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5 Values That Make GenZers the New Traditionalists

Heidi Erdmann-Sullivan on June 01, 2017 10:30 AM

Graduation season is in full swing and with it, a flurry of research and predictions about the newest generation joining the workforce: Generation Z. Organizations have been doing their homework: following the data, trends and studies from leading demographers and generational experts. They’ve been readying the workplace for the newest digital wizards and wondering…how will they stand out against our multi-generational workforce?  Will they fit into our current workplace conventions? More important, are they going to turn it all upside down? 

But for all the unprecedented tech proficiency - the new and the different - this generation inevitably brings, there’s also a lot that feels strangely familiar. Qualities that feel traditional. Old School.

Data will continue to evolve over the coming years, but there are key characteristics emerging from the research about Generation Z (generally seen as those born between 1995 and 2009).  These traits, and how they will translate in the workplace have been explored in many recent articles, including those published by the SHRM, The New York Times, The Huffington Post,  and Forbes.

Most agree, because of their constant exposure and interaction with the digital world, Generation Zers are predicted to be less focused and less able to problem solve using critical thinking. On the flip side, they are fast learners and superior multi-taskers, able to take in information quickly and manage a whole lot of it all at once.

They’re entrepreneurial, early starters – some opting for the workforce before or in place of college, have high expectations and are big on individuality. They want feedback from managers – but not too often - and they won’t rely on it solely for validation or permission.  They’re also the most tolerant, diverse and global-minded generation thus far. 

How does any of this feel traditional or recycled from the era of Great-Grandma and Grandpa? It doesn’t.  But, here are five additional Gen Z values that surprisingly do:

1.  Safety and Security
Above all else, Gen Z wants to feel safe and secure and have the financial means to achieve these goals. They’ve watched their parents struggle through the Recession, seen their older Millennial siblings and relatives delay moving out of the house or purchase a home, and have become the ultimate bargain shoppers, utilizing their unmatched digital skills to secure the best possible deals. While they certainly want to make a difference in their work and the world, and have a lot of passion for what they do, it’s going to be a competitive salary and job security that moves back to the top of priorities in selecting an employer. How this will evolve as they become parents and face caregiving for their own elderly relatives is yet to be seen, but for now, they realize money is what they’re going to need, and they’re determined to get it.

2.  Honesty and Transparency
Gen Z prefer their managers and supervisors not mince words. They’d like their bosses to give them the unadulterated truth and be just that – their bosses. As this Forbes article puts it, "they want to look their leader in the eye and experience honesty and transparency."  They’re looking for the information that will ultimately help them advance and be a great success - and they’re prepared to hear what’s necessary along the way. They also want to see their leaders walk the walk - not just talk the talk. 

3.  Face-to-face Communication
Despite leading much of their lives in a digital capactiy, GenZers value in-person communiction.  More than 50 percent prefer in-person to online interactions.  And despite their proficiency in all things digital, they are actively being schooled in the importance of emotional connection from their earliest years. While the workforce necessarily continues to evolve with flexible and remote work arrangements, and Gen Z will most certainly grow the technologies that support it, they'll also continue to remind us of the unparalleled power of the "in-person."

4. Pragmatic, Competitive Optimism
Like their grandparents and great-grandparents who weathered The Great Depression, Generation Z understands first-hand at a young age what it means to struggle financially and live under a cloud of economic pessimism. They’ve come through The Great Recession to enter the workforce with the economy slowly but steadily growing, and have gained a similar outlook of healthy optimism along the way. But they’re going to be realistic at the same time. They recognize there are winners and losers, and you need to fight to survive, and earn your keep along the way.

5. Independence and Resourcefulness
Like the Traditionalists (also referred to as The Silent Generation, those born between roughly 1925 and 1942), Generation Z is extremely resourceful and like doing things themselves vs. asking for help or looking for mentors. Raised with the influence of constant sharing via Social Media, Pinterest, a plethora of DIY blogs and HGTV on in the background, they’ve fully embraced the Maker Movement. It will be fascinating to see how they extend that mindset to the digital workplace. And while the perception may be that they are always searching for the approval of their peers online, that awareness of needing to distinguish themselves in an ever-present digital world has helped shape them into fiercely independent individuals, who want to be judged for their own merits, talents and accomplishments.  

As with every generation, the journey will be less about what we got right, and more about what we got wrong and have yet to learn. Perhaps, what’s most exciting is how Gen Z’s unprecedented tolerance, respect for diversity and global perspective will merge with seemingly traditional, core values to re-shape our workplace and the larger world economy for the better.

And maybe some of the most valuable, relatable advice they receive won’t come from their GenX, Millennial or Baby Boomer co-workers, but from around the holiday dinner table with Great-Grandma and Grandpa.

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Heidi Erdmann-Sullivan

As Director, Sales and Marketing at, Heidi is responsible for developing innovative, results-driven programs for Care@Work – a consumer-centered portfolio of family care for employers and their diverse workforce. Passionate about helping HR professionals improve the lives of their employees, Heidi follows and writes about the top trends and research impacting both employees and employers in the workplace, including the future of work, consumerism and HR, building employer brands, pay equity and paid leave policy, and company culture. Prior to joining, Heidi led marketing teams at a variety of technology companies including Constant Contact. She lives north of Boston with her husband Brian and their “daughter” Lexi – a 10 lb. Shih-Tzu therapy dog.