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Generation Z Says They Work the Hardest, But Only When They Want To

Surprising contradictions' revealed in survey of Generation Z's attitude toward work

A group of people sitting around a table with laptops.

​People ages 16 to 25, commonly known as Generation Z, consider themselves the hardest-working generation yet won't tolerate being forced to work when they don't want to, according to a new study.

Moreover, although they consider themselves to be the consummate "digital generation," they say they prefer face-to-face interactions at work.

The findings reflect "surprising contradictions" of how Generation Z members "view themselves, their expectations of work, and how employers can best prepare to effectively manage" them, wrote the study authors at The Workforce Institute at Kronos Inc. The authors compiled their report, Meet Gen Z, based on a global survey of more than 3,000 members of Generation Z across 11 countries.

Nearly one-third of Generation Z consider themselves the hardest-working generation in the workforce.

Generation Z workers "were raised during the Great Recession," said Tim Sackett, SHRM-SCP, president of information technology and engineering staffing firm HRU Technical Resources in Lansing, Mich. "They saw parents lose jobs, friends lose their houses, grandparents … return to work. Unlike many Millennials who were already in college when the recession started, Gen Zers had to go to work earlier in many cases to help make ends meet, or at the very least to cover their own costs as teens. I do find them to be hardworking. But … they also might be a bit delusional. I'm sure some [older generations] would like to take them to task about what hard work really is." 

Gen Z Members Fear They're Not Ready for Work

Born with Smartphones in Hand, Generation Z Still Prefers In-Person Encounters

Generation Z, the authors of The Workforce Institute study report wrote, can also "be a little demanding." For instance:  

  • About one-third demand a say over their work schedule.
  • More than one-third say they won't tolerate being forced to work when they don't want to or being denied the vacation days they request.
  • Slightly less than one-third would refuse to work back-to-back shifts.

"Gen Z won't put up with our corporate BS," Sackett said. "If you say, 'Well, the CEO starts work every day at 7 a.m. and works until 8 p.m., and you should, too!' they'll say, 'That works for Mary, but it doesn't work for me.' "

[SHRM members-only Express Request: Generation Z/Centennials ]

Three out of 4 members of Generation Z consider themselves the ultimate "digital generation," yet 3 out of 4 also prefer face-to-face interactions when getting manager feedback, and more than 1 in 3 prefer to communicate with the team face to face, as well.

Confidence Tempered by Anxiety

Despite their confidence about being the hardest-working generation, Generation Z members suffer from anxiety about work expectations and achieving success. Thirty-four percent say their anxiety is holding them back from job success. Anxiety is of greatest concern among Generation Z in Canada (44 percent), the United Kingdom and the U.S. (both 40 percent), and more prevalent among female respondents (39 percent) than male (29 percent).

"Just because there's a low unemployment rate doesn't mean that they are all employed," said Dan Schawbel, research director at Future Workplace and author of  Back to Human: How Great Leaders Create Connection in the Age of Isolation (Da Capo Lifelong Books, 2018). "We also have a record amount of job openings in America at 7.5 million, [but members of Generation Z] aren't learning the skills that companies need right now."

When it comes to professional success, the people of Generation Z are most concerned about their education—and what it didn't prepare them for.

Despite record-high college enrollment, Generation Z still feels unprepared to enter the workforce, with only half crediting college or high-school experience as critical preparation for the working world. For instance, significant percentages of Generation Z members said their education didn't prepare them for workplace activities such as negotiating, networking, confident public speaking or working long hours. Nor do many of them feel prepared to resolve work conflicts or be managed by another person.

"We were surprised about this anxiety finding," said Joyce Maroney, executive director of The Workforce Institute at Kronos. "I wondered if this anxiety was specific to our respondents. It's not. A 2018 report from the American Psychological Association titled Stress in America: Generation Z notes that 77 percent of U.S. Gen Z adults were stressed about work, versus 64 percent of adults overall. That same report notes that Gen Z adults are the most likely to report poor mental health. If there's a silver lining here, they are also most likely to seek professional help for mental health issues."

Social media may also come into play, Maroney said.

"Where social media invites comparisons, it also invites criticism. The space where Gen Z, due to being digital natives, feels comfortable sharing thoughts and feelings is the same space that is under constant scrutiny. One could argue that Gen Z, bolstered by digital freedom but deeply aware of its intrinsic pitfalls, is both confident and concerned about appropriate and collaborative communication."

Because 1 in 3 members of Generation Z feels motivated to work hard and stay with a company if supervised by a supportive manager, the authors of the Kronos survey suggested that those managers may be able to assuage some of this generation's anxiety about work and success.

"They're looking for leaders who will help them be inspired in their day-to-day work, while encouraging them to try new things and develop professionally over time," the authors wrote.