By 2025, Gen Z is expected to account for over 27% of the workforce and research⁽¹⁾ indicates that they are, by far, the unhappiest generation at work.
Why are they so unhappy, and what can companies do attract, retain and develop Gen Z talent?
Gen Z is defined as the generation of people born between 1997 and 2012 (currently aged between 10 and 25).
They are the first generation to have grown up surrounded by technology and are often described as ‘digital natives’.
So, how do our digital natives feel about their technology?
Having spoken to a number of students about their relationships with their tech, three concerns come up repeatedly: Productivity, Connection and Wellbeing.
Umberto, a final year Philosophy, Politics, and Economics student, says he feels positive about his relationship with his tech, but it’s taken some time to get there.
“I’m all for technology—it increases my productivity massively. But it’s been important for me to recognise the difference between ‘work’ tech, and ‘entertainment’ tech.”
He thinks smartphones in particular are more damaging than beneficial for his generation.
Umberto isn’t alone.
When it comes to productivity, a survey by Sync⁽²⁾ found that 54% of Gen Z say they find their tech distracting.
58% spend more time online than they would like to, and 40% have misled friends, family members, or others about the amount of time they spend on the internet.
Hani, a law student at Oxford, shared how digital technology can disconnect her from herself, and others.
She’s very conscious of how much time she spends staring at a screen, and worries that most of her ‘relaxing time’ is screen-based, and makes a conscious effort to spend time with friends and get outdoors.
Like Umberto, Hani sees the digital world as a challenge for her generation, particularly around social connection.
”Everyone needs to be stimulated at all times. We watch Netflix while eating dinner and take it with us on the train. Sometimes it feels a bit dystopian, like when you’re with a friend and you’re both on your phones”.
Social media has always been a slight problem for her, but she says things got really bad during the pandemic. Since then she’s deleted Instagram and she tries not to be involved in social media at all.
Last year McKinsey⁽³⁾ found that Gen Zers are more likely than other generations to have negative feelings about social media, and 59% of the Gen Z surveyed by Sync⁽²⁾ believe their life would be better off without it.
Michael, a final year Management student at the University of Mannheim, is motivated to improve his digital habits to protect his wellbeing.
“My goal is not just to be more productive, but to make more time for the things I enjoy and feel less overwhelmed by my task list.”
He’s observed that among his peers, anxiety about making phone calls is common, yet relying on an ever-growing array of messaging apps can be excessively time-consuming and draining.
“If you don’t have a notification strategy (because you never learned to manage your digital habits) it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the sheer amount of notifications you receive.”
According to an Ogilvy⁽⁴⁾ study from last year, 70% of Gen Zers say their mental health needs the most attention or improvement, and McKinsey⁽³⁾ found Gen Z ranked lowest of all the generations in all areas of health, including mental, social and physical.
So, what does this mean for Umberto, Hani and Michael when they graduate and enter the workplace?
Gen Z in the Workplace
Whilst some of the students I’ve spoken to have experimented with ways to change their relationship with tech, many still struggle and find it much harder when they enter the workforce.
Umberto shared that he found things more challenging during his internship at an investment bank this summer.
“I needed to keep my phone with me all the time to check my emails and messages on Teams. This made it much hard to avoid distraction from other apps.”
Research on Gen Z individuals already in the workplace suggest worrying trends in their wellbeing and engagement.
Last year, Deloitte⁽⁵⁾ found that Gen Z workers are disproportionately affected by high levels of stress and anxiety. Nearly half of Gen Z respondents said that they feel stressed or anxious all or most of the time.
A recent report by Cigna⁽⁶⁾ found that 72% of works aged 18-22 report sometimes or always feeling alone, and last Gallup⁽⁷⁾ found that 54% of Gen Z employees are ambivalent or not engaged at work.
So what can employers do to attract, retain and support Gen Z talent?
Gen Z priorities: Digital Skills, Wellbeing and a Diverse, Inclusive Workplace
Whilst Gen Z is clearly aware of how their digital habits can impact them negatively, they are also keen to embrace the digital world.
A Dell Technologies⁽⁸⁾ survey found that 36% plan to acquire new digital skills, and 40% see tech skills as essential to their future careers.
Aongus Hegarty, president of international markets at Dell Technologies, said, “It’s clear that Gen Z sees technology as pivotal for their future prosperity.”
Hani agrees. “During my summer internship at a law firm, they were all about embracing technology.” she says. “I can’t imagine a career without technology.”
They recognise that digital skills are key to their success at work, but the biggest priority for Gen Z is taking care of their mental health.
Raphael Eder, founder of Hyphen—a platform specialising in skills training for early-career professionals—shared insights on the priorities of Gen Z individuals entering the workforce.
He emphasised that for this generation, mental wellbeing isn’t just a concern; ****it’s ****a key factor ****when selecting a graduate programme.
“The mental wellbeing of Gen Z is the cornerstone of their productivity. By cultivating a space that underscores mental health, you not only demonstrate your commitment, but also boost their performance.”
Providing training and support to reduce the negative impact of the increasingly digital workplace and speaks to another top priority for Gen Z graduates—working in a diverse and inclusive workplace, according to another Gallup⁽⁹⁾ survey.
As I shared in my newsletter last month, neurodiverse individuals like those with ADHD can be particularly impacted by their digital devices.
So, how can companies ensure Gen Z get the best from their tech while staying productive, connected and well?
Embracing Tech with Intention
For most people, developing healthy digital habits take practice, and doesn’t come naturally.
At Mind over Tech, we believe that it’s a skill that can be learnt.
Studies show this, too. 70% of professionals ⁽¹⁰⁾ agree that training can help them find focus and cut out distraction.
The students I spoke with agreed.
Michael wants to become more conscious of how he uses his tech before he enters the workplace and has joined the latest cohort of our Digital Habit Reset course.
Hani was enthusiastic about her future employer offering support in graduate onboarding.
“I’d love to get training on how to manage my digital habits better. It would also show a commitment from my employers that they care about my mental health.”
Graduate programmes that recognise this challenge and include intentional digital habit training in their programme will attract and retain more talent, and unlock their potential in the increasingly digital workplace.
Co-founder of Mind over Tech
P.S. Want to know how more intentional digital habits could help your team? Take our Free Quiz to find out.
 Cangrade (2023) What You Should Know about Generational Happiness at Work
 Sync (2021) Global Digital Wellbeing Report 2021
 McKinsey (2022) Gen Z mental health: The impact of tech and social media
 Ogilvy (2022) Gen Z and Mental Health in the US
 Deloitte (2022) The mental health of Gen Zs and millennials in the new world of work
 Gallup (2022) Generation Disconnected: Data on Gen Z in the Workplace
 Dell Technologies (2023) Future-Proof. Elevating the voice of Gen Z to shape the economies of tomorrow
 Gallup (2021) 4 Things Gen Z and Millennials Expect From Their Workplace
 Udemy (2018) 2018 Workplace Distraction Report