5 Facts CEOs Need To Know About Gen Z

Move over, Millennials. Gen Z, which now comprises nearly 33% of the world's population, is making its way in.

If you’re a CEO, or an HR leader, listen up. A new study issued by the nonprofit Girls With Impact finds that social purpose and innovation are key to attracting this next generation.

But there are big worries—from mental health to financial stability—not to be overlooked. The new report, “What’s Inside the Minds of Gen Z?” (made possible by the S&P Global Foundation), offers a host of insights and recommendations for employers.

Here are four highlights:

1. They seek world change and are driven to innovate. Faced with worrisome national and global challenges, Gen Z, or those born between the early 1990s and mid-2000s, are beating a loud drum: social change matters but becoming a politician won’t be their path.

Nearly two-thirds (65%) say they want to “make difference to a cause they care about” and 60% wants to “personally create something innovative.” Just 4% said “becoming a politician” was how they wanted to make an impact.

Indeed, it’s no longer about just getting a paycheck. Gen Z is hungry for purpose in the workplace or the sense that they are having a larger impact on the world, even if they’re working for someone else.

Action: Bring purpose and a sense of mission into everyday work—or risk losing these employees. Show the potential to innovate within your organization. Leverage Gen Z’s digital acumen by finding ways to include them in innovation or upskilling efforts.  Shift mindset and investments from pure STEM to STEEM—adding an E for entrepreneurship.

2. They’re looking for stability. From a lack of insurance to poor wages, Gen Z is seeking financial stability. In fact, some Gen Zers, feeling they’ve been “left with the short end of the stick,” are selling merchandise with an anti-boomer sentiment as a way of protesting against a system they feel is rigged, according to the New York Times.

Nearly one-quarter said their single greatest concern was getting a job, ahead of getting into college, grades or relationships. Among men, the pressures for success and getting a job were slightly more pronounced.

When asked about what’s important in their job, nearly 90% said a regular paycheck was important, but 87% still want to follow their passion, a recurring theme.

Action:  If hiring young people, offer career pathing and highlight millennial success stories. Incorporate opportunities to participate in senior-level employees. Be candid about gig roles and opportunities for longer-term employment.

3. Mental health is a top concern. More worrisome is that mental health ranked third among Gen Z’s top worries, ahead of body image, grades or getting into college.

Mental health (along with the environment) appeared to be more prominent among women and non-confirming gender populations than men:

We’re not surprised; unlike years past, increased media attention and celebrity candor has opened the conversation. In fact, Girls With Impact’s mini-MBA—offered through parents and employers—has seen a host of teen-led ventures to combat these very issues: stress, depressions, teen suicide.

Action: Create a culture of support and teamwork to reduce stress. Have a mental health policy. Consider a mental health app for family members. “This digital access is key,” says J&J HR leader Fernando Salinas.

4. They want to be their own boss. Despite wanting a steady paycheck, 44% of Gen Z see themselves running their own companies one day. With new tools at their fingertips, this generation is looking to solve many of the world’s challenges, now.

Jody Bell, a college student who at 16 launched an immigrant information website that made international news says, “I can guarantee you that there are other high schoolers equally as driven, and if we give them the skills, they will become the future leaders we need right now.

Not only do 60% of GenZers want to personally create something innovative, but nearly 30% surveyed said “launching their own business or product” was a move most likely to boost their confidence.

Action: Harness Gen Z’s desire for innovation through corporate “intrapreneurship.” Connect your brand with Gen Z as early as high school to tap top talent and explore equipping them with the new skills for job readiness: problem-solving, agility, leadership and collaboration.

5. Image and work skills are confidence drivers. When asked what would most improve their confidence, Gen Z says personal image stands front and center. This is especially the case with girls, with 50% saying weight loss would improve their confidence versus 39% of boys. About one-third (31%) said that having no acne would do the same (24% boys, 37% girls).

Along with these two pressing image concerns, skills and successes such as better public speaking skills and having launched their own business are the focus of their attention, with 31% and 29% respectively citing this as something that would improve their confidence levels.

Action: Show that you are getting behind programs that support and enhance confidence in Gen Z and connect your brand prominently with these skills and outcomes. Offer comprehensive presentation skills training and practice for new recruits.

It’s clear that with new forces at play amid growing gig economy, CEOs need to think differently about Gen Z. It’s time to act—not just for the growth of our companies, but for our global competitiveness. Let’s equip Gen Z to drive innovation and world change for the betterment of all.

Jennifer Openshaw
Jennifer Openshaw is chairman of Girls With Impact, whose mission is to train 10,000 NextGen business leaders. She was CEO & Founder of Women’s Financial Network in Silicon Valley, later sold to Siebert Financial. A longtime columnist for Dow Jones, she’s been seen on Oprah, Good Morning America and CNBC’s Power Lunch.