October 30, 2023

Navigating the Workplace: Gen Z vs. Millennials 

Lauren Kemp

Millennials comprise those born between 1980-1995, and Gen Z is the generation that follows them, born between 1996-2010. Although these generations are relatively close in age, they are different when considering the workplace. What matters at work, values, jobs they are most likely to choose, and the role of technology at work are all areas that these generations share commonalities, but also crucial differences. 


Why do these differences matter in the workplace?

Age is often overlooked as an element of workplace diversity. However, workplaces that have generational differences are often more productive. In order to reap the benefits of a multi-generational workplace, it is important to understand the benefits each age group brings and to foster a culture that encourages learning from each other's diverse backgrounds. 


Work-Life Balance

The idea of work-life balance is commonly used in today's professional environment and seems to be something most candidates desire. The idea of work-life balance first appeared in the 80s as stressed Baby Boomers drove to achieve a more equitable split between their family, career, and other areas of life. Today, specifically concerning Millennials and Gen Z, work-life balance is a more organized and common aspect in many careers, and each generation approaches the topic differently. 

Gen Z is outspoken about their desire for work-life balance, which can come as a shock to Millennials, whose careers have mostly seen structured and sometimes overworked days. Although Millennials and Gen Z may work differently, they want the same things in the workplace, involving balance. 

When Millennials began their careers, their emphasis was on job security. The older group of this generation was affected by the financial crisis of 2008, making finding a job difficult and increasing the desire to hang on to work that could be found. As the economy recovered, Millennials gained a reputation for job-hopping. Much of this stemmed from being the first to be let go during layoffs and the first to experience reduced benefits from being moved from full-time to part-time positions. It is understandable that as the economy bounced back, Millennials began to seek better opportunities. This is where work-life balance appeared for this generation experiencing burnout. Work is not an exclusive priority for younger generations, and as a PwC survey found, 71% of respondents believe work interferes with their personal lives.


Values in the Workplace

Gen Z tends to be committed to social and environmental causes. Most members of this generation describe themselves as environmentally conscious, and they expect to see sustainability commitments from companies they consider working for. Millennials focus on purpose-driven work and transparent leadership. This generation is unique as it desires leadership that is open and transparent. Again, relating to their entry into the workforce during the 2008 financial crisis, Millennials seem to have a "see it to believe it" form of trust. They want facts, data, and validation to feel confident in leadership. 

Gen Z's Career Choices

Technology and digital media roles: Gen Z is the first generation to be raised with the internet. For this reason, they are familiar with many devices and social media platforms and are more savvy in navigating the internet. 

Freelancing and gig economy jobs: To go along with the work-life balance emphasis, Gen Z is more likely to pursue jobs that break the traditional 9-5, such as freelance or gig roles. 

Sustainability and eco-conscious careers: Being one of the generation's leading values, Gen Z is more likely to work in a career focused on sustainability or eco-consciousness. Studies in 2021 found that 64% of 18-24-year-olds consider it important for their employers to act sustainably, and over half also claimed that they would stay with an employer longer if they acted more socially responsible.

Millennial Career Choices

Entrepreneurship and startups: Millennials are drawn to startups as they offer independence, innovation, and impact. Many Millennials choose to work for a startup as they launch their careers before having kids, a mortgage, or other significant expenses to worry about, and then turn toward a more traditional career experience through corporate America later down the line. 

Traditional corporate roles: Some Millennials head straight into corporate America, quickly becoming the next significant generation in the workforce after the Baby Boomers. Millennials value collaboration and technology advancements and have a more lenient leadership style. They do not care if you are on or off the clock as long as your work is being done. They understand that work does not shut down at five and that life events happen throughout the day. 

The Role of Technology

Gen Z's Tech Savviness: This generation has a savviness with automation and AI. They embrace technologies and have a seemingly inherent understanding of AI's potential, making it easy to integrate new technologies into their work and daily lives.

Millennials' Adaptation to Social Media and Remote Work: Millennials were not born into the same technology boom that Gen Z was. However, they still adopted social media and tech advances early on. They somewhat pioneered the digital age by embracing Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter during the platforms' early years. This contributes to their successful transition to remote work environments. Millennials quickly adapt to new collaboration tools, preparing them well for remote work. 

In today's ever-changing workplace, the distinctions between Gen Z and Millennials go beyond generational quirks, involving fundamental aspects of their work. Recognizing these commonalities and differences is valuable for employers to understand as they can influence workplace dynamics. Gen Z's pursuit of work-life balance, emphasis on social and environmental causes, and tech proficiency shape what kind of workplace suits their generation best. Millennials, the early adopters of social media and remote work superstars, focus on transparent leadership and having a purpose. To unlock the potential of these generational dynamics, foster an inclusive culture that embraces differences and encourages collaboration.