How small businesses can broaden their appeal to Gen Z employees

What will get them in the door?
What will get them in the door?
Image: REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni
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Youth may be wasted on the young, as the saying goes. But the youth of today’s teens and 20somethings, commonly known as Generation Z, could prove very useful for small businesses desperate to find new employees.

These youngest adults at present, born roughly between 1995 and 2010 and just emerging on the work scene, are rapidly becoming a force with which to be reckoned. Zoomers made up less than 5% of the American workforce in 2015, but they’re expected (pdf) to represent more than 20% by 2030.

Small and medium-size businesses “are behind the curve if they are not already actively recruiting Gen Z,” says Grace Kasten of Human Ventures, a New York-based financial innovation consultancy. “While Gen Z matures with massive spending power and outweighed influence on family decision making, businesses of all sizes are still struggling to connect with and understand this cohort of consumers.”

Many business owners and hiring managers make the mistake of assuming that GenZs are just like their slightly older millennial counterparts. But socially and professionally speaking, they are typically more different than alike. Jonny Grubin, CEO of, a small online business which runs product sample offers, says that while most ambitious young workers are interested in career development and following their passion, “this generation is certainly more attracted to [work for] small or medium businesses than their grandparents.”

Indeed, many GenZs are open to eschewing larger paychecks at bigger enterprises to work for small businesses that value them and offer flexibility, more interesting work, and opportunities to advance, says Lauren Brands, founder of LK Brands, an online assistant service.

“They want an employer that is going to consider their wants and needs,” Brands says. And as the increase in the cost of living far outpaces the rise in entry-level salaries, these Zoomers are also mindful that in many cases they cannot sustain themselves on minimum wage and will seek employers who offer decent compensation.

 “The most impactful generation”

Like every emerging generation that came before, Gen Z is often criticized lately as being too sensitive, unwilling to work, or lazy. “It’s hard to find a time in documented history where the older generation didn’t criticize the younger one,” says Tigran Sloyan, co-founder and CEO of CodeSignal, which does online skills assessment for businesses. “But I believe the true reason behind this is not because the younger generation is in any way worse, but different—and older generations always tend to see their way as the best way and remember their youth with fondness, so they naturally start considering the ways of the younger generation as wrong.”

Given their overarching voice, their vast numbers, their intense social media presence, and rapidly growing professional and financial power, Sloyan expects these nascent adults will “prove to be the most impactful generation in the last 100 years.”

This is the generation that was born into a digital society. They have never known a world without mobile phones, smart devices, or internet-networked appliances—and they can bring that experience to bear in supporting small to mid-sized employers that might be struggling with this new, connected workplace. “Having access to emerging technologies throughout their entire lives has given them a unique outlook on what life and work can look like,” says Nikita Miller, vice president for product at Dooly, which makes software for connected workspaces.

Small businesses that want to appeal to Gen Z should “highlight opportunities for collaboration and creativity in order to attract fresh talent with fresh ideas,” Miller adds.

Employers can get a lot more that’s fresh and fulfilling out of these hirings, too—in addition to bringing on young, eager employees with a new outlook, they’ll be recruiting technology coaches. According a study from Dell Technologies, more than three-quarters of Zoomers say they would willingly act as technology mentors to colleagues.

Less entitled but still expecting better on pay

Millennials, too, were seen as technology wonders when they first appeared on the professional scene. But the reputation of this new generation of workers is different in key ways. Whereas millennials (and Gen Xers before them) were seen by their elders as entitled, Gen Zers have mostly skirted this label. And if millennials were the ones to make purposefulness a mainstream career endeavor, Gen Z is taking the concept to the next level.

According to a report released by small business vendor Xero, which surveyed 1,200 small and medium-sized businesses in the US, 41% of Gen Zers say they are more likely to be driven by “values and purpose” as their main work motivation, compared to 28% of respondents of all ages.

Flynn Zaiger, CEO of Online Optimism, a creative digital marketing agency with offices in Washington DC, Atlanta, and New Orleans, says that Gen Z “isn’t lazy. But they’re not going to work for you in exchange for only a paycheck. Instead, they want to work for a company they believe in.” Hence, smart business owners and hiring managers will look to entice these prospective employees by offering them an opportunity “to build a company that they can be proud of,” Zaiger adds.

But there isn’t much time to delay. As Human Ventures’ Kasten says, “Gen Z is no longer a young demographic. They are in the labor market, and for [small and medium-sized businesses] to gain an edge over big corporations, they must find and retain Gen Z talent that will help their businesses shift at the pace that culture and tech are moving.”