Three Differences Between Gen Y and Gen Z Employees

By: Ashley Fell 

When it comes to keeping up with the trends and preparing for the future, the focus tends to be on technological shifts.

Clearly the ever-changing technologies in business and in life are redefining our world. Yet interestingly, it is the social and demographic changes that have more profound implications on our future than even the massive technological ones.

With people living longer and working later, the workforce is becoming increasingly generationally diverse. This requires intergenerational connections to be fostered. Equipping today’s workplace leaders with an understanding of the different characteristics and desires of Gen Y and Gen Z will put them in a position to flourish in the generationally diverse workplace of the future.

Derived from McCrindle’s Shaping Thriving Culture research, here are three differences between Gen Y and Gen Z employees that it is important to understand.

1. They are in Different Life Stages

Also referred to as Millennials, Gen Y have sometimes been stereotyped as fickle, self-focussed and transient. The reality is that Gen Y have invested significantly in their education and are committed to growing their careers and are showing stability in their family-forming life stage. Managers who lead collaboratively, build an engaging work culture and offer growth opportunities will see loyalty and commitment from Gen Y.

Gen Z are almost exclusively the children of Generation X. Gen Z are powerful players in today’s work culture. While the younger Gen Z’s are still students, within a decade they will comprise a third of the workforce. They are a tech-savvy and purpose-driven generation who are looking to work with organisations who they have values-alignment with.

Understanding the differing life stages of these generations is important. As Generation Y are in their key family forming years (parenting Generation Alpha) flexibility is important to them as they juggle competing priorities. When it comes to hybrid work, Gen Y are more likely to define it as flexible working hours through the day (42%) than Gen Z are (36%).

2. They are Motivated by Different Aspects of Work

When it comes to motivators at work, Gen Z are most likely to be motivated by these three factors:

  • The relationships they have with those they work with (49%)
  • Seeing the positive impact of their work (41%)
  • Progressing their career (40%).

Whereas Gen Y are most likely to motivated by:

  • Seeing the positive impact of their work (43%)
  • The responsibilities they carry (38%)
  • The relationships they have with their colleagues (37%).

While it may be surprising to some that Gen Z are most motivated by relationships with those they work with, we must remember that this generation are more digitally connected and less involved in traditional forms of community. Gen Z are looking for the workplace to facilitate multiple needs. This means leaders will do well to focus on building an engaging workplace culture, where trusted relationships are fostered and utilised so that people can do their best work with people they enjoy working with. Celebrating impacts of that work is also a significant motivator for both Gen Y and Gen Z, so should be high on the list of a leader’s priorities as well.

3. They are Focussed on Different Skills

Professional Development is important to focus on for all employees, regardless of their age. When it comes to the type of Professional Development, both Gen Z and Gen Y are more likely to say they would like to develop human skills over technical skills. However, Gen Z are more likely to say they are interested in developing human skills, than Gen Y are (63% of Gen Z agree compared to 55% of Gen Y). It is true that employees today need a combination of both human skills and technical skills, and working out with your employees what type of training they require most is important to retaining great talent.

Although training is important for all, it is especially important for Gen Z. They are seeking investment in their skills, mentoring and guidance as they begin their career.

Yet, it is also important to not forget about Gen Y, or older and more established workers. Although they don’t need as much guidance, our research showed that Gen Y are more likely to indicate that they are highly engaged within the organisations they work for. This means that looking after this generation and investing in what motivates them will be important to retaining them as they shift into the family forming life stage with greater financial burdens and demands on their time.Shaping Culture infographic snippet

Shaping thriving culture infographic

Get the key insights and stats on how leaders can shape thriving cultures in decentralised environments in this handy infographic.


Article supplied with thanks to McCrindle.

About the Author: McCrindle are a team of researchers and communications specialists who discover insights, and tell the story of Australians – what we do, and who we are.

Feature image: Photo by Shridhar Gupta on Unsplash