Generation Gap: Workplace Needs of Millennials vs Gen Z
By Nai Kanell
It’s common to conflate the professional needs and goals of Millennials vs Gen Z. Both groups make up the youngest and, combined, largest portion of today’s workforce. Both were introduced to technology at a far earlier age than Gen X and the Baby Boomers and both crave meaningful work.
While the similarities between the two generations are numerous, Gen Z came of age during a time of action, the Obama era of hope and change. Millennials, however, had just entered the workforce or had been working for a few years under the accustomed business standards of the time. Both Gen Z and Millennials experienced the same societal tragedies and innovations at a younger age, but what they made of them is where the views on working and workplaces differ.
Gen Z is the generation of real improvement. As middle and high school students, they watched as the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and the Affordable Care Act were signed into law. To them, the legislation promised a fairer, more equitable society was within reach. They witnessed their parents struggle under the weight of the Great Recession. Gen Z’ers graduated high school and college as the #MeToo movement erupted and women began demanding equal pay by disclosing their own earnings. All of this dictates what Gen Z prioritizes in the workplace: financial stability; pay transparency and equity; safe, harassment-free careers; healthcare benefits; regular, in-person feedback; and loyalty.
Most of the same can be said of Millennials’ priorities, except loyalty. This is, perhaps, due in part to Gen Z witnessing massive layoffs, foreclosures, and financial collapse during their formative years. They’ll work harder to advance within the same company and move up the ladder, but aren’t as discouraged as Millennials when advancement doesn’t happen as quickly as they’d like. In fact, a 2018 Gallup poll showed that 60% of Millennials “were open to new job opportunities,” the turnover of which costs the U.S. economy $30.5 billion annually.
One explanation for their divergent attitudes toward financial stability and professional loyalty is that, while Millennials grew up, the U.S. economy flourished and Gen Z, still living at-home, were first-hand witnesses to financial insecurity. Millennials are less humble when it comes to accepting a job offer because, as much as they want a substantial paycheck, they want status. One study found that 64% of Millennials wouldn’t work in construction, even for a $100,000 annual salary. Leisure and hospitality industries are among the most popular and lowest paying positions sought by Millennials (read more on Millennials in the workplace). what For Gen Z, having a steady paycheck is more of a priority than a high-status job. In this regard, they’re more like baby-boomers, who are loyal and prefer monetary rewards to symbolic ones, than millennials.
Another common misconception of Gen Z’ers, who practically grew up tethered to their smartphones, is that they’re tech-obsessed and require a screen to interact with other humans. While their personal lives may include a lot of Snapchat and Bitmojis, Gen Z actually prefers in-person socialization in the workplace—a preference that may also explain their preference for working in corporate or co-working environments over remote offices. Contrary to many assumptions, Millennials also favor an office setting over working remotely. According to a survey compiled by Randstad, 39% of Millennials and Gen Z believe in-person communication with their colleagues is more effective than email, phone, social media, instant messages, video conferences, text messaging, and a “company communication portal”.
Though these groups may have different opinions on long-term tenure and ways to advance, both say communication is the top quality sought in their leaders, based on Randstad’s findings; support with work came in second. A key point to remember is both generations were children who received “participation trophies” for athletic and scholastic involvement. For them, the workplace is no different. Regardless of outcome, Millennials and Gen Z want managers to nurture and listen to them, as an expression of their value to the company. Although each generation wants to feel supported, Gen Z is more likely to return that support when promoted to leadership positions, making pay increases their highest priority.
Generally, Gen Z’ers are more focused on pay parity and disclosure—a likely reflection of their candor about their personal lives, views on gender and sexual orientation, and left-leaning political affiliations. They are the generation that put both fairness and hard work on the same playing field, while wondering how long it will be until robots steal their jobs.