Meet Gen Z: the self-proclaimed hardest-working, anxiously optimistic workforce of the future

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The Workforce Institute at Kronos Incorporated today issued a global survey of 3,400 members of Generation Z1 across 12 countries that found contradictory revelations from the newest segment of the workforce.

This survey is the first in a series of reports from The Workforce Institute at Kronos and Future Workplace that examines attitudes of Gen Z in workplaces across the UK, USA, Australia, Belgium, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Mexico, the Netherlands and New Zealand, including how their education has prepared them for the working world, their perceptions about the gig economy, and their views on how to be an employer of choice for the next generation. Part one, “Meet Gen Z: Hopeful, Anxious, Hardworking, and Searching for Inspiration,” explores surprising contradictions of how 16- to 25-year-olds view themselves, their expectations of work, and how employers can best prepare to manage Gen Z employees.

News facts

Gen Z believes it is the hardest-working generation – and have it the hardest – yet demand schedule flexibility to deliver their best work.

  • One-third (32%) of Gen Z respondents say they are the hardest-working generation ever, with Millennials ranked as the second-hardest working generation at 25%. More than half (56%) say the Silent Generation is the least hardworking generation of all time.
  • Almost two-fifths (36%) of Gen Zers believe they “had it the hardest” when entering the working world compared to all other generations before it, tied with the Silent Generation (ages 75-94), which generally began entering the workforce during or just after World War II.
  • While Gen Zers believe they are hardworking, one in four (26%) admit they would work harder and stay longer at a company that supports flexible schedules, with flexibility desired most in Canada (33%), the UK (31%), and the US (31%).
  • Gen Z’s appeal for flexibility comes with a few actions they would never tolerate from their employer, including being forced to work when they don’t want to (35%); inability to use annual leave days when they want to (34%); and working back-to-back shifts (30%).

Mind the “Preparation Gap”: Gen Z outlines what school did – and did not – prepare them for, as these digital natives crave face-to-face interaction.

  • Despite record-high enrolment, less than half of Gen Z credits their high school (39%) or college (42%) education for preparing them to enter the working world. One in four Gen Zers say they are least prepared to handle negotiating (26%); networking (24%); speaking confidently in front of crowds (24%); and resolving work conflict (23%).
  • Conversely, Gen Z feels well-equipped to handle working in a team (57%); hitting project deadlines (57%); and working with customers (56%).
    • Gen Z also isn’t prepared to be managed by another person (21%), although nearly one-third (32%) say they would be motivated to work harder and stay longer at a company if they have a supportive manager. The top three attributes they value in a manager are: “they trust me” (47%), “they support me” (40%), and “they care about me” (35%).
    • Despite being digital natives, three out of four Gen Zers (75%) prefer to receive manager feedback in person, and 39% prefer to communicate with their team or employer in person – with Gen Zers in Mexico valuing in-person communication the most (55%).  
  • How do they measure success? Gen Z is optimistic, yet anxious, about their careers.
    • Across the globe, more than half (56%) of Gen Z is optimistic about their professional future, led by India where an incredible 44% of 16- to 25-year-olds are “extremely optimistic,” followed closely by US Gen Zers at 31%.
    • However, Gen Zers who are employed today are the least optimistic: Half (50%) of those who are currently serving in an internship and one-third (28%) of those working full-time are only “moderately” optimistic about their professional future.
    • The overall optimism of Gen Z is met with many emotional barriers this generation feels it must overcome to achieve workplace success, including anxiety (34%), lack of motivation/drive (20%), and low self-esteem (17%). Anxiety, specifically, is a greater concern among female Gen Zers (39% vs. 29% for male) and most prevalent in Canada (44%), the UK (40%), and the US (40%).
    • About one-third of Gen Z measures their success based on how respected they are by their co-workers (34%) and the recognition they receive from their manager (32%). However, traditional benchmarks still matter, with salary (44%) and advancement (35%) reigning supreme.

Joyce Maroney, executive director, The Workforce Institute at Kronos, said: “Gen Z is bringing new expectations to the workplace, driven by their digital upbringing as well as their self-identified emotional barriers to success. They have strong feelings about how and when they want to work, especially compared to generations past. With Millennials moving into management roles, we’re entering an inflection point in the employee-manager relationship – and leaders  will need to familiarise themselves with the priorities of this latest generation of workers in order to effectively manage and develop them.” 

Dan Schawbel, best-selling author and research director, Future Workplace, said: “Despite younger generations being called lazy by older generations, Gen Zers consider themselves the hardest-working. To inspire them to do their best work, companies must meet them at the starting line – give them training, flexibility, and mentorship. This digital generation, primarily relying on technology to communicate, suffers from anxiety. Thus, Gen Zers are looking for leaders who are trusting, support their needs, and express care for them as humans – not just employees. Focusing on Gen Zers’ human needs will be the best way to address their workplace needs.”