Future Leaders: How Gen Z Employees Are Shaping Today and Tomorrow’s Workplace

New generations bring change across all aspects of life. The characteristics of each generation have been influenced by the societal, economic, and technological factors prevalent during their youth.

Currently, the workforce consists of four main generations: Baby Boomers, Generation X, Millennials, and Generation Z. Gen Z, the newest to enter the workforce, comes with a different set of values and interests that will transform the workplace. As President of Marshall University, Brad D. Smith has directly observed the strength, adaptability, and ethical values embodied by Generation Z. These young leaders are primed to lead and revolutionize the workplace, driving progress and adaptation in the ever-evolving professional landscape.

Learning to Be Flexible

Throughout pivotal years of their education and early professional journeys, Gen Z was forced to navigate through a worldwide pandemic.

Overcoming the obstacles presented by the pandemic, between online learning, starting a career remotely, or trying to find a job during a recession, has molded Gen Z into an adaptable and flexible group. Navigating through uncertain times presents challenges, but learning to overcome these obstacles ultimately forges resilient individuals. 

While members of Gen Z demonstrate flexibility, they also prioritize job flexibility, seeking opportunities that align with their evolving lifestyles and needs. Most of these young professionals entered the workforce during the era of fully remote work, hybrid office schedules, and ever-changing health guidelines. As the world returned to normal, Gen Zers aimed to maintain the recently acquired workplace flexibility across industries and roles where it made sense.

The growing demand for remote positions led to new remote worker programs. Programs such as Ascend West Virginia created by Brad D. Smith, provided remote workers with the tools, resources, and financial support to build their lives in a common area. In turn, these remote workers would aid the local economy by living somewhere they may not have been able to in the traditional office environment.

By embodying flexibility while asserting the need for it in the workplace, Generation Z is forging a dynamic new workplace culture for now and the future.

Leaning on Technology

Growing up with computers, smartphones, and other connected devices has allowed Gen Z to identify unique paths around a problem, or find new or faster ways of completing tasks. As mentioned, Gen Z was forced to work or learn remotely during some of the most formative years of their professional careers. Although there was potential for negative impacts on their work ethic and performance, Gen Z identified the tools and resources needed for remaining productive while working remotely.

Now, with more workplaces than ever utilizing different forms of technology, Gen Zers are in the perfect position to mentor older coworkers on how to leverage and use these tools. As increasingly complex tech tools like AI are adopted by various industries, younger individuals will play an even more pivotal role in shaping and advancing the workplace.

Connecting with Community

Gen Z is career-focused, but they don’t want their careers to control their lives. Gen Z’s emphasis on social responsibility, community engagement, and local networking is evident in their career preferences and aspirations. One of the reasons they pushed for remote work programs and hybrid schedules is so they can get out and connect with their local community. 

Young people tend to get involved in their communities during their college years and in the past, it wasn’t always guaranteed that they would find a job in the immediate area. Brad D. Smith saw this firsthand with many recent graduates of Marshall choosing to move out of state. This led him to create First Ascent WV, which is a two-year program that provides the resources and financial support to help West Virginia University and Marshall University graduates stay in the West Virginia area. 

Programs like First Ascent aim to nurture professional careers by harnessing the power of hybrid and remote work, maximizing work-life balance, and building community. The program provides career coaching, access to coworking spaces, and invitations to networking and community events in the area. 

Gen Z professionals not only foster stronger local connections but also contribute to meaningful social impact and sustainable growth across broader communities. Any time a new generation enters adulthood, they finally have the opportunity to shape the world as they want to. Gen Z is actively learning and using their experiences to make the workplace more inclusive, tech-focused, and present in the local community.