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Gen Z is the most individualised generation in the workplace – here’s what that means

21 Aug 2023

An analysis of the current jobs market by staffing firm Robert Walters looked at Gen Z and its expectations around career progression. Many want to fast-track promotion.

It’s no secret that Gen Z, or the current batch of young workers making their way in the workforce at the moment, are ambitious, confident and more self-possessed than many of their counterparts from previous generations.

Much has already been written about how ‘demanding’ Gen Z are and how they need to listen to their elders and (it is implied) betters. But research has also pointed to the tough time Gen Z has had trying to enter the workforce during the pandemic. Most recently, staffing company Robert Walters Group, which has a branch in Ireland, polled workers and found that many Gen Z professionals expect to be promoted every 12 to 18 months. They look elsewhere if this does not happen.

Suzanne Feeney, country manager of Robert Walters Ireland commented: “It used to be the case that titles like lead, principle, partner and VP took years of experience and hard work – however, that now seems to be changing, with professionals being awarded such titles despite only being in the primary stages of their career.”

Could this be an indicator that workplaces are bowing to the pressure to retain Gen Z talent by giving young workers what they ask for in terms of promotions?

Gen Z holds the cards

“Young workers have cottoned on to how candidate-short the market is – particularly at the junior end where we are still contending with the bottle-neck caused by grad schemes being paused at the height of the pandemic,” said Feeney, adding “With that, young workers hold most of the cards and so if they do not get the promotion – aka fancy job title – from their current employer, they know that this will be on offer elsewhere for them.”

Robert Walters’ research found that Gen Z seems to be willing to take senior-sounding roles they might not necessarily be qualified for. Their older counterparts traditionally have seen things like mentorship schemes and guidance from senior leaders as better ways to achieve career progression goals.

According to Feeney, Gen Z is making the workplace more individualised. “What this points to is a clear prioritisation of instant seniority, inflated job titles and an entrepreneurial mindset over traditionally valued soft skills and interpersonal abilities. This could very well symbolise the tip of the iceberg in a growing trend of individuality in the workplace, which young professionals are at the helm of.”

But it is not just young people driving the “inflated job titles” trend; employers are realising that better-sounding titles are smart ways to retain workers in a competitive market. It is also a useful way for start-ups to compete with larger businesses to attract talent. A survey by Universum from June found that Gen Z was beginning to reject multinational employers in favour of SMEs.

The cost to holding the cards

There is also the fact that giving a senior-sounding role to an entry-level employee can be a cynical exercise in saving money. It is worth noting here that job title inflation might actually backfire on Gen Z as employers may take advantage of their ambition to progress quickly and cause them to burn themselves out.

Feeney issued a word of warning for employers to avoid getting too caught up in the current job title inflation trend. “Employers must be aware that the pendulum swings both ways – attaching senior titles to junior positions can deter suitable candidates as much as it attracts them – making them feel too under qualified to apply.”

Other Gen Z workers polled said they favoured a flat hierarchy in which they could become equal to a C-suite exec in around five years. This is another sign that individualism is growing among young workers – and the sooner their elders realise and embrace this, the better for talent retention. As Bob Dylan sang: “The times they are a’ changin’.”

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Blathnaid O’Dea
By Blathnaid O’Dea

Blathnaid O’Dea worked as a Careers reporter until 2024, coming from a background in the Humanities. She likes people, pranking, pictures of puffins – and apparently alliteration.

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