Christine Cruzvergara


December 06, 2021


As the economy begins its slow recovery, employers are facing a hiring paradox. Even as 9.3 million Americans remain unemployed, the same number of jobs remain open. Companies are once again struggling to find employees with the right sets of skills. It’s a challenge compounded by the accelerated retirement for older Americans, as well as a movement dubbed “the Great Resignation,” in which individuals are searching for new opportunities amid a revaluation of life priorities.

To combat this labor market squeeze, employers would be wise to turn their focus toward the youngest members of the workforce: Generation Z. After all, Gen Z is set to account for more than one-quarter of the workforce by 2025. They are the future of work.

Gen Z’s entry into the labor market has been tumultuous. They were among those hit hardest by the pandemic and they continue to face higher unemployment rates than older generations. But despite so many of them graduating from high school and college into the most volatile economy in decades, Generation Z workers are not looking to settle. Here are three ways employers can attract -- and retain -- the best Generation Z workers to help solve their most pressing talent challenges.

Invest in both immediate and long-term DEI work.

According to a survey conducted last year by Glassdoor, three-quarters of employees and job seekers now say a diverse workforce is important when deciding to work for a company. Nearly 40 percent said they would not even apply to a company if it had received negative satisfaction ratings from people of color.

This will only grow more true as the most diverse generation in U.S. history continues to enter the workforce. Gen Z is keenly aware of the factors driving national movements around racial justice, equity, and inclusion and the role businesses should play in equity efforts. As a result, diversity of leadership can be an important recruitment tool for Gen Z workers. Our research on the ways in which gender and equity practices affect Gen Z job applicants shows that more than 60 percent of Gen Z women and non-binary individuals look for women in leadership roles when they apply for employment.

Companies must work to not only hire more women and people of color, but promote and hire from within their increasingly diverse and younger employee base. Gen Z has higher expectations for promotion and compensation than previous generations. They highly value regular feedback and opportunities for learning and growth. Simply paying lip service to diversity efforts will not cut it. Organizations should provide their younger, more diverse workforce with the support they need to accelerate their careers — and change the makeup of organizations for generations to come.

Be responsive to employee demands for work flexibility.

The sudden shift to remote work during the COVID-19 pandemic was not an easy one, but as the months have gone on, many workers have started to appreciate the greater flexibility of working from home and online. In fact, recent studies have shown that more than half of employees are considering quitting their jobs if they are not allowed to maintain the job flexibility they acquired over the last year and a half.

Gen Z, in particular, has grown quite comfortable with this new way of working. Our research shows that younger workers and students are confident in their ability to thrive in an ongoing digital work environment: nearly 80 percent say they feel prepared to work and collaborate with remote teams. Gen Z’s affinity for flexibility is deeper than simply working from home, however. Younger workers care more about work-life balance in general, and companies will have to transform decades-old norms in the months and years ahead.

Invest in virtual hiring practices.

Indeed, Gen Z’s preference for flexibility and accessibility begins before they are ever hired. Our research shows that virtual job fairs, interviews, and hiring practices help promote applications among young job-seekers, especially those who have long dealt with industry underrepresentation and the confidence gap.

Virtual recruitment can directly help with equitable hiring, expanding the available pool of talent by removing many of the barriers inherent in traditional methods. In our survey, three out of five Black and Hispanic and Latinx students and half of Asian students responded that they were more likely to apply to a job after a virtual career event compared to an in-person one.

Even after students have experienced more than a year of Zoom-mediated socializing and learning, more than two-thirds of student respondents in our recent survey still found virtual career events to be easier to schedule, less intimidating, and more convenient than in-person events. When asked to identify their preference in a world without COVID-related precautions, 87 percent of students stated they still wanted some virtual component to their job search experience. Recruiting and retaining today’s younger workers may mean holding onto some COVID-era practices long after the pandemic subsides.

Gen Z workers have high standards for their workplaces and expect them not only to talk the talk, but walk the walk. This shift in labor-market power dynamics and worker expectations will require employers to re-think age-old recruitment and retention strategies. Businesses who do not use this moment to begin more thoughtfully courting Gen Z talent will quickly fall behind the curve.

About the authors

Christine Cruzvergara