scorecardGen Z to older workers: We're just like you
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Gen Z to older workers: We're just like you

Tim Paradis   

Gen Z to older workers: We're just like you
Careers3 min read
  • Gen Zers prioritize fair pay, career advancement, and flexibility — just like older workers.
  • Research shows that Gen Zers prefer hybrid work setups over fully remote or in-office.

Turns out Gen Zers aren't actually that different than their older counterparts.

Despite stereotypes, when it comes to their careers, they want the same things as their older peers at work: to be paid fairly, get ahead, and have flexibility.

Seramount, a professional services and research firm, conducted interviews with Gen Zers and older workers and found that — contrary to some depictions — young workers aren't just focused on logging on from home, scooping up a paycheck, and doing as little as possible to get by.

The study defined Gen Z as those born between 1997 and 2012, but the research involved only Gen Zers already in the workforce, not those still in school.

Jon Veasey-Deters, a senior research analyst at Seramount who, at 27, is a Gen Zer himself, told Business Insider that despite some differences, the youngest workers often reach for the same goals as their older counterparts.

"We're all kind of looking for the same things: to have a decent salary, to make a decent impact on the world, and to value the work that we do," he said.

Young people's expectations matter because, in 2024, Gen Zers are on track to outnumber baby boomers for the first time among full-time US workers.

Ready to commute

Veasey-Deters said one of the things older employees and workaday Gen Zers do differ on is that many young people early in their careers want to go to the office — at least some of the time.

Seramount's interviews with nearly 400 workers of various ages in the US in late 2023 found that nearly three in four Gen Zers like a hybrid setup, compared with only about half of workers in older generations. Only 11% of Gen Z wanted to work remotely full-time, compared with 34% of workers from other generations.

Veasey-Deters said many younger workers who graduated into the pandemic didn't expect to open their laptops from their kitchen tables, so they want to be around others.

"We're desiring that specific social element to our work and to better understand the colleagues that we're working with — and the organizations that we're a part of," he said.

Veasey-Deters said that for many young people, the intangible benefits of being with colleagues IRL are important, yet Gen Zers don't need to be with their coworkers every day.

"The biggest thing that we found with Gen Z is they're valuing work-life balance and flexibility, first and foremost," he said. A hybrid schedule is the best way to address that, he commented.

While bosses might not always like it, more appear to be assenting to workers' demands to let them shelve their commutes some days. In a recent survey of big-company CEOs, KPMG US found that one-third expect workers back in the office five days a week, down from about two-thirds a year earlier.

Veasey-Deters said he enjoys enjoy going to the office. "I voluntarily come in once a week and make the 25-minute commute for those social intangibles," he said.

Yet beyond the hard-to-pin-down benefits of being in one place, Veasey-Deters said many companies finding success with their RTO policies often have workers gather "with a sense of purpose" around events instead of decreeing workers have to be in the office certain days.

We all want the money

Seramount's research also indicated that younger workers aren't much more money-hungry than others. In its interviews, 51% of Gen Zers said salary was the most important part of a job, whereas 47% of older workers said the same.

For some younger workers, dealing with the high cost of college is a major obstacle. BI recently reported that more than half of Gen Z and millennial workers are living paycheck to paycheck.

Beyond money, the newest tranche of the workforce is also motivated by carving out robust relationships with their bosses. The Seramount interviews found that wanting to "perform well" for a supervisor was a major motivation. Only getting a raise or a bonus came ahead of the desire to please the boss.

Another motivation is getting ahead. In the survey, 33% of Gen Z workers told researchers they expect to be promoted to leadership roles at their company, compared with only 19% of older workers. And 44% of Gen Z workers want to be in charge of others versus only 27% of those outside that generation.

Veasey-Deters said that when companies do the right things to retain Gen Z talent, young workers appear eager to stay for a long time and build careers with their employers. But for many young workers, that means having bosses who honor principles like work-life balance, he said.

"Those are not novel things. Those are not unique to just this generation," Veasey-Deters said. "Gen Z is not that different from other generations. We're just the newest one."