The problem: Members of Gen Z, who began their careers amid the global pandemic, are struggling to acclimate to the new work environment.

Why it matters: Gen Z is expected to account for one-fourth of the workforce by next year.

The solution: Adapt and expand people-management strategies to help Gen Z cope with anxiety, financial stress, work-life balance and other issues.

It’s an unspoken rule of the professional-services industry: If a client wants to meet in person, you go—unless extraordinary circumstances prevent it. Not wanting to leave your dog at home alone doesn’t meet that standard.

But for Gen Z workers (many of whom, like millions of other Americans, adopted pets during the pandemic), it’s a perfectly reasonable concern—one managers and HR executives across industries are hearing more and more as firms seek to return people to the office. “People who have dogs think about how they care for them in the same way they do a child,” says a corporate human-resources leader who asked not to be named.

Though companies might have dismissed concerns in the past about the loneliness of pets, today they’re trying to meet Gen Z where they are, says this source. This is partly out of necessity: in a recent survey, 64% of Gen-Z dog owners said they would change jobs or reduce hours to have more time with their pets.

Perhaps no generation has confounded business leaders around the world as much as Gen Z—some 2 billion people born between 1996 and 2012—has. Three in four leaders describe this new generation as “difficult,” for instance. And that might be the nicest thing they’ve called Gen Z. “Demanding”, “entitled”, and even “lazy” are among the other terms leaders have applied to this group.

That said, Gen Z has also been credited with ushering in new ways of working and doing business. They’ve helped bring sustainability and diversity to the top of the corporate agenda. They’ve played an important role in the purpose movement and began promoting flexible work arrangements long before anyone had ever heard of COVID-19. “Millennials were the first generation to really push these issues in the workplace, but Gen Zers are taking it a step further and have become the driving force pushing leadership to evolve on the issues important to them,” says Elizabeth Faber, Global Chief People & Purpose Officer at Deloitte.  

Every year, professional-services firms hire tens of thousands of Gen-Z workers. Faber says Gen Zers, along with millennials, account for roughly 80% of Deloitte’s worldwide staff of approximately 457,000.

“GenZers... have become the driving force pushing leadership to evolve on the issues important to them.”

The pandemic thrust Gen Z into the spotlight in ways both good and bad, and as this group gets set to become the second-largest demographic in the entire workforce, trailing only millennials, leaders are being challenged to adapt cultures and people-management strategies to them. “Gen Z views old notions of work-life balance through a whole new paradigm. While this creates natural friction with the ‘old guard,’ fostering these cultural changemakers also presents a rich new opportunity,” says Margie Warrell, a senior client partner at Korn Ferry and a global authority on courageous leadership.

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Generational differences in the workplace are nothing new, of course. Baby boomers—who grew up in the shadow of World War II and viewed work as a means of security, financial health, and self-worth—scoffed at what they viewed as the general ambivalence of Gen X when that generation entered the workplace. Gen X, in their turn, saw the arrival of millennials as a threat to the established order. And while millennials and Gen Zers tend to be lumped together, the backdrop against which the workforce’s newest generation came of age has no precedent.

While each of these generations witnessed their fair share of social and economic unrest, Gen Z’s experiences are unique. They are the first generation to grow up online, and the most diverse and globally aware. This means that they view issues like equality and climate change as matters of personal importance. The most notable way in which they’re different, however, is in the fact that so many of them began their careers in the isolation of a global pandemic.

These forces have left Gen Z feeling more anxious about work than previous generations. Nearly half of Gen-Z participants in Deloitte’s annual Gen Z and Millennial Survey say they feel anxious at work all or most of the time. “They are more aware of and sensitive to their environment than previous generations,” says Warrell.

Gen Z: 5 reasonable workplace expectations

Despite being labeled as demanding and difficult, experts say Gen Z has workplace expectations that are not unreasonable. Here are five ways leaders can attract, retain and engage the newest members of the workforce.

Expand wellness offerings:

Mental, emotional and physical health is a critical unmet need for Gen Z employees that leaders can prioritize.

Stay flexible:

Remote and hybrid work isn’t the only way firms can appeal to Gen-Z workers. Consider expanding part-time roles and job-sharing, as well as shortening workweeks or workdays.

Sustain sustainability:

Studies show Gen Z suffers from “climate anxiety” and worries companies will compromise on sustainability in the face of budgetary demands. It’s not enough to simply show them they’re mistaken; they must be actively involved in ensuring no such compromise occurs.

Teach them well:

Gen Z prioritizes learning and development opportunities as highly as it does pay. Robust training in new technologies like AI, as well as soft skills like conflict resolution, can be a powerful way to engage Gen Z talent.

Customize rewards:

Benefits are no longer a one-size-fits-all reward, and Gen Z increasingly seeks personalized offerings that can be adjusted based on their needs.

Gen Z is also more likely than any other generation to look to employers for answers. “A lot of what Gen Z is asking for isn’t all that unreasonable,” says Ty Beasley, Chief Talent Officer of professional-services firm RSM. To be sure, professional-services firms, because they rely on a steady flow of young talent, have shaped Gen Z’s work experiences and outlook since the outset of the pandemic. That’s why these firms were among the first to expand flexible work arrangements, enhance parental leave, and institute AI training and development programs, along with other measures designed to attract Gen Z talent.

“A lot of what Gen Z is asking for isn’t all that unreasonable.”

But business leaders’ approach to issues like sustainability, diversity, and social impact has only grown in importance for Gen Z since the pandemic. Gen Zers are suspicious of companies’ long-term commitment to these issues, for instance, and want to be engaged by leaders to ensure action is being taken. Pointing to inflation, slowing growth, a tightening labor market, and other negative economic trends in the years since the pandemic, Deloitte’s Faber says one of Gen Z’s biggest post-pandemic objectives is to “make sure these priorities aren’t sacrificed for financial gain.”

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Companies are making progress in helping Gen Z acclimate to the post-pandemic workplace. Indeed, some trends are emerging that suggest that leaders and Gen Z are inching closer to each other. Gen Z participants in Deloitte’s annual survey, for instance, are more satisfied with their work-life balance this year than they were three years ago. They also feel more positively about their companies’ progress toward diversity, sustainability, and social-impact pledges since the pandemic, as well as about corporate efforts to help employees cope with mental-health issues surrounding work. But more needs to be done before either side can fully embrace the other. One in three Gen Zers in a recent poll says the best way to build wealth is through “some form of self-employment,” for instance.

Experts say establishing trust between leaders and Gen Z isn’t about groundbreaking new paradigms. Instead, it’s about the little things—providing tools and resources to cope with life’s stressors, offering opportunities to learn new skills, communicating openly, and establishing corporate values that help drive individual purpose. “We should be mindful not to overcomplicate solutions. It’s often the simplest of changes which are the most effective in helping people to thrive in their work, careers, and beyond,” says Korn Ferry’s Warrell.


For more information contact Margie Warrell at