Every generation develops certain characteristics, at least partly in response to the historical events of its time. Generation Z is no exception. Born just before or soon after 9/11, awakened to childhood consciousness during the Great Recession of 2008, and now coming of age in a time of a pandemic, these young people have had a remarkably complex journey.

For employers, Gen Zers already represent a significant and growing part of the workforce. They’re estimated to make up 24% of workers in the United States in 2020. That percentage will rise as the last of the baby boomers retire and Gen Xers start joining them.

Gen Zers may present a challenge to the organizations that hire them. This is a generation acutely aware of, well, everything. They grew up hard-wired to the internet. They’re also a generation that, sadly, could harbor little trust in the financial security of any job after many watched their parents struggle to rebuild after 2008. And now many more are caught up in the tsunami of joblessness triggered by the COVID-19 crisis.

On the bright side, they hold incredible promise. Data is their friend; they adapt to new technology as easily as most of us change shirts, and they want to make a difference in the world. Your organization, when it’s ready to start hiring, will benefit from their presence — if you understand what makes them tick.

Champions Of Mental Health

Let’s back up and outline how the generations working today are generally defined. According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation:

• Baby boomers were born from 1946 to 1964,

• Gen Xers were born from 1965 to 1979,

• Millennials were born from 1980 to 1999, and

• Gen Zers were born after 1999.

Looking at those ranges of years, think about the internet. Baby boomers didn’t have it; Gen Xers did, but generally not until early to mid-adulthood. Millennials grew up with the internet but in an earlier, less-refined version. From a young age, Generation Z didn’t just have the supercharged version of the internet that we know and use today; they had social media, which has, for better or worse, been a defining force in their lives.

Imagine the awkward moments and stages of your childhood captured for posterity in pictures and videos, shared with anyone on the internet who cares to look, and preserved for all eternity. Such is the reality that Gen Zers grew up in. Their identities have been shaped by not only real-life family and friends but also by thousands of disembodied voices online.

The silver lining to this perpetual state of hyper-self-awareness? It’s that Generation Z doesn’t stigmatize the concept of mental health. Living in a world of likes, downvotes and ghosting isn’t easy, but it’s driven them to recognize the telltale signs of anxiety and depression and, for many of them, to take action through open discussion and therapy.

They’ll bring this state of mind to the workplace, and it will behoove their employers to recognize the importance of supportive, nontoxic environments and robust benefits programs that include mental health services. Otherwise, employee retention may suffer. A 2019 Harvard Business Review study found that 75% of Gen Zers had left jobs for mental health reasons — both voluntarily and involuntarily.

Frighteningly, the psychological impact of social media may pale in comparison to how the COVID-19 pandemic will affect them. Many Gen Zers have lost jobs. Others have seen internships canceled. Still, others are seeing their high school and college experiences drastically and negatively altered by the crisis.

Tips On Hiring And Employment

So, what can employers do to draw the best job candidates from this generation and provide them with a positive and productive work environment? Here are a few tips to consider:

1. Offer competitive mental health benefits. As mentioned, Generation Z prioritizes psychological well-being more highly than previous generations. Your health care plan may already cover many mental health services, but be sure to keep an eye on the quality of your providers and the cost of coverage.

If you don’t already offer an employee assistance program (EAP), consider adding this feature. In a nutshell, EAPs connect employees with external providers who can provide counseling and other services related to a wide variety of personal or work-related problems.

2. Appeal to their sense of higher purpose. Young people of every generation tend to want to make a difference. Forty-seven percent of Gen Zers surveyed by business consultancy Deloitte stated that they want to make a positive impact on their communities.

Appealing to this sense of higher purpose may be as simple as updating and enhancing your mission and vision statements to emphasize all the good you do. You may also want to offer paid volunteer time and hold charity events to allow Gen Zers to fulfill their desire to help others.

3. If possible, help with their student loans. Many employers have been offering financial assistance, as a benefit, to employees shouldering high amounts of student loan debt. Unfortunately, this perk may fall by the wayside as organizations struggle with the economic impact of the pandemic.

If you can offer it, student loan assistance will more than likely appeal to Generation Z as their ability to pay for higher education will be affected by the altered economy during and after the crisis, and they will enter the workforce with substantial student debt.

Some Good News

Like millennials before them, Gen Zers already seem to be getting labeled « job-hoppers, » but here’s some good news: A 2020 survey by tech company Zapier found that Gen Zers plan to stay at their jobs for an average of six years. One hopes that’s at least six years and could be much longer for good employees supported by their employers.

 

 

Lynda Silsbee, May 29, 2020