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The Future of Work: Gen Z on the Job

Published: 2021-10-22T20:33:13+0000 Author: Tyler Bethke

Key Findings

  • While interests in different career fields are divided, members of Gen Z are most interested in healthcare, sales, media, and marketing and that interest increases with age.
  • The median time Gen Z wants to spend in one job is 3.72 years, however just over 25% of Gen Z would stay in a job only 1-2 years before looking for another one.
  • Just under 15% of respondents would want to work in an office full time, and just under 11% would want to work remotely full time. While another 15% had no preference, the remainder of respondents would prefer some kind of hybrid mix of time in the office and time spent working remotely.
  • While a majority of those 16-17 wouldn’t take a pay cut for their preferred work environment, nearly 50% of those 18-23 would take less pay for a more desirable working environment.
  • Transparency also matters to Gen Z when it comes to both perks and salary. Just over 43% believe companies should be clear about what perks they offer employees, and 30% would not pursue a job if the perks offered were not clear ahead of time.

A new generation is rising, and the workers of the future are entering the workforce. This group, defined as Gen Z, comprises those born between 1997-2012, and they make up just over 20% of the US population. This fact, along with the skills gap and worker shortages in many fields, means that businesses can’t ignore this emerging segment of the workforce.

Until recently, many assumptions have been made about Gen Z: many of them grew up during the Great Recession following the 2008 financial crisis. You might think those experiences would have made them practical, risk-averse, non-entrepreneurial, and motivated by both salary and job security.

Instead, data shows a more diverse set of ideas about work, where and how it should happen, and what motivates this group to perform. To find out more, we partnered with Censuswide to survey 1,007 members of Gen Z in the US (aged 16-23) and asked them some key questions. Here’s what we found.

Does Gen Z have an Industry Preference?

One of the first things we wanted to find out was if there was an industry Gen Z focused on more than any others while looking at career choices. So we asked, “What industry would you most likely want to move into in the next 12 months?”

We gave our respondents several answers, but at the very top, we found that overall nearly 20% didn’t want to move into any particular field in the next 12 months. However, when we break this down by age group, 34% of those who gave that answer were aged 16-17. This may indicate that like many teens, they may not be nearly as picky about whatever job they get next, as long as they can score a paycheck. In addition, they may not even be looking for work at all, focusing on school. In fact, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 54.4% of all teens in the U.S. were employed as of July 2021, and historically this rate tops out at around 57-58% pre-pandemic.

When we move up in age group, the percentage falls to between 16-18% for the remaining age groups. This means most of those in Gen Z are looking ahead to some kind of career once they leave high school and enter the working world.

Which careers appeal to them most? While there was a wide range of answers, healthcare took the top spot, with nearly 11% overall, with the greatest interest coming from female respondents (12%) vs. male respondents (just under 7%). Interest in healthcare increases with age, as does interest in sales, media, and marketing.

Industry Preferences

Industries that Gen Z respondents most want to move into within the next year


Sales, Media & Marketing

Food Service

Arts & Culture


The overall takeaway from this question? Gen Z has a varied list of interests, and no one field stands out. The least popular on the list? Non-profits, agriculture, manufacturing, IT and telecoms, and HR.

How does Gen Z view their career journey?

Staying Power

Even in adults, the days of a 30-year career at the same company are long gone. In fact, the median tenure for the average employee is 4.1 years, but that varies by occupation and age. For those 25-34, the median is 2.8 years. So it was no surprise when the median time Gen Z wanted to stay in a job came in at 3.72 years.

However, just over 25% of our respondents would want to stay in a job 1-2 years before looking for something else. Of course, this could be related to just how young this group is. Those 16-19 who’d want to switch jobs in 1-2 years average just over 28%, which drops to just over 22% for those 20-23.

One of the more interesting findings indicated that 16% of Gen Z would only want to have one job for their entire career. It isn’t 100% clear if the respondents meant only one position with a single company or one career. Either way, with over 55% of employees thinking of changing jobs this year, and 41% thinking of changing careers, this certainly indicates a different mindset in at least a minority of our respondents.

We also asked, “What time of year would you be most likely to switch and look for a new job?” Just over 30% had no preference, but the rest of the answers were pretty predictable. The six months from April to September ranked at the top, and October to December are at the bottom. This lines up at least partially with the best times to look for work, at least according to some studies. Looking for work between January and May is generally the best time of year, and from June to August is the worst. Nearly 11% of our respondents would prefer to change jobs in June.

When to Switch Jobs?

Month that Gen Z respondents would most likely switch to a new job


This may have more to do with the school calendar than anything else, as this statistic is highest in those aged 16-17, and drops in older age groups. This also coincides with the moving calendar. Over three-quarters of all moves in the United States happen between May and September, primarily due to kids being out of school. For those who are young and single, or older and empty nesters, this schedule is less important when it comes to work or changing locations.

So recruiting those from Gen Z is much less important than what you can do to retain them. So how do you set these young workers up for success?

Setting Gen Z Up for Success

There is much debate about what work will look like going forward. Offices will undoubtedly look different than they did before, but how different?

When we asked our participants to think about their workplace setup and tell us which setup they would be comfortable with, we got some interesting answers. Note that users could select more than one setup, from an open plan to a closed plan to completely remote and hybrid (part-time in the office, part-time remote).

A few stated they would not be comfortable with any particular work setup, but that percentage drops rapidly with age. Conversely, the comfort with working remotely goes up with age, almost 41% for those 22-23. There could be a number of reasons for this, including that these respondents are at or near the age where they will be finishing college and looking at more career-oriented jobs.

The top responses to this question range from 26-33%. For employers, this means there may be no right answer. But what about when we asked more specifically about the hybrid vs. full-time in the office vs. remote work question?

In our respondents, similar to those in other age groups, the Work from Anywhere revolution that happened during COVID produced a clear divide: those who want to continue to work remotely because they love it and those who can’t wait to get back to the office. What about Gen Z? We asked, “What is your ideal setup in terms of working from the workplace vs. working remotely?”

In Office vs. Remote Work

We asked “What is your ideal set up in terms of working from the workplace vs working remotely?”

Full-time remote work - 11%
1 day in office, 4 days remote - 7%
2 days in office, 3 remote - 17%
3 days in office, 2 remote - 23%
4 days in the office, 1 remote - 13%
Full-time in the office - 15%
No preference - 16%

For those in the 16 to 17-year-old category, just over a quarter of them didn’t have a particular workplace preference, and that dropped to around 14% in the remaining age groups. Those who favored a 3/2 split in favor of working in the office had the highest percentage overall at nearly a quarter, but there was no clear majority or real “winner.”

The interest in working remotely full time does increase with age, and likely with experience as well, but it still is not a clear preference. Conversely, the favoritism for working full time in the office generally decreases. So what does Gen Z want? The key takeaway is that a hybrid work setup is likely best, but perhaps more important is flexibility. Basically, Gen Z wants more autonomy and control over how they shape the future and their careers.

What about money? How important is salary vs. other perks, including a flexible workplace, to Gen Z?

Show Me the Money?

When we asked our survey respondents if they would take a cut in pay to get their preferred work setup, overall, just under half said yes, and just over half said no. However, when we break this down by age, we again see that those aged 16-17 are not willing to take a pay cut to get what they want. That number increases to a near-even split as our respondents age, with just around 47-48% of those aged 20-23 responding yes.

How does that compare to other age groups? Well, the answer is, “that depends.” Around 65% of Americans whose jobs can be done remotely full time would take a 5% pay cut to not have to return to the office. The key to this statistic is “whose jobs can be done remotely full time.”

What does this mean to employers? Retaining Gen Z longer than a couple of years is going to mean more than just offering a raise or workplace flexibility.

To find out, we asked about perks in three different categories:

  • What perks would increase productivity?
  • What perks would make you happy in the workplace?
  • What perks would make you more likely to stay in a job?

As a part of this question, we added several choices, from healthcare to flexible schedules to free lunches and an unlimited open bar at the end of the week. The result? Like generations before them, Gen Z is all over the place about what they want or need from an employer.

Productivity, Happiness, or Job Retention?

We asked which job perk would be most likely to:

Increase Productivity
  • Free gym membership 7.15%
  • Free healthcare 12.02%
  • Financial perks e.g. a generous pension plan, stock options, 401ks 8.94%
  • Unlimited bar at the end of a working week 4.27%
  • A mental health wellness day once a month 12.02%
  • Bonus holiday days 11.62%
  • Free lunch vouchers through the week 5.96%
  • Flexible schedule 17.78%
  • Relaxed dress code 7.05%
  • A pet-friendly office 4.67%
  • Other 2.28%
  • No perk is most likely to do this 6.26%
Increase Workplace Happiness
  • Free gym membership 6.06%
  • Free healthcare 12.51%
  • Financial perks e.g. a generous pension plan, stock options, 401ks 7.55%
  • Unlimited bar at the end of a working week 4.77%
  • A mental health wellness day once a month 10.23%
  • Bonus holiday days 12.51%
  • Free lunch vouchers through the week 8.14%
  • Flexible schedule 12.31%
  • Relaxed dress code 10.33%
  • A pet-friendly office 7.55%
  • Other 2.78%
  • No perk is most likely to do this 5.26%
Increase Job Retention
  • Free gym membership 5.26%
  • Free healthcare 23.34%
  • Financial perks e.g. a generous pension plan, stock options, 401ks 11.32%
  • Unlimited bar at the end of a working week 4.97%
  • A mental health wellness day once a month 8.74%
  • Bonus holiday days 9.93%
  • Free lunch vouchers through the week 5.36%
  • Flexible schedule 12.91%
  • Relaxed dress code 5.36%
  • A pet-friendly office 5.46%
  • Other 1.89%
  • No perk is most likely to do this 5.46%

However, as employers cannot offer every perk for every employee, there are some key takeaways here. The first is that a flexible schedule ranks in the top three for every single category. As we have seen through the rest of our survey, flexibility is the key in a number of areas for workers in Gen Z.

The next takeaway is that there is a big difference in the impact different perks have. A relaxed dress code correlates to happiness, but not to productivity or the likelihood someone will stay in their current position. Free gym memberships, a common perk, don’t rank high with Gen Z in any category.

In other words, the popularity of each perk is tied to a specific outcome. If we look at the top three answers in each category, we get this result:

How to Best Apply Job Perks

Top 3 Responses

Likely to make employees more productive

Flexible Schedule

Free Healthcare

Mental Health Day

Likely to make an employee happy in the workplace

Bonus Holiday Days

Flexible Schedule

Free Healthcare

Makes an employee more likely to stay in the job

Flexible Schedule

Free Healthcare

Financial Perks

Does this mean that an employer should not offer other perks? Certainly not. The popularity of each will depend on your industry and your workers, but employers should also weigh perks based on your desired outcomes.

What do you want from your employees, and what do you need? Are you working on employee retention? Then focus on those perks that make employees more likely to stay: flexible schedules, bonuses and raises, stock options, 401K plans, bonus holidays, and mental health days. Want to make your employees happier? Focus on perks that have an impact on happiness: flexible schedules, relaxed dress codes, and free lunches.

It is also interesting to note that financial perks only appear in the top three of employee retention. While salary is significant, the quality of life offered by flexible schedules and flexible work setups is more important for employee happiness and productivity.

Perhaps more than any generation before them, Gen Z is looking for diversity and inclusion in the workplace and an equal playing field. Not only do perks and salary matter, but your company's stance on key issues and the way you put it into practice matter too. So how do you set your business apart and make it a place that members of Gen Z will want to work?

Beyond flexibility, transparency is also vital.

Full Disclosure

We asked our respondents if they agreed with a series of statements, and the result was very revealing about what matters to them when job hunting.

First, perks are essential to nearly half of those in Gen Z: just over 43% agreed that “It's important for me to join a company that offers clear perks to their employees.” And just over 30% stated they would want to know what those perks were ahead of time, or they would not consider pursuing the job.

From these two statements, it is clear that transparency matters: imagine if one in three of your potential applicants didn’t even apply because you weren’t clear about what perks came with the job in the job description? In fact, there are more arguments than ever that the salary should be included in most job listings. Although not as important to Gen Z compared to other workers, it is still one of the first things a job candidate looks at, and not listing salary or job perks could potentially cost you some of your best candidates.

There are a couple of other key facts we learned. Just over 30% would consider a lower-paying job if it offered the right perks. And just under 30% feel the current incentive system that workplaces have in place is outdated and doesn't reflect their generation very well.

Want to really stand out from your competition when searching for qualified candidates? Offer a unique and modern incentive system with multiple perks, even perhaps a “menu” employees can choose from, a flexible schedule, and a variety of work from home and hybrid work options.

Sound like a lot of hard work? It is. But the next generation of workers wants a certain amount of control over things like work/life balance, where and how they work, and even when. To keep them engaged in their jobs, in love with your company, and productive, you will have to be just as creative as they are.

There’s a new generation of workers here, and they will shape the way work happens for a long time to come. Is your company ready?


The research was conducted for PromoLeaf by Censuswide, with 1,007 Gen-Z respondents based in the US (aged 16-23). The survey was conducted on September 9th - September 10th, 2021. Censuswide abides by and employs members of the Market Research Society which is based on the ESOMAR principles.


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