There’s a new cohort of workers hitting the labor market — Generation Z. They were born between 1997 and 2012, are considered the most diverse generation to date, never knew a world without smartphones, and are the most comfortable using gender-neutral pronouns. While in 2022 the youngest of Gen Z are just entering middle school, the oldest members (who are in their early 20s) have already spent some time in the workforce — either in-person or remotely. By 2025, this generation will comprise nearly 30% of the workforce.
In some ways, Gen Zers have already taken lessons learned from the Coronavirus to begin redefining the labor market, questioning the relationship between employer and employee, and challenging the future of office life as we know it. In other ways, they aren’t that drastically different from the employees who came before them.
The stories you may have heard about Gen Z — otherwise known as early career talent — might include that they are rejecting higher education, job hopping at unprecedentedly rapid rates, and demanding to work from their bedrooms. You also may be under the impression that they are solely after a large salary and — in a world where everything can be purchased with the touch of a finger — crave instant gratification in the workplace. And finally, it’s possible that the news you’ve been following has left you worried that they are exiting the labor market in troves.
But what is the truth behind the newest entrants of the workforce, and what is pure fiction? You can find an in-depth analysis of Gen Z in our report, “Fiction vs Fact of Gen Z: Dispelling Myths & Defining the Truth About the Newest Entrants of the Workforce,” and read below for some key takeaways.
Myth #1: Gen Z doesn’t see the value in higher education.
In addition to having significantly lower high school dropout rates than the generations that came before them, Gen Zers are more likely to be enrolled in college than Millenials and Gen Xers when they were of college-going age. In fact, 57% of 18 to 21-year old Gen Zers were enrolled in college in 2018, compared to 52% of Millennials and 43% of Gen Xers at that age.
Not only are more Gen Zers in college, but as the most diverse generation to date, they are redefining what the college class looks like. While colleges have been deemphasizing their reliance on standardized test scores for admitting students for quite some time, more than 600 institutions have joined in this movement during the pandemic. In fact, due to this trend Ivy League schools — which have traditionally struggled to admit students from underrepresented backgrounds — are now welcoming their most diverse classes in history. After Harvard removed its SAT requirement in 2020 due to COVID-19, its admission of Black students jumped from 14.8% in 2020 to a record-high of 18% in 2021.
At the same time, there is another trend emerging among Gen Z students — less of them are viewing the traditional four-year college education as the only way to upskill. As college costs continue to rise significantly, experts have noticed an increase in enrollment in short-term credential classes, vocational schools, and apprenticeship programs. In 2019, freshman college enrollment across the country dropped by 16%, while nearly 8 million more students enrolled in short-term credential classes — an increase of almost 70% from the year before.
Myth #2: Gen Z job hops more than any other generation.
In our March 2022 survey of nearly 5,000 early career candidates, we found that a majority of Gen Z internship and job seekers (60%) envision themselves staying with one company for at least 2.5 years, and about half of those candidates intend to stay at one company for 3.5 years or more. According to 2021 data, the pool of Gen Zers in the workforce thus far have already shown this to be true, averaging a tenure of two years and three months.
To compare, Millennials in the workforce thus far have been found to stay at their jobs for an average of 2 years and 9 months. And while throughout their careers, Gen Xers tenure averaged 5.2 years, and Baby Boomers were known to stick around for 8.4 years, there is also data that shows that Millennials – and by extension Gen Zers — have actually job hopped at lower rates than previous generations when they were 18-24 years old. The Bureau of Labor Statistics found that those born between 1957 and 1964 (which takes a sample from both Gen X and Boomers) worked 12.3 jobs on average — nearly half of which they held when they were 18-24 years old.
That being said, while Gen Z may envision themselves staying with one employer for a few years, they certainly don’t intend to do so while remaining in the same role. In fact, our data shows that more than 70% of internship and full-time job candidates expect to be promoted within their first year on the job, with just 2% of candidates expecting for two and half years to go by without a new job title and salary.
Myth #3: Gen Z does not want to leave the comfort of their own homes for work.
Following the pandemic, many veteran workers enjoyed the ability to work from home for the first time in their professional lives. But for many Gen Zers and early career professionals, remote culture meant a disruption to their education, Zoom fatigue from online classes, recruiting events, and job interviews, and, for those already in the workforce, the need to kick-start their professional careers over a screen without meeting their boss face-to-face.
Gen Zers are big proponents of flexibility in the workplace — in fact, they are demanding it. But they also are not solely interested in fully remote internship or job opportunities. Instead, these candidates have proven that they want to come into the office to spend quality time with their co-workers — they just want to choose when and how often. When asked about their preferred work setting in our March 2022 survey, a majority of both internships and full-time candidates said they favor a hybrid work setting in which they can decide when they show up to the office, and when they work from their desk at home. In fact, we found that fully remote opportunities were actually the least desired work format in 2022, even falling below fully in-person opportunities.
Myth #4: Gen Z’s main concern is a large paycheck.
While competitive compensation remains an important workplace value for Gen Z, it’s not the only thing that’s top-of-mind as this generation is entering the labor market. In fact, members of this generation have shown that when it comes to internship opportunities and their first full-time roles, they are most concerned with whether the position will help them reach their professional goals.
Here’s what we found: The number one reason that both internship and full-time job candidates today said they would rescind an offer after signing a contract is if another position better aligned with their long-term career goals. And a larger share of candidates across both groups agreed career fit would be enough to sway them one way or another than those who said they would back out of an offer for a higher salary.
But that doesn’t mean money doesn’t matter. As the cost of living continues to increase, many Gen Zers looking for work have been forced to prioritize a competitive salary over other values important to them, such as working for a company with a mission they are passionate about and one that is making a large social impact. And studies have proven that the latter is indeed taking a backseat. For example, in a 2021 Deloitte Global survey of 8,0000 Gen Zers, climate change beat financial struggles as their top concern; in 2022 (in a survey of 15,000) cost of living barged ahead of any other worry. Plus, the study found that while in 2021 almost half of Gen Z rejected a job that didn’t align with their ethical values, that figure dropped to 37% in 2022.
Myth #5: Gen Z is solely focused on instant gratification
Not always. Yes, Gen Z expects to be promoted at work within one year. And yes, Gen Z wants a tight feedback loop when it comes to applications and job offers (from our fall 2021 survey we found that when it comes to candidate experience, 70% of students value updates on their application within a week.) But while Gen Z might demand quick advancement at work and speedy communication during their job search, research has shown that in some ways they are more future-focused than the generation that came before them. For example, experts have found that Gen Zers are much more debt-averse and interested in saving than Millennials are. That’s one reason why they are turning to less-expensive options for higher education that their predecessors and in turn, less college freshman have been turning to loans to pay for college.
From our March 2022 survey we found that as members of Gen Z are weighing their options for employment and pinning the benefits packages included in their offer letters against each other, they are also very much focused on their future. In addition to looking for an opportunity that will help them reach their long-term career goals, we found that this generation is interested in ensuring they are financially secure into retirement age.
When we surveyed students about which category of benefits matter most to them in the workplace, most candidates selected benefits that relate to financial security, topping those that support a healthy work-life balance and flexibility. Under the umbrella of financial benefits, we found that the largest share of Gen Zers pursuing full-time roles (73.6%) value affordable healthcare coverage — not surprising given the fact that many began their careers during a global health crisis — and a match to their 401k contribution. Selecting these benefits over others with more opportunities for instant gratification, such as bonuses, illustrates that Gen Z is always looking forward.
Myth #6: Gen Z is leading “The Great Resignation” because they don’t want to work.
Whether or not you work in HR or talent acquisition, you’ve probably heard that the U.S. in 2022 is experiencing record-high quit rates, and that the youngest generations are leading this massive wave of submitting two-week notices. And while a large percentage of Gen Z has continued to express a desire to quit their jobs, they aren’t abandoning the workforce entirely — rather they are seeking better opportunities. According to LinkedIn, Gen Z’s job transition increased 80% between 2020 and 2021, compared to 54% of all workers. That’s why LinkedIn’s CEO Ryan Rolansky told TIME Magazine he would rebrand this period in time as “The Great Reshuffle.”
That being said, it’s important to understand why this generation is leaving their jobs for ‘better’ ones. We’ve previously discussed that our March 2022 survey revealed that Gen Z would rescind a job offer over career fit, followed by a higher salary. In addition, a significant portion of candidates also selected a superior work-life balance as a top reason they would choose one role over another — which was not surprisingly due to how vocal this generation is about the importance of mental health and destigmatizing mental illness, especially given the emphasis on employee burnout during the pandemic.
As the most diverse generation yet, another important factor for Gen Z in the workforce is an inclusive culture and environment — and therefore diversity and inclusion (D&I) policies matter to this generation when they are applying to roles. According to a 2020 survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), more than 80% of new graduates deemed diversity in the workforce as “very important,” and research has found that Gen Z wants to see actionable steps from companies looking to support underrepresented workers, from hiring more diverse candidates to helping them rise the ranks to leadership roles.
As more members of Generation Z continue to enter the workforce, we’ll learn even more about their behaviors as employees and as they grow into leadership roles. For now, we know they are (1) focused on their long-term success, (2) unafraid to break tradition, and (3) will not settle for ‘good enough’ from their employers. To learn more about Gen Z and how RippleMatch can support employers in connecting with the next generation of talent, check out our full guide here.