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Embracing the Next Generation: How to Welcome Gen Z to the Workplace

July 18, 2023
  • Workplace

Explore insights from industry experts on the next generation to join the workforce and gain a better understanding of what Gen Z values as you prepare for their arrival to the office.


This year, we partnered with ThinkLab for their fourth annual Design Hackathon to explore the ripple up effect of Gen Z and its impact on the future of work. At NeoCon 2023, we had the pleasure of hosting a panel of ThinkLab experts from four of Interior Design’sTop Giants,” including AECOM, CannonDesign, IA Interior Architects, and DLR Group. The esteemed panelists covered everything from techniques for improving mentorship to strategies for creating a culture of retention.

Below, we share our top takeaways that will help prepare you for Gen Z’s transition to the workplace.

Navigating the New Workforce

Members of Gen Z were born between 1997 and 2012. The youngest Gen Zers are still in school, while the oldest are just beginning their first jobs. Gen Z is expected to make up 30% of the workforce by 2030.

Consequently, employers will need to make sure that their workplace culture speaks to the values of these latest entrants to the workforce. Here are nine takeaways from our panel discussion that illuminate who Gen Z is -- and what they are looking for from their employers:

  1. Gen Z craves authenticity. Research shows that Gen Z ranks empathy as the second-most important trait in a boss. These young workers appreciate when leadership displays a genuine interest in them and relates to them on a personal level. Empathy can be demonstrated by asking questions about work or even their personal lives, when appropriate. Showing interest is a form of respect -- and can go a long way.
  2. Gen Z is not blindly loyal. Gen Zers want to feel that their company is investing in them with fair compensation that recognizes their hard work and dedication. They seek stability and support from their employer -- and want to feel like their loyalty will be rewarded not just when the company thrives but when it faces tough times, too.

  3. Timely check-ins are the new annual reviews. A once-a-year review will not do! Gen Zers want to be recognized -- or critiqued -- when it is relevant to the project or task. Private recognition counts! Kudos don’t need to be delivered in public or through official channels. Frequency is more important than formality.
  4. Mentorship is a two-way street. Gen Z has a lot to learn about the workforce, while the workforce has a lot to learn about Gen Z. To facilitate this exchange of knowledge, adopting a mentorship system could prove worthwhile. The mentor and mentee can learn from each other, easing the transition of Gen Z into the workplace and greatly benefitting employers in the long run. 

  5. An uneven climb up the corporate ladder? Gen Zers are open to moving laterally and developing new skill sets, even if that work doesn’t mean an immediate raise or promotion. But they’re also looking for opportunities to grow and want guidance from their managers on how to do so. Employers who indulge their entrepreneurial mindset will get the most out of their Gen Z employees.
  6. Show respect with small rewards. Things like a day off after working overtime to meet a deadline or a big team lunch to celebrate a win can go a long way toward making a Gen Z employee feel respected and appreciated.

  7. Timeframes for achieving goals are shrinking. Younger workers don’t measure success along five- or 10-year time horizons. They tend to be more spontaneous and task-driven. Gen Zers want to see progress within 12 or 24 months with incremental check-ins along the way. Breaking up larger projects into smaller, more manageable tasks may also be helpful.
  8. Communication is key. This new generation of workers is constantly communicating in a variety of ways – text, email, chat, and phone. Ask your Gen Zers their preferred way to communicate -- and then use that channel to facilitate the personal connections they desire.

  9. Gen Z wants face time. This generation of workers finished their schooling amidst a global pandemic. They know what “Zoom University” feels like -- and they don’t want to go back. Gen Zers are digital natives but prefer meeting face to face to both establish personal connections with coworkers and feel engaged in the workplace. Opt for video conferencing instead of phone calls when remote and schedule team meetings in the conference room during in-office days.

Planning for the Future

As the workplace welcomes more and more members of Gen Z, older generations will have to adapt to the characteristics and behaviors of this new group of workers, the most diverse in history. Workplace leaders who make a continuous effort to address the needs and desires of Gen Z will set their employers up for success today -- and tomorrow -- when the newbies become workplace leaders themselves.

Check out ThinkLab’s Design Nerds Anonymous podcast to hear more from industry experts on Gen Z!

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by Jonathan Webb  Director of Workplace & Healthcare Markets

Jonathan Webb leads KI’s strategic business units for workplace/private sector and healthcare. Jonathan studies workplace and healthcare trends, uncovers product gaps, and develops solutions with the KI team. Jonathan takes part in advanced workplace and corporate training strategies and documents his findings through white papers, articles, and other publications. His recent publications, Understanding Active Design: The Rise of Human Sustainability and Collegiate Design: The New Driver for Workplace Design, have put Jonathan in the media spotlight. Partnering with thought leaders like AECOM, his publications cover diverse subjects including sit/stand benefits, designing training environments, and defining work styles. Jonathan holds an MBA from the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh School of Business and is a LEED-accredited professional.


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