we work and live.

The pandemic was hard on everyone’s mental health, but Gen Z felt it in unique ways, with a study by Alight finding that 46% of Gen Z employees experienced a decline in their mental health due to the pandemic. Others of this generation were still students at the time of the shutdowns, thereby missing once-in-a-lifetime events like graduation, extracurricular activities and other milestone moments. This stress has carried over into the workforce, where many younger workers are finding it harder to stay mentally healthy.

Unsurprisingly, employers that offer mental health support benefits tend to inspire deeper loyalty on the part of employees. The Travelers Mental Wellness Checkup found that 30% of respondents whose employers provided ample mental health resources also said that their ability to manage stress improved during the pandemic, and one-third (33%) noted that loyalty to their employer increased.

In a similar fashion, 85% of respondents in the Alight survey agreed that “wellbeing programs offered by my employer make me feel better about my employer,” up 4 points from the previous year.

The takeaway? Mental health challenges aren’t solving themselves, and workers of all ages would appreciate an employer who provides the support to tackle these issues productively.

3. Financial wellness training

Money is a topic that comes up a lot with the younger generations, often because they don’t feel equipped to handle it wisely or stay out of debt. Adulting is hard—and in a tough economy, it’s even harder. Financial wellness training goes hand in glove with mental health support, since financial pressures can have a significant adverse effect on a person’s mental health.

That’s one reason that financial wellness training is gaining steam as a benefit of choice in 2023 and likely beyond. Not only does it benefit workers of all ages who need guidance in this area, but it also has advantages for the organization.

Employees who are stressed with their financial situation are not only distracted from their work, but also more likely to jump ship if they can get a higher offer somewhere else. Offering financial wellness training can proactively address these issues, as well as contribute to a culture of overall employee satisfaction and wellbeing.

4. Genuine human connection

While the overnight switch to remote work was jarring for everyone, it was especially tricky for young people just starting their careers. Imagine navigating new coworker relationships and trying to learn the ropes without any face-to-face context whatsoever. Even the digitally native younger generations found it tougher than they expected.

Human connection is paramount in the workplace, and while it’s possible to foster in a virtual environment, it’s a lot harder. A recent study by Airspeed bears this out. Ninety-five percent of C-suite respondents admitted their company culture and sense of connection are poor. Three-quarters believe that their employees would make significant sacrifices to work for another company where they would feel a deeper connection with their teammates.

A human connection pivots on three vital questions: Do you see me? Do you hear me? And do I, in fact, matter? If a Gen Z worker feels the answer to any of these questions is a no, you’ve lost them. They will not move forward with you or bring their best contribution to the work at hand. Why should they?

Though other generations can get along without a genuine human connection, there is no question that taking the time to forge it yields significantly better outcomes in the workplace. So much of effective leadership is simply connecting with people on a meaningful level. No matter what generation they’re from, they will respond positively to feeling seen, heard and valued.

5. Purpose

Gen Z is known for their activism in the causes that matter to them. They combine the hardheaded realism and practicality of their Baby Boomer forebears with the idealism and passion typical of youth. Thus, they want a job that pays the bills, fits their life and contributes to the betterment of the world in some way, shape or form. In other words, they want their work to have purpose that is bigger than just the paycheck.

This is why, together with the Millennials, Gen Z is sometimes called “the Why Generation.” They have to have an answer to that question for everything they do. This encompasses big-picture questions of purpose and vision as well as the day-to-day processes and tasks that are required of them. Whether they ask them aloud or not, younger workers want to know: Why do we do it this way? What’s the reason behind this responsibility? Why does my work matter?

The ‘why’ is what motivates these young workers to put forth their best effort. When their employer inspires them with a world-bettering vision for the daily grind, that daily grind becomes a place to excel. And of course, a compelling ‘why’ can inspire greater effort from other working generations, who will buy in more deeply when the vision is clear.

5 strategies to engage in 2023

Fostering a culture of learning & development, offering mental health and financial wellness training, genuine human connection and purpose beyond the paycheck: all of these things are fast becoming imperatives for the up and coming generation of workers. The question is, which one do you work on first?

Every organization is different and where you choose to focus your efforts will depend on what’s most important to your people. Take some time to gather feedback and get a feel for what kind of benefits are most important to the team. Then, make it happen. Even if you achieve just one of these five areas in 2023, it will go a long way to recruiting and retaining Gen Z—and every other generation.



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