A young Asian female employee sitting at her desk in her office, sitting at desktop in workstation.

Gen Z is rapidly entering the workforce, and this digital native generation is reshaping the traditional workplace landscape while prioritizing purpose, flexibility, and a work-life balance that puts well-being first. 

Showing passion for purpose

Gone are the days of simply punching a clock for a paycheck. This generation craves work that aligns with their values and contributes to a greater good:

  • According to Deloitte’s 2024 Gen Z and Millennial Survey, the majority of Gen Zers (86%) consider a sense of purpose important for their job satisfaction and well-being.
  • Having no sense of meaning or purpose was a cause of anxiety or stress at work for 48% of Gen Zers. And while 13% reported leaving a job due to unfulfilling work, 17% chose their current job because it provides a sense of purpose. 
  • Gen Zers have turned down an assignment or project (50%) or an employer (44%) due to personal beliefs. And these percentages are up from last year (44% and 39%, respectively). 
  • Three in four Gen Z and millennial employees consider an organization’s community engagement and societal impact an important factor when evaluating an employer.
  • Nearly half (46%) of Gen Zers have switch jobs or industries or plan to because of climate concerns.
  • Over 60% of Gen Z employees believe they have the power to drive organizational change.

Launching careers in freelancing

The freelance economy is expected to make up more than 50% of the U.S. workforce by 2027, and Gen Z is taking part. 

Upwork’s research on Gen Z’s work preferences reveals that 53% of Gen Z freelancers are spending at least 40 hours per week on freelance projects, marking a preference for freelance work over traditional 9-to-5 jobs. More than 60% of Gen Z freelancers opted for freelancing to gain more control over their personal development and career paths. Other motivations included stability, the opportunity to learn, and a working environment where they can be themselves.

Gen Z freelancers are also more likely than Gen Z full-time employees to have a postgraduate degree (7%, compared to 4%), and many possess skills for specialized tasks that include computer programming, writing, and design (45%). 

Embracing generative AI

Having grown up surrounded by technology, Gen Z is incredibly comfortable with digital tools and platforms. While 24% expressed uncertainty surrounding GenAI, Deloitte’s report found that 26% of Gen Z employees use GenAI all or most of the time at work. These frequent GenAI users are more likely to feel positively about the technology, believing it will save time and boost work/life balance (80%) and improve the way they work (79%). But they’re also more likely to see the negatives, such as giving them cause to look for automation-proof jobs (78%) and AI’s potential to eliminate jobs (71%).

Upwork notes that while about half (51%) of Gen Z professionals overall have adopted GenAI, the adoption rate is greater among Gen Z freelancers (61%) than other full-time Gen Z employees (41%). And nearly 40% of Gen Z freelancers have a specialized certification for AI training, higher than any other generational cohort.

Seeking balance, flexibility, and learning

Although 39% of Gen Z employees reported that their overall mental health is about the same or better than last year, according to Deloitte’s report, 40% said they feel stressed or anxious all or most of the time. For 14%, burnout and mental health struggles have prompted them to leave an employer. 

Some of the factors impacting Gen Z’s mental health and job satisfaction included:

  • Gen Z shows a preference for greater flexibility and shortened hours — long working hours (51%), not enough time to finish work (50%), and not having control over how they work or where (44%) were common stressors. Nearly one in five (19%) Gen Z workers chose their current employer for flexible hours or a reduced work week. 
  • Work/life balance was a source of stress for 34% of Gen Z employees. Good work/life balance was the top reason Gen Zers chose their current employer (25%), while 13% said a lack of that balance was a primary reason for leaving a job. 
  • Learning and development opportunities prompted 21% to choose their current employers, while a lack of career advancement (16%) and skills development (13%) opportunities caused some to leave an organization. 

Gen Z’s unique skills, perspectives, and focus on purpose can be a powerful asset for companies that are willing to adapt and create a work environment that supports their needs and values.