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Life & Work: The ABCs of Gen Z

While no generation can be reduced to a simple stereotype, it’s helpful to understand some of the broad tendencies and collective characteristics of the newest members of the workforce.

A new generation has entered the early phases of adulthood. Generation Z, which makes up roughly a quarter of the United States population and includes individuals born between the mid-1990s and 2010, has officially started entering the workforce. Although sometimes blended together with the millennials who precede them, there are said to be countless differences between the two. For any company looking to attract top talent from this generation, it will be essential for them to understand the basics — the ABCs, so-to-speak — surrounding their values, motivations, and tendencies.

These are broad generalizations, and not every one of these qualities applies to every person in this age group. But just as there are individual differences, there are also behaviors and attitudes that result from the major events or experiences that are shared across an age group.

Achievement: 43% of Gen Z considers professional and educational achievement to be the most important aspect of their identities, whereas older generations favor family and religious beliefs.

Blend of work/life: With an increased trend of pursuing a full-time job plus income-generating hobbies (“side hustles”), this generation expects flexibility in traditional work environments and hours.

Competitive: Whereas millennials are known for being teamwork oriented, Gen Z is more competitive. Their preference is to be evaluated based on their own contributions and impact rather than those of their teams.

Diverse: With almost 50% identifying as nonwhite, Gen Z is the most diverse generation to date.

Entrepreneurial: 42% of Gen Z survey responders want to run their own businesses someday. They are also 55% more likely to want to start a business than millennial counterparts.

Financial security: Gen Z has a strong drive for financial security and are opening savings accounts earlier than prior generations. From a work benefits perspective, 70% describe salary as a top motivator, and 35% plan to start saving for retirement in their 20s.

Growth-oriented: Thanks to their desire to achieve, career growth is among the top priorities for Gen Z, with more personal priorities such as marriage and becoming a parent near the bottom of the list.

Hard-working: Only 38% consider work/life balance to be important, and 58% would work nights and weekends for higher pay.

Independent: In addition to financial independence, which 42% consider the primary mark of adulthood (compared with 25% of millennials), Gen Z values the ability to work independently in their day-to-day jobs.

Judging based on reviews: Gen Z relies heavily on online forums and review sites such as Glassdoor when considering places to work.

Knack for technology: Because Gen Z is the first group of digital natives, technology comes naturally to them. When it comes to their workplaces, they expect companies to be tech oriented and have seamlessly integrated solutions for team communication and collaboration.

Largest generation: Gen Z makes up 25% of the U.S. population, encompassing the largest incoming workforce.

Manager expectations: 40% want to interact with their bosses on a daily basis and look for frequent coaching and feedback.

Need for variety: Along with its entrepreneurial tendencies, Gen Z wants a variety of responsibilities at work. This is both to help them discover their true passions and to continuously learn new skills.

Outspoken: As a generation used to having information at its fingertips, Gen Z is resourceful, opinionated, and outspoken about the causes they believe in. This gives them the potential to be large catalysts for change.

Phones: 98% own phones, 80% feel distressed when kept away from electronic devices, and 40% say they’re addicted to their phones.

Quick to contribute: Thanks to an innate savviness with technology as well as general self-reliance, resourcefulness, and agility, Gen Z is able to rapidly pick up workforce skills and make early contributions.

Risk-averse: Generation Z was raised during a recession and prefers to avoid debt. Their top financial preference is usage of debit cards, followed by mobile banking.

Secular yet spiritual: More of Gen Z is growing up in nonreligious homes, and as a result is the least-religious generation. However, even though only 40% attend weekly religious services, 78% say they believe in God and seek their own forms of spirituality.

Text communicators: 23% expect text-based communication to be essential to communication in their workplaces.

Unique products vs. experiences: 60% of Gen Z prefers unique products over unique experiences. This is unlike millennials, of whom 77% prefer unique experiences.

Values-driven: Gen Z tends to support causes and organizations that embrace their values of equality and make emotional connections with their advertising.

Wired/Connected: This generation has never known a world without the internet and mobile phones. The average age for having received their first mobile phone is 10.3 years.

[Not] Xenophobic: Gen Z is not just diverse but also highly inclusive. 72% believe racial equality to be the most important issue today, and 60% will support a brand that stands for equality.

YouTube: This is the most-visited website for Gen Z, whereas the most-visited site for all other generations is Facebook. YouTube acts as a way for Gen Z to learn, be entertained, and feel connected.

Zealous: From online activism to pursuing their own ambitions, Gen Z has given the world a glimpse into the passion and zeal that they are willing to unleash for the causes they believe in.

A variety of characteristics make up this new generation. What does this mean for the managers and recruiters actively looking to attract and hire these candidates? In addition to doing the research, it’s important to get to know individuals on a personal level. A great deal can be learned from connecting with the Gen Z new hires within an organization, or by conducting educational outreach at the K-12 or university levels.

Understanding generational themes and common traits can help a company develop its high-level recruitment strategy, yet motivating and retaining talent requires investing time and energy at an individual level.



“Life & Work: The ABCs of Gen Z” was written by Sarvenaz Myslicki has been an active SWE member for more than 10 years. She has held leadership positions at the section and Society levels and currently serves as chair-elect of the editorial board. An engineering director at American Express, she holds a B.S. from the University of Florida and an M.S. from Georgia Tech, both in computer science. This article appears in the 2019 Conference issue of SWE Magazine.

Author(s) Information

  • Life & Work: The ABCs of Gen Z gen z

    Sarvenaz Myslicki, SWE Editorial Board

    Sarvenaz Myslicki has been an active SWE member for more than 10 years. She has held leadership positions at the section and Society levels and currently serves as chair-elect of the editorial board. A vice president of engineering at American Express, she holds a B.S. and M.S. in computer science, as well as an executive MBA.

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