Hey bosses: Here’s what Gen Z actually wants at work (2023)

New research reveals a disconnect between what Generation Z actually wants at work and what their bosses think they want. As Gen Z increasingly enters the workforce, here are key challenges and gaps that leaders should address to support their newest generation of workers.

Who is Gen Z?

Gen Z is one of the main drivers of change in today’s workplace. Defined as the generation of individuals born between 1997 and 2012 (who in 2023 are between the ages of 10 and 25), Gen Z grew up with smartphones and social media, along with the associated conveniences and pitfalls. They are often the trendsetters, the trend-enders, the influenced, and the influential.

Gen Zers are no strangers to using their voices and the technology at their fingertips to shape the world around them. But as Gen Z enters a workforce dramatically altered by the pandemic, how does their impact translate to the workplace, and how can their bosses create a space for them to thrive?

We went right to the source and surveyed Gen Zers to better understand their perspectives. Do they really want it all? What can we learn from this generation about the future of work? New research from Deloitte Digital explores just this.

As the saying goes, “You don’t quit a job; you quit your boss.” If you work with Gen Z, we encourage you to read on and learn how to create a healthy and winning work experience for you, your employees, and your customers.

Hey bosses: Here’s what Gen Z actually wants at work (1)

Where do Gen Z and their bosses lack alignment?

Our research found a number of areas where Gen Z workers and their bosses share priorities and a number of areas where they differ. Both groups, for example, place value on cultivating working relationships, flexibility in the workplace, and more. Despite these alignments, the survey data also reveals challenges between Gen Z and other generations. This insight provides a great opportunity for improvement and establishes the building blocks to develop fruitful relationships.

3 main challenges for Gen Z and their bosses

1. Contrasting views on the importance of empathy

Gen Z workers highly value empathy from their bosses and consider it a prerequisite to engagement at work, but bosses do not place as high of a value on demonstrating empathy.

According to our research, Gen Zers ranked empathy as the second most important trait in a boss, while bosses ranked it, on average, a distant fifth.

We heard from Clara, a shift supervisor from Illinois who echoed our survey data when describing her experience working for a large wholesale retailer. “Our employee survey asks a question like, ‘Do you feel respected?’ and I thought to myself, ‘No!’ I have never gotten that respect since the management has more of a ‘Do your job and get it done’ mentality,” she said. She felt that the focus was more on productivity measures than who she is as a person.

2. Divergent views on the impact of work on mental health

Gen Z workers feel that they are not getting the mental health support they need in the workplace and believe their ideas about how work impacts their mental health differ from those of their bosses.

Our survey uncovered that less than half of Gen Zers say their boss helps them maintain a healthy workload, and 28% say they struggle with their mental health because of their boss.

(Video) Top 3 Things Gen Z Wants in the Workplace

We connected with Alexa, a technical account manager, and she shared how easily work can become all-consuming—especially when you’re working from home. “I want to leave work at work and not feel like I have to think about it; I don’t want to feel overwhelmed,” said Alexa. Your workload impacts your mental health, and Alexa believes bosses can help Gen Zers maintain a healthy workload by providing support and engaging in purposeful conversations about their careers, interests, and skills.

3. Disparate views on the importance of work to personal identity

Gen Z workers and their bosses place different values upon work as part of their identities.

Our research found that 61% of Gen Zers already in the workforce feel that work is a significant part of their identity, while86% of bosses say that work is a significant part of their identity.

Hey bosses: Here’s what Gen Z actually wants at work (2)

We heard from Steve, a sales development rep, and he shared that the transition into the workforce not only impacts how he spends his time but also fundamental parts of his identity. “I’m struggling a lot with the idea of ‘you are not your job,’ because if I’m working all these hours in a week at my job then where does my job fall within my life? At first, I went into my job thinking it was just a paycheck, but now it may be something more,” he shared. Like Steve, many Gen Zers question the role of work in their overall identity, while for their bosses, it's much clearer that work is, indeed, a significant part of their identity.

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Other areas that lack alignment include rewards and recognition, and training.

Without a concerted effort to understand the needs and motivations of Gen Z workers like Clara, Alexa, and Steve, bosses risk disconnected workers and increased attrition. Addressing these challenges is essential to help the Gen Z workforce remain productive, committed, and connected to their roles and teams.

(Video) The Challenge with Gen Z | Simon Sinek

What can leaders do to bridge the gap with Gen Z?

The gap between a leader and their Gen Z employee may fall into one of three categories: a knowledge, alignment, or execution gap. A knowledge gap describes bosses not fully understanding what Gen Z wants. An alignment gap describes bosses understanding what Gen Z wants but disagreeing with them. An execution gap describes both groups agreeing that a change is necessary but lacking clarity on how to deliver that change.

Each of these gaps has different implications for what leaders and members of Gen Z can do to address them.

Our research reveals that more than 7 in 10 bosses are excited about the ways the workplace will change as Gen Z makes up an increasingly greater portion of it. So, what can a leader do to bridge these gaps?

  • Get curious. Explore a similar line of research with your workforce to understand what would elevate their experiences and build the trust of Gen Z specifically.
  • Connect. Be intentional about creating opportunities for connection between members of Gen Z and other generations.
  • Co-create. More than other generations, Gen Z wants to have their voices heard. They want agency to create a future that they find meaningful. Enlist their energy and problem-solving skills.
  • Build a culture of reverse-mentoring. Many organizations typically have older employees who mentor Gen Zers. In the same way, leaders can promote a culture in which Gen Zers reverse-mentor their mentors, helping these more senior employees better understand Gen Z.
  • Ask the influencers. Tap into influential members of Gen Z inside and outside their organization to help test ideas and shape the future culture of the workforce.

What's next?

Each challenge and gap represents an opportunity to forge connections—a chance to craft the workplace of the future together. Above all, we can’t say that Gen Z wants it all, but we can say that they want to be seen for who they authentically are, heard, supported, and given the space and opportunity to thrive as they develop their personal and professional selves. To learn more about how bosses can take action to elevate the experience of Generation Z at work and how to apply this research to improve your intergenerational professional relationships, check out the full report below.

Download the research and insights

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pdfHey Bosses: Here's What Gen Z Actually Wants at Work
pdfGen Z Insights: HX Signature Issue

Amelia Dunlop is the chief experience officer for Deloitte Digital, where she helps companies tackle their toughest problems and develop winning strategies that combine innovation, creativity, and digital strategy. Amelia is also the author ofElevating the Human Experience: Three Paths to Love and Worth at Workand co-author of  The Four Factors of Trust: How Organizations Can Earn Lifelong Loyalty—both bestselling books.She received Consulting Magazine’s 2020 Top Women in Technology Award for Excellence in Innovation.

Michael Pankowski is an analyst at Deloitte Digital. He is a thought leader on Gen Z and a co-author of the book Engaging Gen Z: Lessons to Effectively Engage Generation Z Via Marketing, Social Media, Retail, Work, and School.He has presented on Gen Z at global and national conferences including PRWeek Connect, PRDecoded, and SportsPro OTT Summit USA, and his thought leadership on this space can be found inAd Age, PRWeek,Forbes,Insider, and Money.com.

Geordie Marriner is a senior consultant at Deloitte Digital.He is experienced in human-centered design, end-user research, and analytics and reporting. Geordie received an MS in Design Innovation and MBA from Northwestern University.

Steven Hatfield is a principal with Deloitte Consulting and serves as the global leader for Future of Work for the firm. He has more than 20 years of experience advising global organizations on issues of strategy, innovation, organization, people, culture, and change. Hatfield has significant experience in bringing to life the ongoing trends impacting the future of work, workforce, and workplace.

Kristin Starodubis a principal within Deloitte’s Human Capital practice. She thrives on designing and delivering large, complex, global human capital and workforce experience transformation solutions by more strategically leveraging modern workforce technology solutions.

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