How Gen Z talent are redefining the workplace through coaching and mentoring

5 Minutes

June 19, 2023


  1. What’s up with Gen Z
  2. Working with our differences; playing to our strengths
  3. Talk to me: how Gen Z are coaching CEOs and leading the consumer conversation

From side hustles to the 'Z-suite', Gen Z are challenging - and holding to account - the generation that came before: their bosses, their brands and their baloney. 

As employees and consumers, Gen Z will soon be the largest and most economically powerful demographic on the planet. Current leaders ignore them at their peril. 

They're young, but youth is no longer a barrier to cultural kudos and knowledge capital. 

We explore the value this generation has to offer as coaches, consultants and employees, and - if they're to avoid the risk of being 'cancelled' - how organisations and workplaces must move from fixed mindsets of the past to embrace these NexGens' unique strengths. 

It's time to talk. 

What's up with Gen Z?

Gen X, Millennials, Gen Z - the peer-group chapters in the tale of the late twentieth century. 

But are their differences that significant?

When you consider that the Gen Z demographic (loosely those born from the mid-90s to the early 2010s) are the first digital natives - never knowing a world without the internet and being adept at continual iterations of digitalisation - their experience of the world becomes acutely different to that of the generations that have gone before. 

The way they perceive and interact with the web, each other, brands, and the planet is markedly different from their parents - Millennials. And, as Forbes states, "Not only are there more of them than any generation before, they also wield more influence."

Part of the challenge Gen Z represents to older ways of thinking and doing and, frankly, older people, is that they refuse definition. They actively seek multiple and non-binary means of self-identification, frequently ascribing to seemingly oppositional philosophies and values. 

Case in point:  60% of TikTok's one billion users are Gen Z, spending more time on social platforms than any other generational group. Yet, even as they insatiably consume social content, Gen Z curates their online presence more carefully than any other - 'over shares' and TMIs are rare in a group savvy with how they're perceived online… a paradox Gen X might find difficult to understand. 

US Gen Zers surveyed by McKinsey report the least optimistic outlook and the highest prevalence of mental illness of any generation, pessimism fuelled by growing global unrest, wars, financial crises, and educational interruptions. Add to this climate anxiety, and Gen Zers might be forgiven for being a bit blue. 

At the same time, though, they are socially progressive idealists, demanding ESG transparency, purpose and accountability, and that leaders create more opportunities for people of diverse and underrepresented backgrounds and rigorous sustainable and green practices.

They are also the first generation for whom expressing their politics and perspectives online is as natural, if not more so, as at the dinner table. 

Businesses and brands have found this diversity, as well as their social awareness and often outspoken or confrontational stance (at least online), to be challenging: falling foul in their messaging when they try to sell to them; unable to employ them effectively.   

How do organisations control or manage this generation, then? 

They don't. They instead need to communicate with them. 

Gen Z is the generation that will take on the burden of changing the world and won't buy into - or from - anyone who doesn't want to do the same. 

Working with our differences; playing to our strengths 

Gen Z is moving into the workforce in significant numbers: Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data shows there were 21 million employees aged 16 to 24 in the US by July 2022, with the employment rate rising 54.4% year-on-year.

And what was once the preference of Millenials has become the expectation of Gen Zers: bigger pay cheques, time off to dodge burn-out, hybrid working and evidence of your social/environmental responsibility. And they're willing to walk from work where their needs aren't met.

According to research from the BBC, Gen Zers are more likely to seek roles with flexible work arrangements to facilitate their other interests, seeking a balance that runs counter to the singular direction of the corporate ladder - and associated burnout - of the generation before. 

And the BBC reports that, for many young workers, a one full-time role is not fulfilling: "Generational shifts, an uncertain economy and a dynamic workplace situation mean the typical career of a young worker today looks very different than years ago, pre-pandemic."

While not every Gen Z will become an influencer, platforms beyond Youtube - Spotify, Depop, Acast, LinkedIn, Etsy - have allowed them to monetise their interests into side hustles that speak to their identity and creativity. We've noted before the concept of the squiggly career, now Gen Z are coining the 'tandem' career:

  • One IRL and one online.
  • Enjoying the diversity and versatility the digital world provides.
  • Maximising their income by leaning into their strengths. 

These 'side hustles' also mitigate risk, as the BBC research explains: "Younger workers are aware that roles and industries can become obsolete at a dizzying pace. 

The careers of their parents' generation are no longer necessarily stable options, so they instead often look to their peers, who are innovating new pathways through experimental side hustles, amplified on digital platforms."

Gen Z's drive and determination for more is clear - and should make them valuable business assets. How, then, does the workplace, whose practices may well have been forged in the last century, accommodate Gen Z, tap into this drive and help them thrive?

Inclusion Counts 

When choosing an employer, 83% of Gen Z candidates say that an organisation's dedication to diversity, equity and inclusion is essential. 

Lived Values 

Above other generations, Gen Z seeks better alignment between work and their values (80%). What your organisation stands for, believes in, and executes in its practice is noted. And they'll call you out if it's inauthentic: this is the generation who coined the term 'green-washing', remember. 

Holistic development opportunities

Gen Z values development opportunities, with salary a much lower priority than Millennials. 934 Talent has evidence that strengths assessments - coupled with feedback and coaching programmes - can make all employees feel valued and align their working behaviours to their strengths. And by CEOs coaching the next generation, they can quickly learn where their pain points are and develop programmes and offer benefits to support them, But it's mistaken to think that Gen Z only occupies entry-level or junior positions. 

While many organisations establish shadow boards or reverse-mentoring schemes and CEOs clamour to understand their younger peers, some take things further.

Enter the ZEO. 

Talk to me: how Gen Z are coaching CEOs and leading the consumer conversation

By the end of next year, Generation Z will be the most significant global group of consumers. 

  • They'll account for 40% of consumers in the US and Europe. 
  • They're hugely influential in family spending decisions. In the US alone, Gen Z currently has $1 trillion in indirect spending power by influencing household spending. 
  • At the end of 2021, Bloomberg found they had £290bn in disposable income. 

Put simply, companies that don't engage with Gen Z successfully will not survive. 

And brands are making missteps:

  • Content that attempts to mimic the voice or humour of Gen-Z - no, your t-shirts are not 'lit' if you have to tell me they are.
  • Inauthentic social responsibility: A 2021 survey by market research group Forrester found that 51% of US Gen Z consumers will research companies to ensure they "align with their position on corporate social responsibility" before making a purchase. 
  • Self-serving advertising that broadcasts rather than connects. 

Many companies seem unable to speak to this generation. And the higher-ups are turning to younger hires to coach them on how to converse with these consumers in a meaningful way. 

Rather than focusing on leading the Gen-Z recruits, they're finding ways to formalise listening to them. 

As a recent article from The Guardian reported, in summer 2022, the largest PR company in the world, Edelman, set up its 'Gen Z Lab' - 250 Gen Z employees - to provide them insights about Gen Z and hiring 26-year-old British-American fashion designer Harris Reed as "ZEO". 

Reed says he is part of the generation that is "pivoting towards change". The Guardian quotes him as saying: "Friends of mine will only purchase from companies where they know what their money is going towards," he says. "Once your older clientele dies off, not to be rude, but who's buying your product?" 

No wonder CEOs are clamouring to hear the perspective of those younger than them. 

Understanding each other is not a luxury but a necessity - and for more than your bottom line. Building inclusive communities through coaching and conversation - in corporate structures and the world - is the only way to evolve, improve and thrive. 

934 Talent is built on the premise that our strengths are innate and aren't defined by age or experience. We'd love to talk to you about how strengths-based coaching and reverse mentoring can bring the best out of your talent - whichever generation they belong to.

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