Meet Gen Z - Optimistic and Anxious

This post is submitted by Joyce Maroney, Executive Director of the Workforce Institute at Kronos. In it, she discusses the first installment of a 3-part series of reports on our most recent research - a global survey of 3,400 members of Generation Z finds them optimistic and anxious about work.

We asked Gen Z folks in Australia, Belgium, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, the U.K., and the U.S. how their education has prepared them for the working world, their perceptions about the gig economy, and their views on what employers need to offer them in order to attract and retain them. For purposes of this research, we are defining Gen Z as people who are currently 16-25 years old.

For me, the most surprising finding was the high level of anxiety expressed by our respondents when it comes to what they believe are their biggest barriers to professional achievement. In fact, "my anxiety" is the top answer they gave when asked to rank a list of potential barriers including education, family finances, location, etc. Across all regions, 34% percent of our respondents felt anxiety was their top barrier, with women (39%) feeling greater anxiety than men (29%). When we look at responses by country, anxiety jumps to 44% in Canada and 40% for the US and the UK.

I wondered if this anxiety was specific to our respondents. It's not. A 2018 report from the American Psychological Association titled Stress in America - Gen Z notes that 77% of US Gen Z adults were stressed about work vs. 64% of adults overall. That same report notes that Gen Z adults are the most likely to report poor mental health. If there's a silver lining here, they are also most likely to seek professional help for mental health issues.

Our respondents did mostly indicate that they are optimistic about their prospects - although that optimism seems to wane among those who are currently working. Across the globe, more than half (56%) of Gen Z are "very" or "extremely" optimistic about their professional future. However, Gen Zers who are currently employed are the least optimistic: half (50%) of those who are currently serving in an internship and one-third (28%) of those working full-time are only “moderately” optimistic about their professional future.

What's happening to these folks once they get to work that makes them feel somewhat less optimistic about their futures? Some of this may just be the inevitable collision of vision colliding with reality. When I used to complain to my father about work early in my career, his response was often "There's a reason they have different words for work vs. fun."

While we all learn that even the best jobs include aspects we don't love, it is the case that some employers do better than others in creating environments where employees thrive and choose to remain. Gen Z is the biggest cohort in the world population right now - 32% vs. 31.5% Millennials according to Bloomberg. They are starting to show up in force in the workplace. Employers who want to employ their fair share will do well to invest in understanding them.

You can download the report "Meet Gen Z" here to learn more about the research.

Here are a few more highlights from Part 1 of this series:

  • Gen Z believes it is the hardest-working generation - and have it the hardest - yet demand schedule flexibility to deliver their best work.
    • One-third (32%) of Gen Z respondents say they are the hardest-working generation ever, with Millennials ranked as the second-hardest working generation at 25%. More than half (56%) say the Silent Generation is the least hardworking generation of all time.
    • Almost two-fifths (36%) of Gen Zers believe they “had it the hardest” when entering the working world compared to all other generations before it, tied with the Silent Generation (ages 75-94), which generally began entering the workforce during or just after World War II.
    • While Gen Zers believe they are hardworking, one in four (26%) admit they would work harder and stay longer at a company that supports flexible schedules, with flexibility desired most in Canada (33%), the U.K. (31%), and the U.S. (31%).
    • Gen Z's appeal for flexibility comes with a few actions they would never tolerate from their employer, including being forced to work when they don't want to (35%); inability to use vacation days when they want to (34%); and working back-to-back shifts (30%).
  • Mind the “Preparation Gap”: Gen Z outlines what school did - and did not - prepare them for, as these digital natives crave face-to-face interaction.
    • Despite record-high enrollment, less than half of Gen Z credits their high school (39%) or college (42%) education for preparing them to enter the working world. One in four Gen Zers say they are least prepared to handle negotiating (26%); networking (24%); speaking confidently in front of crowds (24%); and resolving work conflict (23%).
    • Conversely, Gen Z feels well-equipped to handle working in a team (57%); hitting project deadlines (57%); and working with customers (56%).
    • Gen Z also isn't prepared to be managed by another person (21%), although nearly one-third (32%) say they would be motivated to work harder and stay longer at a company if they have a supportive manager. The top three attributes they value in a manager are: “they trust me” (47%), “they support me” (40%), and “they care about me” (35%).
    • Despite being digital natives, three out of four Gen Zers (75%) prefer to receive manager feedback in person, and 39% prefer to communicate with their team or employer in person - with Gen Zers in Mexico valuing in-person communication the most (55%).  
  • How do they measure success? Gen Z is optimistic, yet anxious, about their careers.
    • Across the globe, more than half (56%) of Gen Z is optimistic about their professional future, led by India where an incredible 44% of 16- to 25-year-olds are “extremely optimistic,” followed closely by U.S. Gen Zers at 31%.
    • However, Gen Zers who are employed today are the least optimistic: Half (50%) of those who are currently serving in an internship and one-third (28%) of those working full-time are only “moderately” optimistic about their professional future.
    • The overall optimism of Gen Z is met with many emotional barriers this generation feels it must overcome to achieve workplace success, including anxiety (34%), lack of motivation/drive (20%), and low self-esteem (17%). Anxiety, specifically, is a greater concern among female Gen Zers (39% vs. 29% for male) and most prevalent in Canada (44%), the U.K. (40%), and the U.S. (40%).
    • About one-third of Gen Z measures their success based on how respected they are by their co-workers (34%) and the recognition they receive from their manager (32%). However, traditional benchmarks still matter, with salary (44%) and advancement (35%) reigning supreme.