It’s the job of some communicators and marketers to know Gen-Z (those born between 1997 and 2012). And, even PR pros who aren’t targeting Gen Z for employment know some basics about the group. The word most gets used a lot as a descriptor.
For example, Gen Z is the most racially, ethnically and sexually diverse generation. In addition, it’s the most educated and internet-savvy.
At roughly 68 million people, it’s some 20 percent of the US population and the third-largest cohort, behind Millennials and Baby Boomers (see chart 1). They’re expected to comprise about 30 percent of the US workforce by 2030.
On the other hand, perhaps the most interesting things about Gen Z as staff members and consumers are how often they contradict stereotype.
For instance, conventional thinking might ascribe robotic tendencies to this group. Its members, after all, were born during the digital age. They’re glued to their digital screens, some observers say.
That’s only partially true.
9 Hours of Daily Screen Time, But...
Yes, they’re tremendous consumers of social media (see charts 2, 3). And one study says they spend 9 hours daily in front of screens. Of course, that includes screen time in classrooms and additional engagement with online learning, which, as you’ll see below, is something Gen Z embraces for its professional life.
On the other hand, they’re not blindly following social media influencers. For example, Ruby Soave, VP, influencer marketing, Student Beans, a tech company focused on Gen Z, argues the generation has filter fatigue. This means Gen Z distrusts mega-influencers out to make a quick buck or who have little affinity for products they endorse.
Indeed, Gen Z’s desire for a genuine connection with authentic people and companies, both at work and home, as consumers, is a defining characteristic of the generation.
A Strong 'BS' Meter
Says Lindsay Nead, founder and CEO, Parker Management, “If a company isn’t able to provide a relatable campaign or offer an authentic connection, Gen Z will not engage with the brand."
As Insider Intelligence’s Victoria Petrock writes, “Gen Z is annoyed by lip service and has a strong “BS meter” for com
panies trying to mislead them or intentionally obfuscating information.”
Indeed, a Student Beans survey found 45 percent of Gen Z respondents rated influencers with 5K-20K followers as most trustworthy. Just 10 percent said influencers with more than 1 million followers were trustworthy.
In addition, they also have an un-robotic desire for personal connection, at least when it comes to professional life, an important point for internal communicators and recruiters.
Mentoring Wanted, Even in the Office
Remember, says LinkedIn chief economist Karin Kimbrough, most members of the generation in the workforce interviewed virtually. And they’ve yet to set foot in a company office. “They’re tired of being isolated,” she adds. As such, Gen Z craves community. “They’re social beings, like all of us.”
They’re getting some community online, of course, but in-person interaction is a priority too, she adds. As such, mentorship opportunities are key for Gen Z, Kimbrough says.
In addition, this group wants mentoring that includes some sort of in-person contact with experienced staff, she adds. They don’t want to work at home full-time, Kimbrough says.
Serious About Careers
Another contradiction when thinking of Gen Z is its attitude toward work. “Let’s dispel the myth that they’re flighty or entitled. They’re incredibly serious and intentional” about careers, Kimbrough says during a recent Axios SAP webinar.
A good piece of evidence: some 78 million global Gen Z-ers are on LinkedIn. It’s one of the fastest-growing groups on the platform. Most join LinkedIn as they’re finishing high school, she says.
Another important point for internal communicators and PR recruiters is that Gen Z wants employers to invest in them, which ties in with the desire for mentoring.
This need for employer investment ladders to the fact that 86 percent of LinkedIn’s Gen Z cohort is engaged in online learning, Kimbrough says.
Most important, they have what Kimbrough calls a next-play mindset about jobs. “They’re here today doing their job, but they’re always looking for the next thing.”
All that looking for the next job may influence the high degree of mobility that Kimbrough and others see in Gen Z. This mobility, Kimbrough says, “is predictable, because they’re young and their tenure isn’t long.”
Still, they’re much more willing than previous generations to relocate for a job and change roles and industries, she says. Some 75 percent are open to switching careers or job functions, Kimbrough says.
The motivation behind this high degree of movement are corporate values and financial gain. As noted above, Gen Z is digitally savvy, yet it’s also socially responsible. Nearly every article you’ll see about Gen Z includes something about its high regard for values.
As such, companies, like Chipotle, whose restaurant staff is 90 percent Gen Z, emphasizes values as a recruiting and retention tool, says Marissa Andrada, the company’s chief diversity, inclusion and people officer.
For example, beginning in 2019, the company invested in its people, Andrada says. These investments included tuition benefits for employees and their families. In addition, she says, there are significant mental health benefits.
Andrada concedes, though, the company has a head start of sorts. Customers are a significant portion of Chipotle’s total workforce. So, potential candidates know Chipotle and believe in it enough to eat there before seeking employment. In fact, Chipotle raises the stakes on the well-worn adage of meeting people where they are. Recruitment ads often are placed inside Chipotle bags, she says.
Kimbrough notes the importance of a company’s values for Gen Z. “They consider the company they work for as part of their personality, part of them.” Adds Nead, "Gen Z understands social responsibility. It wants to truly connect with a brand that reflects their values.” As such, they seek employment at companies whose values match theirs.
For example, nearly half (49 percent) made choices about the work they are prepared to do or companies they'd work for based on ethics, a June 2021 Deloitte survey of 8,273 global Gen Zs in 45 countries found. And despite what you might think are limited incomes, 52 percent donated to charities during the past two years.
Their top pain point was climate change and protecting the environment, according to Deloitte’s survey, as 26 percent chose it. The next four: unemployment (25 percent), healthcare/disease prevention (21 percent), education/skills/training (18 percent) and sexual harassment (17 percent).
'Mind the Gap'
Nevertheless, companies have a long road ahead before Gen Z considers them socially responsible. Just 48 percent in the Deloitte survey thought business was having a positive influence on society.
Moreover, just 42 percent trust companies, while half of Millennials do, according to Salesforce. And slightly more than half (53 percent) of Gen Z see companies as authentic, vs 61 percent of Millennials who do.
'Show Me The $$$'
It’s possible the economic morass following the pandemic’s outbreak influenced the financial outlook of Gen Z. As such, Kimbrough observes a key factor in Gen Z’s next-play mentality and high degree of mobility is its desire for increased compensation and financial security. Older generations are seeking "greater challenges" or expanded roles at work. At least now, Gen Z is more interested in finances, Kimbrough says.
And with money worries, stress often follows. Nearly half of Gen Z (46 percent) in the Deloitte survey say they feel stressed "all or most of the time." Finances, as well as family wellbeing and the job market were the leading stressers. 35 percent of Gen Zs took time off from work during the pandemic to alleviate stress. Yet nearly half didn't admit this to their boss. Just 35 percent feel comfortable speaking with management about stress, Deloitte finds.
So, internal communicators and recruiters seeking to attract and retain Gen Z should emphasize values and culture, social responsibility, corporate investment in employees, mentoring, some in-office work and offer a sound financial package. And do all this with authenticity, transparency and regard for mental health and stress. For PR pros, it shouldn't be a problem, right?