Winning Over the Purpose-Driven Gen Z Workforce

by Daniel Goleman

Each year, The Center for Generational Kinetics (CGK) leads The State of Gen Z® Annual Research Study, comparing 1,000 members of Gen Z to more than 1,000 Millennials across the United States. The report looks at how this cohort thinks and behaves, giving organizations, leaders and managers key insights into the future of advertising, product development, recruitment and retention.

The side-by-side comparison reveals that Gen Z – the oldest of whom are almost 26 – are not “Millennials 2.0.” Instead, they are a unique generation whose norms, values, and experiences are significantly informed by global issues such as climate change and COVID-19. They are also the most diverse generation the United States has ever seen with just over half identifying as white non-Hispanic.

Put it all together and it’s clear why this generation has been such a significant catalyst for the purpose movement. Their uncommon perspectives, growing purchasing power, fluency with social media, and the fact that they are the fastest-growing generation in the workforce give them a tremendous amount of influence.

But companies should know – purpose, on its own, isn’t enough to attract and retain this cohort. ​​According to CGK, salary is becoming increasingly important. While older generations have shown a growing willingness to sacrifice money for meaning, Gen Z is putting pressure on employers to up their wages. When applying to jobs, the starting salary or salary range for the position is the most important factor in deciding to submit a resume. Once employed, their concerns shift to things such as a flexible schedule, a good boss, and feeling like they can bring their authentic selves to their workplace.

Related Article: Retaining Talent Through the Generations

This shouldn’t be surprising. Though young, this generation has already lived through a large degree of instability. During the pandemic they were the generation most likely to lose jobs, internships, pay or hours. As it stands, they are currently witnessing a war, inflation, and an unstable economy. It’s no wonder they are zeroed in on financial security. Unlike their tenured colleagues, it’s unlikely they own homes, assets, or retirement accounts. They are starting fresh and attempting to build their lives in a time marked by unprecedented change and uncertainty.

But this hyper-focus on pay doesn’t mean purpose is falling by the wayside. In fact, the same is true for Gen Z job seekers as it is for corporations: purpose and profit are two sides of the same coin. The study revealed that year to year, the overall importance of social causes to this generation remains high, with diversity, equity, and inclusion ranking top on their list of social concerns. This is followed by issues such as stopping human trafficking, advancing healthcare availability, protecting the environment, and ending homlessness, poverty and hunger.

How such causes get prioritized depends on a variety of factors, including gender. For example, Gen Z females are significantly more likely than their male counterparts to want to work for a company that supports stopping human trafficking while Gen Z males are significantly more likely than Gen Z females to apply to a company that is committed to reducing unemployment.

If organizations want to know what the future of business looks like and where they might focus their sense of purpose, this is a cohort to listen to. While the social causes they care most about might shift according to their identity and what is going on in the world, what doesn’t shift is their expectation of employers: they want to work for companies who are taking tangible and measurable actions on the things that matter. And, like most people in the world, they want to be well-paid in the meantime.




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