What employers need to know about hiring Gen Z

13 min read | Jessica Wang | Article | | CEO news

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Learn all about hiring Gen Z workers. What are their unique skills, and what should your workplace provide to recruit gen Z successfully? Managing Director of Hays Asia, Jessica Wang, provides the latest insights.


Hiring Gen Z: Key insights

The Generation Z age range is largely defined as those born between 1996 and 2012. Given that those born towards the start of this generation are now in their twenties, many are now entering into the workplace.

But the COVID-19 pandemic had a monumental impact on the start of Gen Zers’ careers. Many missed out on their first job opportunity or had their final years of education interrupted.

In this new era of work, employers need to ensure they properly understand Gen Zers. What Gen Z want from Work and what motivates them? What unique skills do their life experiences bring? Using this information, employers can shape their Gen Z workplace to attract and retain young talent.


Gen Z: A background

So, how does Gen Z differ from the generations currently dominating our workforces – Millennials, Generation X and Baby Boomers?

1. Gen Z is the most diverse generation yet, with the most inclusive views and expectations

According to an analysis of Census Bureau data by the Pew Research Center, 48 per cent of Gen Zers in the US are racial or ethnic minorities, compared to 39 per cent of Millennials, 30 per cent of Generation Xers, and 18 per cent of Boomers. 

Gen Zers also hold more inclusive views and expectations than previous generations. A survey by the BBC in the UK found evidence that Gen Zers were far more concerned about prejudice towards LGBTQ+ people, gender equality and racism than older generations.

Gen Zers have a real open-mindedness and awareness when it comes to gender and sexuality – ultimately defined as identity. Many Gen Zers, for example, will include their pronoun preferences in their email signature and social media bios. 

Research in Brazil further evidences this generational characteristic. A report found that 60 per cent of Gen Zers were of the opinion that same-sex couples should be able to adopt children – 10 percentage points more than members of other generations.

What does this mean for organisations? As reported by The Washington Post, Gen Zers are seeking proof of employers’ dedication to diversity and inclusion. In the US, 77 per cent of Gen Z have indicated that a company’s level of diversity affects their decision to work there. 

2. COVID-19 has negatively impacted Gen Z’s education and entry into the workforce

Although all generations suffered from the economic consequences of the pandemic, evidence suggests that Gen Z were hit hardest by job loss and unemployment

Gen Zers currently in education also faced huge turmoil. Exams were cancelled, much of the traditional university experience was moved online, and graduation plans evaporated. 

Students have seen entire years written off. In the words of Lauren Stiller Rikleen for Harvard Business Review, “Gen Zers experienced the greatest national trauma since the Great Depression and World War II.”

So, what does this mean for employers looking to attract and retain Gen Z candidates? As our CEO, Alistair Cox, previously reflected, “As business leaders, we cannot just idly sit back, avert our eyes and let this generation experience this monumental upheaval without doing all we can to support them. It is our duty to act.” 

You need to build a supportive working environment to enable Gen Zers to thrive when they join your team:

  1. Provide suitable mental health and well-being support. The American Psychological Association (APA) reported that Gen Zers are “significantly more likely to seek professional help for mental health issues” than past generations. Even before the pandemic, Gen Zers had expressed higher levels of anxiety and depression than older generations. They will therefore expect and want employers to have support available for them, should they need it.
  2. Be aware of the likely increase in skills gaps among Gen Zers than previous generations, due to their interrupted education. As Rikleen has noted for Harvard Business Review: “Now that their structured learning has been upended, employers and employees may need to develop greater patience with Gen Z’s adjustment to the professional world and a greater focus on intergenerational mentoring and support.”

3. Gen Zers are true digital natives

Gen Z haven’t known a world without the Internet. They are accustomed to having information at their fingertips via search engines and social media. They’re also used to instant, virtual connection, which they routinely use to form and build relationships. 

Your organisation needs to provide the platforms and opportunities that give Gen Zers information and virtual connections while at work. However, if your new Gen Z starters are onboarding remotely, they may need additional onboarding support. 

As Alistair Cox, has explained previously: “Yes, they are a digitally savvy generation. But 45 per cent of Gen Z and employed Millennials had never worked remotely before the pandemic. Give them the support they need to get up and running quickly.”

And don’t forget about the practicalities of your new Gen Z employees onboarding and working remotely. Do they have the space to work at home productively? Do they have access to Wi-Fi? This is an essential consideration if you want to build an inclusive workplace. After all, those from disadvantaged backgrounds may not have such luxuries.

4. Gen Zers are passionate about solving the world’s wrongs

In the words of McKinsey & Company, Gen Z “mobilise themselves for a variety of causes”. Just one example of Gen Z’s notable commitment to transforming the world is the decision of more than 30,000 French students from over 300 universities to sign a pledge to only work for environmentally conscious companies.

What does this mean for organisations hiring Gen Z? Employers must have a strong sense of meaning in what they do, empowering employees to feel as though they are benefiting society. As the WEF puts it, purpose is “the most powerful tool companies have at their disposal to meet the intrinsic needs of new talent.” 

But simply creating a new purpose doesn’t cut it. “For this new generation, it is not enough for their employers to simply have a compelling purpose. They want to see purpose lived out authentically through bold actions.”

Our CEO has also previously discussed the power organisations hold in providing employees with personal meaning, “By joining a purpose-driven organisation – one that is aligned to our own value system – we can find solace in the fact that we are better able to have the positive impact on the world.”

So, we now know the four key characteristics of Gen Z – and why it’s so important for employers to understand them. But what do employers need to change to recruit and retain Gen Z employees in the new era of work?


1. Ask your Gen Z employees what attracted them to the role

Make use of your younger colleagues’ experiences. Sue Warman, Senior Director, HR at SAS, says that it is best to ask other Gen Zers why they joined your company. 

“You cannot fake youth as an HR person,” she says. “It’s important to keep an open dialogue when hiring Gen Z – to not only attract but also retain them.” Learning how to recruit Gen Z means a shift in tactics. For example, SAS use university contacts and social media to find younger talent. 

Warman adds, “I have seen how companies are using virtual reality and gaming at events. You have to speak Gen Zers’ language and not be too corporate.”


2. Keep up and speed up

At civil engineering and construction company Costain, HR Operations Director Jenny Tomkins calls Gen Z the “impatient generation”. She says that the immediacy Gen Zers demand in their lives extends to the workplace.

As a result, the company has shortened its graduate schemes from three years to two streams. There is still a longer route for those who need technical knowledge, but now a shorter path for those earmarked for management. 

“We want to accelerate people’s careers if they are ambitious, but they still have to earn their stripes,” says Tomkins. “You also have to spot a young person’s strengths and potential early. We had one graduate who was going down the technical engineering route but was not doing too well, so we moved him into a sales role, and he is flying.”


3. Don’t just offer Gen Zers a job, offer them an opportunity

Gen Z work expectations include a sense of purpose. For Gen Z, a job is more than just a pay check, and they will be keen to see their hard work paying off. 

Consider how you can manage progression within your organisation. Offering development opportunities, be that through promotion or through change of department, will pay dividends when it comes to retaining staff.

Rob Phipps, Chief People Officer for KFC Australia, New Zealand and Thailand, says an incredible 95 percent of its 35,000 workforce were born after 1996. “To attract and retain Gen Z, we need to help people be the best they can be at work and in life,” he says. “We help them to make a difference to each other and to their communities. They also want to have fun.”


4. Train Gen Zers beyond their job skills

With five generations in the workplace at once, there are bound to be challenges. For this reason, Gen Zers will need support to understand workplace etiquette – and the values held by older colleagues. 

Warman says there is an element of pseudo-parenting required by HR and line managers. “Gen Zers need to understand meeting protocol, how to manage their time and how to represent our brand. It means a big coaching overhead for managers, but Gen Z employees welcome a good manager they can look up to.”


How to hire Gen Z: Next steps for your business

Hiring Gen Z brings different challenges from previous generations. A job must be more than an income – it should also provide understanding, opportunity, and purpose. Only by demonstrating these qualities will organisations hire and retain the best of Gen Z talent.


About this author

Jessica Wang, Managing Director, Hays Asia

Jessica has close to twenty years of professional recruitment and management experience across the Greater China market. She joined Hays Beijing in 2013 and has successfully built that business to be one of the largest recruitment-partner-of-choice in the North-China market, for both international and domestic clients. 

In July 2021, Jessica was promoted to be Managing Director of Hays Asia. She has overall responsibility across offices in Shanghai, Beijing, Suzhou, Guangzhou and Shenzhen. A member of the Hays Asia Board of Directors, Jessica’s passion extends beyond recruitment and recruitment leadership. 

Her deep insights into culture management and people development led her appointment to be the Chairperson of the Hays Asia Diversity & Inclusion Steering Committee. There, she leads a leadership team to oversees and determine the broader D&I agenda for the region. 

Prior to joining Hays, Jessica was in various leadership positions in a leading search firm specializing in recruiting IT, banking and corporate functional roles across China.

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