Talent   //   July 12, 2023

How career advancement looks different for Gen Z

Younger workers are entering a workforce that looks vastly different from what previous generations encountered. Many are starting their first full-time jobs in remote or hybrid arrangements, and have so far missed out on regular social interactions with higher-ups and others more seasoned in their industries. That’s causing their paths for promotions and career advancement to also look different.

“Without that consistent, shared workplace, there are fewer opportunities to observe the norms that govern the work environment,” said Caitlin Duffy, HR research director at Gartner. “We have this distributed hybrid environment where that’s not a given anymore,” she said. 

Mentorship opportunities interrupted

Proximity bias, or leadership giving preferential treatment to employees who are the most physically close to them, is one concern Gen Z employees are dealing with while trying to move ahead in their careers.

“Leaders are still holding these very deep-seated assumptions about performance and where work gets done,” Duffy said.

While flexibility has been highly prized by Gen Z workers, many have expressed interest in returning to offices to get more face-time with higher-ups and chances for socializing in the workplace.

Such opportunities are incredibly important for their career advancement, and Gen Z employees express a stronger preference than other generations to learn from others in the office, Duffy said. 

Mentorship opportunities fell as remote work took off and Gen Z workers returning to offices will need to navigate a new landscape of finding people to learn from. 

“Sometimes we just need the help of a coach, colleague or somebody with perspective that we can seek out to help us understand where our blind spots might be,” said Melanie Dulbecco, CEO of Torani, which makes and sells sauces and syrup flavors. “I think it’s still possible working remotely but I think it’s much harder,” she added.

More eager to switch roles entirely

People in their 20s view their career paths differently from previous generations. “I think what makes people who are coming up to the workforce today very different is that they’re not sure they want to stay on their current career path, they’re experimenting a little bit and they want to try some different things,” Dulbecco said.

She mentioned a Gen Z employee at Torani who began as a food scientist with a degree in the field and later expressed interest in marketing and data. She helped with a project for that team and then moved on to that side of the business.

“Businesses should think a lot about how to create opportunities for people to move around,” she said. “We’d rather have people find their next opportunity here than go somewhere else to find it,” she said. 

Gen Z employees grew up with the internet and saw how rapidly the demand for new skills can shift, which is also informing the way they view their career paths. 

Some are even relying on social media — rather than their employers — for skills development. Those aged between 18 and 25 years old are more likely to turn to YouTube (31%), LinkedIn (12%), or even TikTok (22%) for their skills training, according to a report from people analytics firm Visier.

“Social media has actually made them very acutely aware of how quickly technology evolves, and how quickly tools and skills become outdated from one year to the next,” Dufffy said.

And that’s an issue that the boon of generative artificial intelligence has brought into sharper focus. But Gen Z is highly invested in setting themselves up for long-term success and anticipate a need to continuously learn new skills to remain mobile throughout their careers, added Duffy. 

Having their voices heard

“Gen Z employees increasingly want to feel valued by their employers as people, not just professionals,” Duffy said. 

Being included and having their opinions solicited is also incredibly important to Gen Z — more so than previous generations when they entered the workforce. “They want to be engaged, and they want their perspective to be heard,” Dulbecco said.

“It’s not like previous generations where you work hard for a few years, then we’ll listen to you,” she said.