Workplace

Why Gen Z has totally different work expectations

Gen Z VC founder Meagan Loyst talks about retaining and recruiting younger employees and her work with the international collective.

​Gen Z VC founder Meagan Loyst

Meagan Loyst runs Gen Z VCs, a global collective of young investors and founders.

Photo: Meagan Loyst, Gen Z VCs

Meagan Loyst wants you to know that Gen Z does not hate remote work.

“It is truly the norm for us,” said Loyst, who runs the global collective Gen Z VCs outside of her work at VC fund Lerer Hippeau. “One to two days in the office isn’t a bad thing. But you just have to understand that from the perspective of a Gen Z employee, we did not grow up in a world where you had to be in an office five days a week.”

In addition to questions about where Gen Z wants to work, Loyst gets asked about balancing face time and mentorship with flexibility, what certain TikTok trends mean and what remote work actually looks like for Gen Z employees.

Loyst said the answers to these questions, like Gen Z workers themselves, are complicated.

Distilling an entire generation into a few common trends is often misguided and fruitless. Gen Z — just as millennials, Gen X and boomers before them — is generally misunderstood. (Disclaimer: I am Gen Z.) I’ve been told we’re screen addicts, TikTok fanatics and “Schizoposters.” But for all the time we spend scrolling through social media, the data backs up the fact that this generation values in-person interactions.

Understanding how to manage and retain Gen Z will be key in the coming years, as we’ll make up about 30% of the workforce by 2030.

Companies are aware of this. Mattermost CEO Ian Tien told Protocol that the company has learned to mentor Gen Z employees such that they can more effectively draw a line between work and life in a remote environment. Gusto head of remote experiences Liberty Planck told Protocol that the company’s learned that giving younger employees as much information as possible in the onboarding process, like Gusto’s organization chart, helps them get acquainted with the company more quickly.

But it’s clear that founders are still breaking the ice with Gen Z workers. Loyst plans meetups and Clubhouse talks, organizes initiatives like a mentorship program and advises CEOs, CMOs and other business leaders on ways to reach and support the “quirky mystery” that she calls Gen Z. She’s referred to as the “queen of Gen Z VCs,” complete with a tiara and banner gifted to her to complement the title. The organization mainly keeps in touch via Slack, and has grown to over 17,000 members since its launch in late 2020.

“Gen Z is core to who I am,” she said. “I love helping companies think about workplace culture, retaining employees, hiring Gen Z employees — that all falls under this realm.”

This interview has been edited for length and brevity.

What do company leaders wonder the most about Gen Z workers?

One of the big questions is balancing face time and mentorship with flexibility. And what is remote work? I think one of the biggest things to remember about Gen Z employees is that pretty much every Gen Z employee started their work in COVID. The norm for us is not five days in the office. Because we did remote learning, we've done remote internships, we've done remote work, that is our norm, which is very different from every previous generation. And so I think it's a pretty big leap to expect a five-day workweek, for example.

Gen Z does not hate remote work; it is truly the norm for us. I think the future is hybrid, and more people believe that one to two days in the office is not a bad thing. But you just have to understand that perspective of a Gen Z employee. We did not grow up in a world where you had to be in an office five days a week.

How do founders take that advice?

The Gen Z ethos is all about disrupting the status quo, being entrepreneurial, being creative, and some of those things do not gel with the traditional ethos of the workforce. And so it's very much a push and pull where you don't want to come across as bratty. So for founders and employers, you need to pick and choose your battles on what is absolutely crucial for this person getting their work done, [to] be able to succeed and feel supported, while not crushing their creativity or their entrepreneurial spirit because it doesn't fit the mold.

What are best practices for recruiting and retaining Gen Z talent?

It's providing a realistic expectation of the actual day-to-day work and the extent to which you can minimize the expectation and reality upfront. I also think recognizing that you need to give Gen Zers a little bit of rope to be independent and to be creative in their job. So many Gen Zers want to be creators in some way, shape or form. Maybe that's writing content, maybe that's filming videos on TikTok. That might not fall under their specific job description, but it might be really important for their personal development. It’s good to think about ways to support Gen Z employees in those creative endeavors, especially if those skills are helping the company at large.

Gen Z also fundamentally rejects the notion of the corporate ladder. There's plenty of examples of this. Estée Lauder has a reverse mentorship program where their Gen Z employees and their interns are reverse mentoring the CEOs of the different divisions. Those types of initiatives are a great recruiting tactic, because when they join the organization, they don’t feel like a cog in the wheel. They have an actual place and a voice where they can influence company decisions.

Gen Zers may also have a side hustle of some sort. It may be related to their specific line of business, it may not be. Gen Z VCs is my side hustle. It is a very important part of my identity and my happiness. Having the support to pursue those things is important. And this is the case for a lot of Gen Z people who are maybe selling clothes on Depop or have an ecommerce shop or write a newsletter.

What are the main reasons that you've heard from Gen Z workers who are leaving their jobs?

The biggest one is a lack of feeling seen and heard. They want to be seen as a valued employee, but because they're in some rigid structure or whatever, they don't feel that way … I think the other thing too, depending on your industry, is they’re always going to be underestimated. I think the more that you can stray away from sizing people up simply because of their age and experience, the better off you'll be.

How do you view burnout and manage it from a Gen Z perspective?

I'm really big on self reflection and really taking the time to evaluate my goals in life, the things that are important to me, how I'm spending my day. I recognize that I work all the time. But the way that I rationalize that for myself is that I'm 25 years old, I have no real responsibilities. I just have to pay my rent and make sure I don't kill all my plants. This is the time to be pouring myself into these professional pursuits, which create opportunities for me and bring me happiness and fulfillment. And so I will continue doing that.

That might not be the case for everyone. For managers, I think it's about having candid conversations about what’s missing from your Gen Z employee’s life right now. Gen Z is notoriously the loneliest generation; we really struggle with mental health. I think it’s important to have a really honest back and forth where managers can allow for young employees to open up without repercussions.

Is there anything you're particularly excited about related to your work with Gen Z VCs?

I'm really focusing more on in-person gatherings. I'm going to be in London in a couple of weeks. I do a lot of Gen Z speaking engagements. And so next week I'm flying to Switzerland to do Gen Z work. So I'm really focused on those regional connections for people who are just looking for an excuse to get together. We had an event a couple of weeks ago in New York that was our first big New York happy hour. We had about 1,200 RSVPs. And I only had space for about 300 people. It was crazy. There was a line out the door.

It just goes to show that there's a massive need for young people to collaborate. I’m spending a lot of time thinking about places and ways that we can make that magic happen all over the world. We did something in New York this summer, London in September and some other fun ones coming up too, which I can't share too much on yet.

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