Structural changes in the economy over the last 40 years have led people to spend more time than ever at work. This is true across the board: Whether the work is rural or urban, entry-level or expert. But this uptick in working leaves employees with less time and fewer resources for outside pursuits, including hobbies, passions, leisure and more. In effect, if we’re spending more time working, work has to do more for us.
The days of relying on work to simply provide a paycheck, while spending free time on more fulfilling pursuits, are rapidly disappearing — if not gone already. Young people today recognize that a paycheck is the bare minimum of what work should provide.
What Gen Z Wants
Springtide Research Institute, a non-profit effort to understand the distinct ways new generations experience and express community, identity, and meaning, surveyed nearly 7,000 young people ages 13-25 and interviewed 117 more from March through November 2020 about their perspectives on work, culminating in a report titled “Work/Life.”
When asked which factors would make them want to stay in a job, 78% of people ages 18 to 25 said that work-life balance is critical. This percentage is higher than for any of the other 16 factors surveyed. But what does it mean to flourish and find balance in work and in life for young people today?
Our research suggests that what young people want in work, as well as in life, is mentorship, meaning and growth.
Mentorship, Meaning and Growth
At work, hallmarks of mentorship may include coaching, caring about young employees’ futures, being supportive without intervening in their responsibilities or micromanaging, creating a space for authenticity, encouraging career advancement and connecting as people, not just as colleagues.
Springtide research found that 82% of young people surveyed said it was important that their supervisor or future supervisor helps them set and achieve performance goals at work and can relate to them as a person.
One Generation Z survey respondent reflected on her experience having a mentor. She says, “I did have a mentor during my nursing career. Susan was a nurse. She had her doctorate as a nurse practitioner and her master’s [degree] in public health. She was one of the people that noticed my passion, and she would notice if I got upset because my classmates were talking rudely about patients. We would talk, and she kind of took me under her wing; even after I graduated, we met up for lunch a couple of times.”
Finding meaning in work is often associated with having a sense of purpose, a feeling that one belongs to something larger than one’s self, and being able to live in sync with one’s priorities. Finding meaning in work might emerge when one can serve others and make a difference, but it’s not only about the nature of one’s job responsibilities. An employer’s values and the workplace culture are significant factors in whether Generation Z employees will find meaning in their work.
For many, a job is more than just a way to make money — though that’s a baseline expectation for most young people. Young people see work as a stepping stone, a chance to network, an opportunity to do good in the world, or the means to support a passion, an education or a family. Another survey respondent reflected, “I think work is better when it’s meaningful. I think that if I have the privilege to choose a job I want, where money is not the main factor, I’d rather take a role where I can make a difference in someone else’s life.”
Our research found that 73% of young people surveyed are more likely to do extra work when they believe in what they’re doing, and they will invest in an organization that helps them achieve their goals.
Finally, work environments conducive to growth encourage feature regular feedback, increasing responsibilities and new experiences, as well as strong connections with colleagues. Work significantly influences young people’s personal sense of identity, so their sense of flourishing and growing as a person is regularly experienced as growth in the context of their job.
What Employers Can Do
Trusted adults in the lives of young people, including employers, have a responsibility to not only help Gen Z find meaningful work but also to help them find meaning at work, no matter the nature of their job. The ability to choose a job based on the inherent meaning of the work is a privilege, but pursuing and living a life of meaning and purpose should not be.
Helping Gen Z flourish and find balance in the workplace begins with connecting them to mentors — or be a mentor yourself. Be transformational, not just transactional. Make it clear that you care about them as people, not just the organization you work for. One way to help Gen Z find meaning at work is to help them contextualize their daily tasks in light of the company’s lager goals, especially when they are aligned with their values.
Gen Z are in a life stage full of growing and learning about who they are and how they fit into the world around them. If you can discover what excites your younger workers and aim to give them opportunities to follow their passions, they will grow as employees and in turn make valuable contributions to your company now and in the future.