Posted: 30 Jan. 2023

Help Me Grow! What Motivates Gen Z?

In our last post, we promised to share our learning about what motivates Gen Z, the newest additions to the workforce. Gen Z is considered by many to be a generation of digital natives that value purpose and diversity more than their elders do. This is the first Business Chemistry study that includes a large sample of these younger professionals and allows us to explore what other ways they might be similar to or different from their colleagues.1 As more Baby Boomers retire every day, and organizations face a growing labor shortage, getting clear on what the youngest generation of workers wants could be more important than ever.

We reported in our previous post that of the potential motivators we asked about, engaging work is the most important overall. And our generation data suggests that engaging work does matter to Gen Z, but less so than other generations.

Does that mean they don’t care whether their work is engaging? We doubt it. More likely, what we’re seeing reflects Gen Z accepting their circumstances. Let’s face it, the tasks assigned in an early professional role often aren’t the most exciting. The Gen Z professionals in our study may simply be indicating that they find other ways to be motivated despite work that can be less than thrilling. Indeed, discussions with our own Gen Z colleagues suggest that they don’t necessarily expect or prioritize engaging work at this stage in their careers, but they trust the work they’re doing now will earn them that satisfaction later.

So, what does Gen Z want? Opportunities for growth. This finding is perhaps not surprising, as there tends to be more room for growth early in one’s career and more potential upside to such opportunities. And what other way is there to quickly get to the kind of roles that offer more engaging work?

Beware, those organizations not focused on providing such growth opportunities for Gen Z—one recent survey of more than 30,000 professionals found that more than half of Gen Z’s hoped to leave their job within the next year. Another survey of more than 20,000 professionals found a quarter of Gen Z’s were hoping to leave in the next six months, and 76% of them were looking for more opportunities to learn and practice new skills or expertise. A third study found that Gen Z's they surveyed were more interested in learning hard skills than older generations, who were more focused on soft skills, and that Gen Z’s were most likely to use mobile platforms for learning. So, it’s likely to matter, not just whether organizations are offering ample opportunities for learning and growth, but that those opportunities are focused on this skills Gen Z’s want to develop and delivered in the form they want to consume them.

Another interesting pattern showed up in our data related to team success and building relationships.  In our previous post, we indicated that introverted Business Chemistry types (Guardians, Dreamers, and Scientists) were less likely to be motivated by team success than extroverted types (Pioneers, Commanders, and Teamers). In this way, Gen Z’s resemble introverts—they are less motivated by team success, especially compared to Gen X and Boomers. And indeed, Gen Z’s are more likely to be Guardians than the other generations are, but that overlap doesn’t mean Gen Z’s Business Chemistry fully explains their motivators. The generational pattern is similar across Business Chemistry types, indicating that generation and type both independently influence the extent to which team success is a primary motivator.

(Note: there were not enough Baby Boomers in our sample to reliably include them in the generation by type graph).

So, does this mean Gen Z’s don’t care about other people? Of course not. (Just like it doesn’t mean introverts don’t care about other people.) Indeed, Gen Z is the generation most motivated by building relationships—these young professionals highly value the connections they make at work. And that’s important, because feeling someone cares about us as people and even having a best friend at work can strongly impact how much effort and enthusiasm we bring to our jobs.

It may be that, like introverts, Gen Z’s are simply more motivated by the connecting part of working with others than they are by the succeeding together part. Our previous work on recognition preferences supports this theory. We found that staff (the likely organizational level of many Gen Z’s) are less likely than managers or leaders to say that success was what they most wanted to be recognized for, while they were more likely than those at higher levels to want recognition for effort and for knowledge/expertise. We reasoned that those who have less out-front or visible roles on project teams may get less of the glory, and therefore be less motivated by the recognition of success. Moreover, staff (and Gen Z’s) may feel less in a position to have significant control over whether a project ultimately succeeds, while they can control their own effort and development of knowledge/expertise. If you’ve got Gen Z’s on your teams, ask yourself, are they getting their share of the acknowledgement when a team succeeds together?

And about those relationships Gen Z so values—our own colleagues have shared that those too are an investment in their own careers and in their learning and growth. When they’re not learning from an app or a mobile application, they’re learning from the people they’re closely connected to.

Finally, our research shows that personal accomplishment is a significant motivator for all the generations, with Gen Z looking a lot like Baby Boomers (and Millennials coming in slightly behind). That pattern bears a noticeable contrast to customer satisfaction, which Boomers are quite a bit more motivated by than Gen Z’s.

What didn’t make it on to the list as a significant motivator? Customer impact, incentives, recognition, advancement, making my mark, hitting targets, and security were all selected by fewer than 20% of people surveyed across generations. In our last post we wrote about using what we know about people’s motivations to build environments and shape interactions that motivate them. For motivating Gen Z’s in particular, opportunities for growth, for building relationships, and for personal accomplishment are likely where it’s at. And we’re quite sure they wouldn’t mind more engaging work as a bonus.

Special thanks to Harrison James Curtiss, our resident Gen Z’er on the Business Chemistry team, for insights about this intriguing generation.

1 During the period of June 2022 through September 2022, respondents who completed the online Business Chemistry assessment were asked about the factors that most motivate them in their job. More than 5,000 professionals from hundreds of organizations responded. Findings from this study are previously unpublished. Generations we defined as follows: Gen Z’s were born after 1996; Millennials, between 1981 and 1996; Gen Xers, between 1965 and 1980; and Baby Boomers, between 1946 and 1964.

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Suzanne Vickberg (aka Dr. Suz)

Suzanne Vickberg (aka Dr. Suz)

Research Lead | Deloitte Greenhouse®

Dr. Suz is a social-personality psychologist and a leading practitioner of Deloitte’s Business Chemistry, which Deloitte uses to guide clients as they explore how their work is shaped by the mix of individuals who make up a team. Previously serving in Deloitte’s Talent organization, since 2014 she’s been coaching leaders and teams in creating cultures that enable each member to thrive and make their best contribution. Along with her Deloitte Greenhouse colleague Kim Christfort, Suzanne co-authored the book Business Chemistry: Practical Magic for Crafting Powerful Work Relationships as well as a Harvard Business Review cover feature on the same topic. She also leads the Deloitte Greenhouse research program focused on Business Chemistry and is the primary author of the Business Chemistry blog. An “unapologetic introvert” and Business Chemistry Guardian-Dreamer, you will never-the-less often find her in front of a room, a camera, or a podcast microphone speaking about Business Chemistry or Suzanne and Kim’s second book, The Breakthrough Manifesto: Ten Principles to Spark Transformative Innovation, which digs deep into methodologies and mindsets to help obliterate barriers to change and ignite a whole new level of creative problem-solving. Suzanne is a University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate with an MBA from New York University’s Stern School of Business and a doctorate in Social-Personality Psychology from the Graduate Center at the City University of New York. She is also a professional coach, certified by the International Coaching Federation. She has lectured at Rutgers Business School and several colleges in the CUNY system, and before joining Deloitte in 2009, she gained experience in the health care and consulting fields. A mom of two teenagers, she maintains her native Minnesota roots and currently resides in New Jersey, where she volunteers for several local organizations with a focus on hunger relief.