After nearly a year since elected officials issued the first stay-at-home orders in the Pacific Northwest (PNW), businesses are still adapting to challenges that come with working remotely. For some businesses and their employees, the novel coronavirus pandemic has dramatically altered the way they work and redefined the traditional workplace.

For the first time since December 2019, the Washington State University Carson College of Business heard directly from the youngest members of the workforce – Gen Z employees – in a newly released spotlight report as part of the 2021 Business in the Northwest report.

This supplemental report takes a closer look at how the youngest generation in the workforce has fared over the past 12 months, and their perceptions about the future despite the uncertainty that remains during this time.

Key takeaways from 2021 Gen Z spotlight report include:

  • Entering the job market during such a tumultuous time has taken a toll on PNW Gen Z employees: Amid the pandemic, 70% of Gen Z employees feel unsure what the future holds for their company, more than doubling from 34% in December of 2019. Nearly two-thirds (60%) are worried their companies will be forced to downsize in the next year, compared to 40% of older employees. Careers are also top-of-mind for Gen Z employees, with 68% worried about their career growth potential, compared to just 43% of older employees.
  • Gen Z employees are more likely to be impacted by mental health challenges associated with working from home: Navigating remote work with little prior experience has proved challenging for Gen Z employees, and 47% report working from home has a negative impact on their mental wellbeing, compared to 34% of older employees. Compared to older employees, they’re also more likely to be impacted by pain points such as at-home distractions (54% vs. 40%), decreased ability to focus (44% vs. 31%) and a disrupted work/life balance (36% vs. 23%).

Although Gen Z fares worse with certain challenges – all groups are ready to return to the office. After a year of working from home, most of the region’s business leaders (66%), employees (65%) and Gen Z employees (63%) feel ready to return to the office at least part-time.

  • Gen Z are a valued part of the workforce and have a lot to offer, but employers need to understand their needs and expectations in order to keep them engaged: Along with different perspectives and skills, Gen Z employees hold vastly different values and expectations than employees from older generations, and it’s crucial that employers recognize these differences in order to keep them engaged. Top-of-mind expectations of Gen Z employees include:
    • Making a positive impact on the world (83%)
    • Having high ambition and drive (79%)
    • Healthy work-life balance (75%)
    • Working for a company whose values align with their own (70%)
    • Gratification for a job well done (63%)
    • Ability to move up the ranks quickly (63%)
  • Older generations will need to keep an open mind as Gen Z continues to join the workforce: While many recognize the value Gen Z employees bring to the workforce, colleagues from older generations – along with some Gen Z employees themselves – often hold negative pre-conceived notions about the group. As Gen Z employees hold their values in high regard, they desire or expect careers that positively impact their lives and society and facilitate a sense of personal achievement. It’s important that employees from older generations remain open minded when examining the expectations and potential of Gen Z colleagues to build effective working relationships.
  • Optimism for the next three years has diminished from 89% (December 2019) to 68% among Gen Z employees. Yet despite significant challenges, Gen Z employees are energized and maintain a youthful optimism for what is to come: They still exude more confidence than more tenured employees, with just over half (52%) feeling optimistic for the future. Additionally, nearly three quarters (73%) of Gen Z employees agree the PNW business climate is changing in a good way, compared to less than half (49%) of older employees. Regarding job opportunities in the region, Gen Z employees aren’t as worried as their colleagues, with 60% feeling optimistic about job prospects in the PNW, compared to 49% of employees.

The Business in the Northwest report surveyed a total of 1,050 PNW business leaders, employees and Gen Z employees from Dec. 1, 2020 to Jan. 8, 2021.

To access the report findings, visit the Gen Z Special Report website.

Media contact: