Businesses Get Ready, Gen Z is Joining the Workforce Fast

This is a dispatch from Eli Caplan, an intern on our product team.

As a member of Gen Z, the upcoming generation who is about to join the workforce, I see the relevance and need for corporate social responsibility in my day-to-day life. People in my generation tend to view social issues and responsibility far differently than previous generations. Most members of this upcoming generation expect companies to care for their employees, the communities, and the world. It is important for companies to learn how to meet the needs of their younger employees or they risk losing Gen Z workers to other companies. 

Gen Z has higher expectations for businesses in the United States and around the world.  Companies must take the time to learn what their Gen Z employees value other than profit. People in Gen Z often see a large disconnect between our generation and older ones. Gen Z tends to expect companies to have values beyond making profit and providing services. 

In doing some preliminary research for this article, I talked with five of my peers at the University of Montana, and each one had differing ideas on what companies should be doing to meet their individual needs. Although many members of Gen Z are passionate about solving different issues, the specifics as to which problems require the most priority is nuanced. 

Gen Z wants to drive change

One aspect of Gen Z that I personally think is interesting is the degree to which this generation expects change. Generally speaking, most people in this generation are advocates for change, and want to see the benefits for their future as well as their children’s future. In regards to their workplace, Gen Z has grown up in a unique time where billionaires and the top 1% are under constant scrutiny from the public. This generation understands the wage gap and demands fair pay, employee benefits, and especially a large focus on mental health in their workplace.

Each of the five people I talked to all mentioned that if they do not have to worry about how they are going to provide for themselves and their families, they will do better work. One of my peers, Marcella Slason, claimed that even on a fundamental level, having her basic needs met is in the best interest of the company she works for. “Personally, if I don’t have to worry about my basic needs being met then I will definitely perform better. I think it would be in the benefit of the company to address their workers’ needs because if their needs are met, then they have a better output of work. I think it would put me at peace so I could do my job better,” she says.

Out of the peers I interviewed, each one said that they felt that there is a large disconnect between Gen Z and older generations. One of my peers, Nathaniel Adams, articulated the divide between his and his grandfathers’ generation perfectly; “[My grandfather]  definitely saw different things in a company than I do today. For example, he worked to make money. He didn’t think of what good or bad the company had because when he started he just came out of Korea and there’s really nothing else to do other than get a job or get a degree. So either you did one of those jobs or you just did nothing at all…now we’re spoiled for choice, so that’s what it trickled down to….from my grandpa to me. It’s wild. I want stuff from a company, he’s like ‘I just want a job.’” 

Companies must build the bridge for Gen Z

One of the ways that companies can create meaning and show their commitment to younger generations is by letting Gen Z employees help create CSR programs. By letting younger employees help create these programs, the company can improve morale and increase a program’s impact. 

One of the challenges when approaching CSR from the perspective of someone in college, in a non-business related degree, and who wants to make changes in the workplace is that many people do not know what CSR is. To empower Gen Z employees to help with CSR initiatives, companies need to help them bridge the gap.

This lack of knowledge of CSR creates a disconnect between how businesses can address the needs of the upcoming generation in the workplace. Companies must ensure that all employees understand CSR, and how they may be able to help the company implement new practices and ideas. Having jargon is a challenge in any field. Although Marcella specifically mentioned the disconnect between doctors and patients, the same idea applies to jargony business terms. “I think there needs to be better communication between doctors and patients in terms of explaining what is going on. I know some people aren’t going into med school and they don’t have all the knowledge that doctors do, so there needs to be a way to explain to them what is going on in regular terms and not just a bunch of scientific jargon,” she says. 

Gen Z turns passion into expertise

Gen Z is passionate about many different initiatives. Some of the examples that came up the most in the interviews I held were climate change and employee wellbeing. Although these were just a few of the issues brought up in the interviews. 

Sophia Ericsson and Griffin Edmondson, both business students at the University of Montana, spoke on the overuse of power, climate change, child labor, employee wellbeing, lack of HR departments, and many more issues all in one interview. This goes to show that there are many problems in the business world that Gen Z hopes to address.

The trend that arose in my peer interviews was that each person had a few issues that they were passionate about. Rather than being well versed in many issues, many people in Gen Z have a narrower focus. They tend to find what they are passionate about and how they can have the most impact on society rather than trying to solve issues outside their expertise. The initiatives that members of Gen Z value carry over to what they expect of corporations. 

One of the best ideas that came from the interviews I held came from my friend, Riley Comstock. Riley is double majoring in environmental science and journalism. When asked about what he thought that businesses could be doing to meet the needs of the upcoming generation, Riley explained that he felt that businesses need to give back to the fields that they are a part of. “If you’ve got  a farm company that is raising cattle, they should also be working to give back so that the land is healthy by making sure that their practices are healthy, making sure that that land can be used for decades to come,” he says. 

Although Gen Z would like to see many changes made in the business world, many current college students recognize that they cannot have unrealistic expectations. For example, Nathaniel Adams speaks to the business realities: “People don’t count the amount of profit that [a business] puts back into their company. They have to pay their shareholders, not only do they have to pay their employees, they have to pay for more research and development into newer phones, newer ideas, newer things.” Most people in Gen Z realize that businesses must have a balance between profit and values, and most businesses do not have a limitless ability to work towards perfecting CSR programs.

Having an open business model where Gen Z has the space to share their views about CSR can help both businesses and the younger generation work towards creating an ideal CSR program for the company. 

Values will drive business success

Gen Z is already bringing their ideals to the workplace. With a wide variety of ideals and goals that they want to accomplish, Gen Z is far different from prior generations. Businesses will have to adapt in order for members of this generation to feel comfortable. Employee retention depends on it. Allowing Gen Z employees to give feedback and learn about CSR will be vital for businesses. Creating opportunities for these young employees to join the workforce while living out their values will be the key for business success.

Eli Caplan

Eli is a sophomore at the University of Montana studying environmental science, climate change studies, and business. He is passionate about finding creative technology solutions that businesses can use to meet sustainability goals.

A native of Bentonville, Arkansas, Eli is an avid outdoor adventurer and aspiring rally car driver. On weekends he can be found mountain biking, hiking, or practicing dirt road rally driving skills.