Nancy Anderson, R.N.

With Gen Z and Millennial generations now making up 46% of the full-time U.S. workforce, it makes sense to pay attention to the workplace needs and expectations of these employees. While a lot has been previously written about millennials, we’re just now getting a better understanding of Gen Z and this youngest generation’s view towards work and career.

Every individual, regardless of generation, has their own personal beliefs and values, so it’s important not to overgeneralize generational differences. However, we have to acknowledge that Generation Z, those born after 1995, grew up in a very different world from older workers. And we are all products of our environment.

Gen Z is the most ethnically and racially diverse generation in history. Born in the digital age, Gen Z employees have never lived in a world without the Internet and social media. With instant, easy access to global events, their understanding of the world has not been limited to local issues. Close-up exposure to global news and the outcomes of gun violence, climate change, humanitarian crises and all kinds of inequalities makes for a pretty unsettling experience of life. Thus, this generation tends to view the world with a healthy dose of skepticism.

And then let’s throw in COVID for good measure. Although living through a pandemic has been burdensome for people of all ages, the long-term impact on the youngest generation is most likely to be particularly harsh. Many of the milestones and rites of passage that are markers of transitioning to adulthood — prom, graduation, first jobs — were stripped away with lockdowns. They are experiencing adulthood at a time when the future looks uncertain — and uncertainty causes fear and anxiety. Researchers have noted an alarming trend of higher levels of anxiety and depression in Gen Z than in other generations — and this trend was identified even before the pandemic! 

So, I guess it’s not surprising that Gallup’s recent research on what generations expect from their employer reveals that, above all, the top priority for Gen Z is an organization that cares about employee wellbeing. (Millennials also listed this as their top priority.) 

While the employee wellness programs that gained traction back in the ’80s focused on physical wellness, employee wellbeing is a much broader focus on the whole person, including mental, social and career health. More recently, organizations are waking up to the need to address these broader wellbeing issues with the realization that many workplace problems, like burnout, bullying, absenteeism and turnover, are due to an unfavorable workplace environment. In fact, there has been a massive increase in organizations seeking resiliency and mental health programs for their workforce.

Providers can take steps to increase wellbeing in a variety of ways, but one of the most immediate and impactful approaches comes through the relationship that a Gen Z employee has with their manager. In a Workforce Institute report, Gen Z survey respondents indicated that the qualities most valued in a leader are:

  • They trust me
  • They are supportive
  • They care about me
  • They communicate
  • They listen

Highlighting generational differences is useful not so much to point out unique generational characteristics, but rather as a way to help older generation leaders demystify those who are beginning their employment. Managers are in a unique position to make a significant difference in employee retention by creating an environment in which young employees are motivated to stay. 

Bottom line: young employees want a manager who cares about them as a person, promotes their well-being and actively helps them be successful in their job.

About the author: Nancy Anderson, RN, MA, is the SVP of Engagement Solutions for Align. In her role, she provides strategic leadership and supports development of solutions to help providers successfully build and sustain a culture of engagement.

The opinions expressed in McKnight’s Long-Term Care News guest submissions are the author’s and are not necessarily those of McKnight’s Long-Term Care News or its editors.