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2024 Best Companies to Work For: Gen Z has their say

Much like jumbo shrimp or a cool goatee, the concept of a great place to work has become somewhat of an oxymoron. And few are as skeptical of modern work culture as the youngest generation of workers—Gen Zers, the oldest of whom are approaching 30. The early pandemic mass layoffs were simply a formative experience for them.

There’s nothing like the bitter smack of a global pandemic to make everyone question their relationship with their employers, the norms of the traditional workplace, and even the purpose of working in the first place.

I think the ‘good place to work’ doesn’t exist anymore. And people, at least in my generation, understand that,” Ayem Kpenkaan, a 25-year-old former software engineer turned viral content creator, tells Fortune.

“Companies aren’t necessarily going to be your friend. They’re really there for the bottom line, which is to make profit,” Kimi Kaneshina, 25, says. Navigating her own recent layoff—Kaneshina was a product manager for a software company—she explains that while the current workforce climate made her “jaded,” it’s perhaps good that she’s “learning this lesson earlier on than maybe some of [her] millennial counterparts.”

Watching the bulk of their working (or educational) life consumed by the pandemic has radically shaped the expectations of the generation whose oldest members turn 27 this year and whose youngest cohort is still in college or finishing high school. The workforce of the future is pondering the concept of “greatness.”

Even so, Gen Z has bills to pay. Warily entering the workforce in search of a livable wage, the next generation of workers is navigating conflicting impulses. In an unstable world, stability has become the hallmark of a good employer, but a truly great place to work also offers flexibility and a healthy respect for individuality to boot. And the youngest workers seem to really hate being micromanaged. Among the 10 leaders on this year’s Best Companies to Work For list, employees’ comments focused overwhelmingly on their own sense of autonomy. So the whole idea of greatness at work … well, it’s complicated.

More than stability

First, the shell-shocked generation craves stability. Two-thirds of Gen Z won’t employer who doesn’t offer a 401(k), according to Handshake, a job board for college students and early-career professionals. The youngest generation’s anxiety about their future is informed by older cohorts’ disappointments. A survey from Charles Schwab last year found that Gen Z workers almost universally believe they will face obstacles to retire (at 99%), followed by 91% of Gen X, and smaller portions of millennials and boomers. 

“A majority of Gen Z has spent their young adulthood years in a pandemic and financial crisis, and as a result, many witnessed their parents’ retirement plans disrupted. Paired with additional financial burdens, like student loans and economic instability, retirement planning likely feels like more of a priority to this generation,” says Christine Cruzvergara, chief education strategy officer at Handshake. 

Stability was part of the draw for Stephanie Polistena, a product owner at Synchrony (No. 5 on this year’s list), who said she initially landed at the financial-services company “randomly” as a sophomore at a career fair. But what makes her stay is feeling as if her company values her: “It’s pretty great here. They really, truly care about us. You’re not just like a cog in a wheel.” After an internship rotating between departments, she ended up as an assistant vice president, testing new designs as a product owner for the company—a path she didn’t foresee for herself. “What makes me stay is the fact that, literally since being a lowly sophomore in college, they were investing in me,” Polistena, now 24, says.

DEI matters

Investing in your workers aligns with another core belief of Gen Z: the importance of commitment to diversity and equity. Multiple workers tell Fortune that they want this to mean more than corporate jargon.

Right after stability on the list of desirable features comes high pay, then flexibility, says Cruzvergara. Some values come at the cost of others, as junior employees try to figure out what matters most to them and what goes to the wayside when they first enter the workforce. 

While working in the tech sector as a software integration engineer at a startup, Kpenkaan says, he didn’t feel fulfilled. Rather, he was searching for a fast way to make a good living. Looking around, he saw people keep leaving or getting fired. Though he was paid well, he experienced waning stability and felt stagnant. Even if you are to find that ever-elusive “good job,” he says, “there’s no guarantee that even this good job you have will be around very long.” 

“We’re not willing to bend over backwards as much as previous generations because we know what we bring to the table,” says Chikodinaka Ejiogu, a senior at Stony Brook University who has worked as the head of the social media team at YVote NY. “And if we don’t see a table that we can bring anything to, we build our own tables.” 

If there’s no such thing as a dream job, then it might as well not take up your personal life, is the Gen Z mindset. “The narrative around this generation is that they care about their work and life; they want to have good integration right from the start—they don’t want to have to work for 30, 40 years before they get that,” Cruzvergara says. “Gen Zers don’t live to work. They work to live.” 

“The pandemic has drastically changed my view of work,” Ejiogu says. “I had no idea remote work was even a thing before the pandemic.”


Gen Z is also looking to maintain their personal life and their boundaries, Sade Collier, NYU class of 2025. “We can kind of all see work life blending into the personal and, everyone’s just like, ‘this is not supposed to mingle in this way all the time,’” she says. “You need those set boundaries.” 

The best places to work acknowledge that to some degree. Laura Fuentes, Hilton’s chief human resources officer, speaks of the company’s commitment to “building a fully human experience at work.” The company, which says it focuses on all types of wellness (mental, physical, and financial), offers a suite of innovative benefits including continuing-education classes, support for caregivers, and help navigating the Byzantine health care system. Gen Zers care to know their company cares. 

Justin Ziegler, a banquet manager for the hotel brand, which tops the best companies list this year, adds that Hilton has shown this through its vast array of benefits and the care managers put into getting to know their employees’ career goals. “I wish I could tell my boss that Gen Z is not always motivated by money alone, but by the way we are treated, work-life balance, and the chance to show what we know,” he says.

While some have found meaning in their daily projects or interactions with their bosses, there’s still a larger questioning of the system at play. “I have my doubts on whether a dream job ever existed or whether it was just kind of propaganda. But now, no one’s buying it,” says Kpenkaan.

What that cynicism means in practice: an emphasis on work-life balance.“I was excited to go into the hustle culture that was becoming so prominent on television,” Collier says of her previous views on the corporate world. The pandemic challenged the narrative that Gen Z was given: “So many people around me are so confused about prospects for the future … I feel like nobody really knows what the standard is anymore.”

Gen Z wants to work

That’s not to say Gen Z is ready to leave the corporate world before they enter it fully. Sure, it’s a different beast than it used to be, but many young adults are pushing back on the narrative that their generation doesn’t want to work. They’re just not looking to work on your terms, carte blanche. “You get to retain that talent if you’re able to meet us where we’re at,” says Gabrielle Jeannot, 25, assistant vice president of digital acquisitions for Walgreens.

Pay, of course, has always been the top consideration for anyone in any job. Gen Z’s desire for a high salary is further fueled by the thorny economy which makes everything from affording kids to owning a house a steeper hill to climb. Fittingly, at this year’s 100 Best Companies to Work For, pay tends to be high—only three have more than a negligible number of workers making the entry-level minimum pay.

Other Gen Zers claim mission alignment with a company is top of mind. Fair pay and feeling morally sound about your job can be a hard seesaw to ride in this modern economy, but the youngest members of the workforce are doing their best to find that balance. Ally Bloss-Baum, an analyst at Hilton, explains what motivates her: “It’s important to me that what I do makes an impact.” Whether that means setting up an initiative that helps people find jobs at Hilton or assisting a coworker on a project, she sees completion of these tasks as a way to fulfill her larger need to “drive positive change.”

To “have a job that aligns to your belief is a privilege, especially now,” Kpenkaan says.

“I can confidently share my ideas, and they are taken seriously,” an hourly Hilton worker writes. “Employees can comfortably speak with senior staff here and are treated as equals,” writes a contributor at Nvidia, while a Marriott worker praises the company’s “encouragement to think freely.”

“You spend most of your time at work; you want to make sure you’re comfortable, you want to make sure you feel valued, and also [that] there’s opportunities for growth there,” says Jeannot, noting that her job’s culture is most important to her, along with pay. 

And then there’s the great economic theme of the 2020s: remote work and flexibility, and executives at the best companies are leaning in—only two out of 100 firms said they required workers to be on-site four days a week or more. They’re also more likely to offer benefits and perks that make a true work-life division possible. All but one offer free mental-health benefits; two-thirds offer paid days off to volunteer and parental leave of 12 weeks or more, and 25% offer support for childcare costs.

Having grown up online, Gen Zers might not be fully empowered in the workforce yet, but they’re very informed. Coming of age in a volatile time, it’s no surprise that some are jaded while others are hopeful for change. There’s a cyclical nature to generations, and while media coverage often pits them against one another, Gen Z is looking for what everyone else would also like: to feel heard and valued, and be paid as such.

“I really do think that Gen Z is making these statements on behalf of everyone,” says Kaneshina.

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