Gen Z is the very first cohort to enter the workforce virtually, and they’re doing it from the confines of their questionably wallpapered childhood bedrooms.
Amidst the chaos of 2020, the team at JUV Consulting set out to take the pulse of 325 Gen Zers on their sentiments towards the future of work. We asked our diverse network via JUV’s Receipt* about their career aspirations and thoughts on the phenomenon of working from home, providing a strong sense of what Gen Z is looking for as they begin their careers today or even 5 years from now. Gen Z already makes up about 36% of the workforce in 2020, so hiring managers, recruiters and companies alike must understand what’s on Gen Z’s minds.
When asked whether Gen Zers would like to work from home full time, 53% responded they would not like that option while 47% said they would.
As a generation, we don’t want to work less, we just want the flexibility that hasn’t been associated with the typical work atmosphere of all worklife, and no balance.
It’s clear that Gen Z is split on this issue, evidence of how diverse our generation and our needs are. The survey showed us that there is strong correlation between working from home and a decrease in productivity. Inversely, we found that Gen Z wants fewer days in the office. As a generation, we don’t want to work less, we just want the flexibility that hasn’t been associated with the typical work atmosphere of all worklife, and no balance. We want to work smarter, not harder.
Gen Z is composed of ambitious digital natives that are vocal about their opinions, so we wanted to know how they feel about the future of their careers, their understanding of productivity and what they really want out of the workplace moving forward. One can’t assume just because Gen Z is fluent in technology they’ll be satisfied with only knowing coworkers through Zoom happy hours, or conversely returning to a “normal” 9-5 job in a cubicle.
Gen Z is less optimistic about future career aspirations
For so many members of Gen Z, this year has raised many questions for the future. Will companies move away from having a strong in-person culture and experience? How did the job market become so dire so quickly? Could I potentially spend my entire career working remotely? As a result, we wanted to ask about their long-term hopes for the future.
According to our survey, 42% of our respondents reported feeling more negative toward long-term career aspirations than pre-pandemic, compared to 30% feeling more positive and 28% feeling the same.
This is likely due to uncertainty about the future of work created by the COVID-19 pandemic. As they enter a dire job market for new grads and major companies such as Twitter and Square commit to long-term workplace changes like permanent work from home options, Gen Z has watched their understanding of the working world transform before their eyes almost overnight. For some Gen Zers fortunate enough to secure a job, they deal with the surreal experience of beginning their career on a laptop, potentially from the (dis)comfort of their childhood bedroom.
According to Business Insider, entering the workforce remotely may even hinder future professional development and career opportunities for Gen Z. The first three months of a job are often crucial to setting yourself up for success down the line, especially in the early formative years of a career. From onboarding virtually to joining teams that already have social and professional bonds to reduced mentorship and employee engagement programs, Gen Z will certainly experience challenges never experienced by other generations when entering the workforce for the first time.
The coronavirus and drastic changes in work practices have also influenced Gen Zers in the short-term. For many older Gen Zers about to enter the workforce, it has caused some to prioritize job security above all when looking for jobs. One of our survey respondents, a 21 year old from Fullerton, CA, notes that “I have been more careful to seek jobs that have long-term sustainability. I need to find a career that is not going to fire me when things go bad.”
For others, the events of 2020 sparked an increased desire to work in fields with greater social impact. An 18-year-old from Houston shared “my aspirations haven’t changed that much, but the pandemic, and more so all the underlying issues it has exposed, makes me feel more urgently that I need a career where I’m working to better society because our world needs some help right now.”
Gen Z is Most Productive When they Leave their (Childhood) Room
The shift to remote working during the pandemic was abrupt, leaving many companies and employees feeling unprepared for such a change. But several months of lockdown under our belt, it seems as if many have settled into the cadence of this new work from home reality. According to a Stanford economist, 42% of the U.S. labor force is working from home right now, full time. With so many people working from their bedrooms, dining rooms or home offices, we wondered how working from home impacts Gen Z’s productivity on the day to day and cumulatively. Do you have Zoom fatigue that you just can’t shake? Or are you getting projects done with renewed vigor with the help of your pets?
We asked Gen Z where they felt most productive and the results were clear. When it comes to working, Gen Z feels significantly more productive in an office or school setting than at home. A whopping 70% of respondents noted their preference for a work setting that is distinct from their home.
This is evidence of Gen Z’s acknowledgement of the inherent value that comes from IRL (in real life) human interaction. Gen Z can see that team building, bonding and troubleshooting can be accomplished more productively in a quick chat in the coffee room, instead of the potentially isolating silence of a Zoom breakout room.
We also took the time to better understand what productivity truly meant to Gen Z. A handy dictionary will tell you that productivity is generally measured in terms of the rate of output per unit of input. But how would you define productivity for yourself? We asked Gen Z and 40% of our respondents thought of productivity as the ability to produce quality work related to doing an effective job. 27% of respondents felt organization was key to their understanding of productivity, while 19% described productivity in relationship to speed and completing tasks efficiently. The remaining 10% felt productivity was linked to being and staying busy throughout the entirety of the work day.
Given that productivity looks different for different people, we received a spectrum of responses regarding which space Gen Z’ers associate productivity with. So although 70% of responses indicate they’d rather leave their homes to be more productive, perhaps productivity is not always the most important factor when considering whether Gen Z wants to work from home, or the office. There seems to be a complex personal relationship for Gen Z between mental health and where they are working. Where do you work best? Is productivity your personal priority? A 16-year-old respondent from Houston realized that “working set hours in a separate location just isn’t good for my productivity and mental health”, while a 20 year old from Canada admits that “the pandemic has had a huge effect on my social life and mental health. This has a negative effect on my productivity and ultimately, my outlook on my future.”
Gen Z Values Flexibility Above All in the Workplace
In our survey, we asked Gen Zers how many days they would like to come into the office if they worked a full-time job. The average response was 3.3 days. Additionally, when polled about the biggest benefits and drawbacks of working from home, 68% selected flexible work hours/location as the greatest benefit of remote working. Among all variables, flexibility appears to be the most important consideration for Gen Z in jobs and careers.
Now, according to data gathered by Bloomberg, flexibility is not a desire unique to Gen Z. Millennials and Gen Xers also cited flexible work hours as an important consideration for their next job. Gen Z just takes it to the next level.
One 20 year old from Los Angeles states that “I have no idea who popularized the 9-5, 5 day work week, but I think employers are starting to realize how much better a WFH or hybrid work week is for the mental health and productivity of their employees.”
Another respondent, a 17 year old from Pottstown Pennsylvania, shared a similar ideology around flexibility post-pandemic, sharing that “I feel like I can work on anything — project or role — from anywhere in the world. This makes me excited because I can live in an area that is not too expensive and focus on my savings.”
This does not necessarily mean that Gen Z wants to end in-person offices and work from home permanently. One misconception about Gen Z is the idea that since they are digital natives, remote working and technology come naturally. However, when asked about the challenges of remote working, our respondents chose “dealing with distractions” (29%) and “less socialization” (24%) as the two biggest impediments of working from home. Just like previous generations, we still value in-person socialization and do not believe virtual relationships are the same.
“I definitely need in-office socialization, but I would value having time to work at home and the flexibility that comes with it as well.”
A 15-year-old Gen Zer from Bellevue, WA sums it up well, saying, “I definitely need in-office socialization, but I would value having time to work at home and the flexibility that comes with it as well.”
Instead of working fully remotely or in the office, Gen Z is interested in something in the middle. Some days in the office to socialize, work without distractions, and have some oversight; other days working remotely with flexible hours, in the comfort of their home, and free from commuting.
We might be the first generation to not remember a time without social media. We might be the first generation to graduate from Zoom University. But we still value the power of social interaction in real life and in-person office environments. The best thing you can do to enable working Gen Zers is to create a working environment with balance and flexibility.
JUV Consulting is a Gen Z collective that works with companies to create purpose-driven and authentic marketing campaigns that engage young audiences. Since its inception, JUV has successfully operated in a remote work model. Contact us at email@example.com if you would like to learn how to reach Gen Z.
*We surveyed 325 respondents, aged 14 to 24, conducted online from September 30 through October 5. The average respondent was 18 years old.