What inspires Gen Zers to stay or quit? These clues put loyalty in a new light

By George Anders for LinkedIn

Hurray for Gen Z, the youngest — and most idealistic — generation in the U.S. workforce. A new edition of LinkedIn’s Workforce Confidence survey finds a lot to admire in this cohort of people ages 24 and under. They’re the most likely to love their jobs, and the most insistent on finding employers that share their values.

But don’t take Gen Z for granted.

When things aren’t going right, Gen Z can head for the exits in a hurry. Plenty of Gen Zers are looking to switch industries, according to the Workforce Confidence survey. And three of the top four reasons involve some version of “what’s in it for me?” Among those factors are the hunt for higher pay, faster advancement or better benefits.

Making sense of society’s newest entrants into adulthood has kept commentators busy since at least 400 B.C., when Socrates berated ancient Greece’s youth for their “contempt for authority.” 

Such mutterings amuse experts like British public policy professor Bobby Duffy, who recently wrote that younger people’s eagerness to change jobs “has always been true,” even if each older generation discovers it afresh.

Still, big parts of Gen Z’s coming-of-age journey veer into new territory. The big recent dislocations associated with COVID-19 and associated lockdowns are one example, as is the nonstop hyper-connectedness of growing up as digital natives. Such factors invite a closer look at Gen Z’s distinctive blend of impatience and idealism, as seen in the world of work.  

Some 65% of Gen Z job seekers have either switched industries or are considering doing so, according to the Workforce Confidence survey. That restlessness is matched only by the next youngest generation, millennials (ages 25 to 40.) Rates are noticeably lower for baby boomers (ages 57-75) and Gen X (41 to 56).

Dig deeper — as the chart above shows — and the reasons why Gen Z job seekers are ready for a big change can be split into three main categories.

Earning more (72%) and moving up in the organization (59%) are two of the most commonly cited factors for Gen Z. That’s a hallmark of career starters in any era, who treat their first few years in the labor market as an exercise in job hopping. The search for advancement may be especially urgent for Gen Z now — given the big mismatches between job openings and under-utilized talent. 

Values matter a lot, too. Some 69% of Gen Z respondents in the Workforce Confidence survey say that a key factor in their desire to switch industries is the hunt for better alignment with personal interests or values. Big employers are listening, too. Recent articles in Forbes and Quartz have highlighted ways that companies such as Procter & Gamble and Ford Motor are adjusting their recruiting strategies to be more in step with Gen Z’s habits and priorities.  

Finally, Gen Z’s job seekers care about quality-of-life factors such as better benefits (52%), better job stability (42%) and better or more flexible hours (41%). 

One issue that isn’t a big deal for Gen Z is a more flexible work-from-home policy (24%). That’s actually a far greater concern for millennials (42%), who are somewhat farther along in life’s journey now — and are more likely to be juggling the demands of both work and parenting.

Even with so much attention focused right now on the record numbers of people who are quitting their jobs or switching industries in favor of something new — there’s no reason to ignore people who already like what they’ve got. That includes the 35% of Gen Z job seekers who are determined to stick with their current industries.

What’s keeping them loyal? The top three factors are: enjoying the nature of the work I do (86%), building more expertise in my industry (80%) and continuing to apply, hone or grow the skills I have (70%). 

It’s also worth noting that 63% of Gen Z respondents in this group (job seekers who aren’t switching industries) say they are staying the course because of the opportunity to form and strengthen relationships in their current industry. That factor doesn’t register nearly as much with older generations — but that shouldn’t be a surprise.

Given Gen Z’s status as the first digital natives, it makes sense that this cohort would want to keep making the most of those formidable networking skills.  

Methodology

LinkedIn’s Workforce Confidence Index is based on a quantitative online survey distributed to members via email every two weeks. Roughly 5,000 U.S.-based members respond to each wave. Members are randomly sampled and must be opted into research to participate. Students, stay-at-home partners and retirees are excluded from analysis so we can get an accurate representation of those currently active in the workforce. We analyze data in aggregate and will always respect member privacy. Data is weighted by engagement level, to ensure fair representation of various activity levels on the platform. The results represent the world as seen through the lens of LinkedIn’s membership; variances between LinkedIn’s membership & overall market population are not accounted for.

Alexandra Gunther and Adam Cohen from LinkedIn Market Research contributed to this article.

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