by Sharon Florentine

What Gen Z workers look for in an IT employer

Dec 13, 2019
CareersIT LeadershipIT Skills

Gen Z is just beginning to enter the workforce en masse. Hereu2019s what tomorrowu2019s IT pros and leaders are looking for in an employer today.

Organizations seeking a new influx of tech talent look no further: Generation Z is here and hungry for IT roles. But what does this generation of 72 million people born after 1997 really want in a work experience? New research commissioned by The Workforce Institute and Future Workplace offers insights into what organizations should do to lure next-generation workers based on Gen Z’s early on-the-job experiences.

The research, which was conducted by Savanta in April 2019, reinforced what many have surmised about this young generation: That well-paying work with a clear meaning and purpose, as well as flexibility and opportunities for advancement, is the key to hiring and retaining this new influx of talent.

“If you want to be an employer of choice for Gen Z, compensate them fairly, ensure that they genuinely care about the job you’re hiring them for and provide them with the necessary training and flexibility so they can succeed without sacrificing their personal lives,” says Dan Schawbel, research director at Future Workplace and author of Back to Human: How Great Leaders Create Connection in the Age of Isolation.

Pay still matters

More than half of the 3,400 Gen Zers surveyed worldwide (54 percent) — including 62 percent in the U.K. and 59 percent in the U.S. — say pay is the most important consideration when applying for their first full-time job. Money becomes increasingly important the older the Gen Zer, with 57 percent of 22- to 25-year-olds agreeing that nothing outweighs pay, compared to 49 percent of the 21-and-under crowd, according to the research.

“It’s not sexy to say, of course, but pay is the No. 1 priority for every generation, and Gen Z is no exception,” says Schawbel. “If you’re not getting paid fairly, if you’re not paid enough to support the other areas of your life, then it’s not going to be a long-lasting career and you’re not going to want to stay.”

The importance of meaningful work

But what may be different about Gen Z is the emphasis on performing meaningful work. Fifty-one percent of respondents put pay and meaningful work as their top two priorities. But before you draw conclusions about youth and idealism, know that here meaningful work also has a critical business-focused component.

“What the research shows is that this particular ask is not so much about saving the world, but being clear about how they are making an impact on their company and on end users and customers,” says Joyce Maroney, executive director of The Workforce Institute at Kronos. “Especially with IT, it pervades so much of every industry now, so it’s important to understand how IT interconnects with other efforts of the company and how that will benefit the end users or affect customer service.”

Here, companies should ensure that their employees are actively engaged with project stakeholders, and that they participate in requirements gathering and work closely with end users to boost that sense of impact, Maroney says. That will help with engagement and retention of Gen Z workers.

“Sometimes IT is very divorced from user impact or user experience, so just make sure that they’re not isolated from the end results and impact of their work so they can differentiate ‘good tech’ from ‘bad,’” she says.

A preference for flexibility

Flexible-yet-stable schedules also are a must for those just now entering the IT workforce. One in five Gen Zers say they want a consistent and predictable schedule (21 percent) yet also expect employers to offer flexibility (23 percent).

“This generation often has Generation X or even older millennial parents, and so they’ve grown up watching their parents get put through the wringer, working long hours and without much to show for it after the Great Recession,” Maroney says. “So this emphasis on work-life balance and flexibility is very important to them. They don’t necessarily want to work remotely all the time, but they see the importance of flexibility: being able to go coach their kid’s soccer team, or having the flexibility to go to a doctor’s appointment, work at home when they need to.”

Previous research has shown that Gen Z prefers to have a “home base” office so that they can more easily communicate and collaborate with their colleagues in person. While perks such as free snacks, happy hours and gym membership reimbursements are enticing for this generation, traditional benefits such as healthcare coverage, a retirement plan, life insurance and the like are preferred two to one by Gen Z, regardless of age or stage of life, according to the research.

Help them get ahead, and be supportive

To bring out the best in Gen Z, you have to offer training and development that works, as one in five Gen Zers view this as the top employee benefit they want from an employer.

But this young generation isn’t the massive online course crowd you might expect. They want direct and constructive performance feedback (50 percent), hands-on training (44 percent), managers who listen and value their opinions (44 percent), and freedom to work independently (39 percent).

With advancement on their mind, Gen Z is looking for leaders to help them chart a path to promotion. One in four expect their managers to clearly define goals and expectations (26 percent) and say regular check-ins during their first month makes for an ideal onboarding experience (25 percent).

“What we’ve seen is that training and development decreases in importance as a person ages,” Schawbel says. “The lifecycle of a skill is around five years, so for Gen Z who’s just starting out, they really need to acquire as many skills as possible to accelerate their career.”

Managers who want to engage and retain Gen Z talent should emphasize training and development opportunities. The research also shows that this type of support is critical for Gen Z workers.

“Managers that are supportive of Gen Zers’ needs, mentor them, and allow them to bring their full selves into the workplace will hold onto their workers longer and inspire them to do their best work,” Maroney says.

Empowering leaders to meet these baseline expectations is critically linked to retention of Gen Z workers, the research shows. Nearly one in three Gen Zers worldwide (32 percent) would stay longer at a company if they have a supportive manager, while 51 percent of respondents in Australia/New Zealand, 49 percent of respondents in Canada and 45 percent of respondents in the U.K. would “never” tolerate an unsupportive manager.

Gen Z red flags

What will make Gen Z run for the hills? The tech-savviest generation cut their teeth on technology and instant-access to information, so make sure your marketing, applications, interview, hiring and onboarding processes are as high-tech, streamlined and seamless as possible. 

A delayed response from a recruiter is a major turn-off for 44 percent of respondents overall. Same goes for negative employee reviews online (41 percent), application portals that are not mobile-friendly (29 percent), and workplaces that have a “dated” feel (24 percent).

“It’s the Glassdoor effect,” Maroney says. “With access to these kinds of reviews at their fingertips, you better believe Gen Z is reading all about your culture and your atmosphere before they even think about applying to your company.”

And if they’ve had a negative experience with your company as a customer? Forget it — many won’t even consider working there, as one in four Gen Zers say that having a negative customer experience with an organization would deter them from even applying to work there.

“In this omnichannel world, if you are a consumer brand or a consumer-facing company, then their interactions with you as a customer is going to color their experience as a potential employee. If they have a bad experience — whether that’s online or in person — that’s going to be a major turnoff,” Maroney says.

Gen Z is just starting out professionally and feel they have much to gain from testing the waters at multiple companies and different industries, so organizations need to understand that Gen Z workers won’t be with them forever. To that end, engage and retain Gen Z workers for as long as possible, and when they do leave, make sure the experience is positive enough that they could come back at a future point in their career, she says.

“Few today will employ a single worker from hire to retire, [but] organizations can certainly engage Gen Z from hire to re-hire,” Maroney says. “By creating a working culture where employees feel supported, inspired, and equally empowered to enjoy life in and outside of work, employers can encourage their best people to ‘boomerang’ back or otherwise create brand ambassadors for the future.”