April 18, 2019

Generation Z Talent Seeks Empowering Work Culture

April 18, 2019


Kim Church, Ph.D.


Kim Church, Ph.D. 
Assistant Professor of Accounting
University of Missouri-Kansas City


Jeff Wright, CPA Jeff Wright, CPA
Executive Assistant Professor
Rockhurst University


Haydn Dawson Haydn Dawson
Pittsburg State University
Alan Nguyen Alan Nguyen
Wichita State University
Anna Stienike Anna Stienike
The University of Kansas

As the business world welcomes yet another generation (Generation Z) to the workforce, we explore the insights of both professors mentoring the talent of the future, and the experiences, observations and the purpose-driven goals of Gen Z college students.


Please describe the characteristics and expectations of Generation Z and the primary factors influencing their generation. 

Jeff Wright, CPA: Individuals born after 1995 are members of Generation Z.  9/11, the 2008 financial crisis, school shootings and the polarization of our political climate are some of the major events and circumstances that have impacted their lives.  As a result, they tend to be risk adverse.  Technology has had a profound impact on them keeping them continuously engaged, giving them an enormous appetite for information and a more global point of view. 

Kim Church, Ph.D.: Individuals in Gen Z are just now entering the work force and beginning to have an impact on the profession. One of the most defining and important characteristics of this generation is the fact that they’re digital natives— people who have never experienced a world without technology. It is how they communicate and engage with their community.  So technology is not a generational demand or expectation, it’s simply in their DNA and often considered as important as air, food and water. Be aware when working with and managing Gen Z, because their world of constant connection has resulted in reliance on instant gratification and feedback.

What personality traits seem more pronounced of Gen Z? What may have motivated them to be known as a purpose-driven generation? 

Kim Church, Ph.D.: As with every generation, political, national and global events have shaped their defining characteristics: digital natives, risk adverse, competitive, inclusive and purpose-driven. Although not an exhaustive list, these traits provide a glimpse into how they will shape the world around them. 

The Wall Street Journal, when describing Gen Z, said they’re a scarred generation, cautious and hardened by economic and social turbulence. And these life experiences have made a true impact on how Gen Z thinks about the world. These life events have made Gen Z extremely concerned with financial stability. Being mindful of the debt crises and realistic of their personal financial position has given them a competitive spirit that pushes them to be an extremely hard-working generation. 

Jeff Wright, CPA: Generation Z wants to succeed where they feel that prior generations have fallen short.  This is what has led to their desire to have purpose-driven work and personal lives. As a baby boomer, I see Generation Z personality traits very similar to that of my generation.  Both groups are competitive, risk adverse and have a desire to be inclusive.  They may vary to the degree of each trait.  One thing that is different is the way in which they communicate and this is a function of the difference in technology of their respective times.

What do you think those in Gen Z expect from and value in a potential employer? How can organizations attract this new generation entering the workforce? 

Kim Church, Ph.D.: They’re comfortable consuming and processing large amounts of content in a day, as well as comfortable with creating and sharing their own content on social media. They’re used to being judged on posts and like “likes”, since they have been managing their personal brand for years. They want to be asked to collaborate, share opinions and be respected by management as equals, not subordinates. 

I see this generation expecting more than just compelling words. They expect evidence of action observed or disseminated through communication mediums of their generation – YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat are just a few. They know how to Google search and will call a company on false claims in a heartbeat. Gen Z is the most diverse generation yet—because they don’t know any different, respect for diversity is assumed while inclusion is a high priority. 

Jeff Wright, CPA: Generation Z individuals value honesty, sincerity and loyalty.  They desire a work/life balance and tasks that are purpose-driven.  They demand and expect that their workplace will be inclusive from literally every angle.  They prefer to work independently or in small groups and want an opportunity to advance professionally. 

They want to work for organizations and individuals that share their beliefs and viewpoints.  As such, they expect authenticity and that their work life be an extension of their personal life. Employers need to have a compelling mission and engage in activities that are socially relevant.  An employer’s actions will speak much louder than words.  Gen Z individuals demand authenticity and are very good at detecting when something is not the real thing.


How important is community service to you? 

Haydn Dawson: Community service has always been very important to me because I have grown up in a small community, and without volunteers, our community would not be what it is today. I believe my passion for community service stems mainly from those around me. Watching others volunteer their time and give back has instilled in me the determination to do the same. When volunteering, it is very rewarding to see the impact your services have on others in the community. 

Alan Nguyen: Giving back is something that is very important to me. I’m a minority in many aspects as well as a first-generation college student. While I didn’t receive as much mentoring during undergrad as I would have liked, I am extremely appreciative of the help I did receive. And because of that need for additional support, I felt a duty within myself to give back to the university in a way that would allow me to help other people who are in the same or similar situation as I was in. So at WSU, I decided to become a Transition Mentor, a person designated to lead groups of students through orientation and also mentor them through their first semester of university. I want to ensure that other people do not have to struggle like I did. 

Anna Stienike: I have had the opportunity to volunteer with several great non-profit organizations as a student. These experiences have been very impactful because they have allowed me to develop stronger connections within my community. Volunteerism was strongly encouraged in my family growing up. Having witnessed the importance of community service, it is now an integral part of my life.

What is one inspirational thing you’ve heard of a company doing recently that stood out to you? 

Haydn Dawson: Recently, Patagonia, an outdoor clothing and gear company, decided to donate $10 million dollars, which it saved from tax cuts, to environmental groups. The CEO, Rose Marcio, stated “Instead of putting the money back into our business, we’re responding by putting $10 million back into the planet. Our home planet needs it more than we do.” The company plans on giving the money to groups defending the planet’s air, water, and land as well as those involved in the regenerative organic agricultural movement. This was really inspiring to me because Patagonia is a company that I have purchased from in the past and I like their products. They could have easily invested this money back into their company, but instead they decided to donate it to causes that are extremely important to them and their customers. Reading about this made me realize that I would like to be a part of an organization that is willing to invest in others and the planet. 

Alan Nguyen: I recently talked to Darryl Carrington, the volunteer coordinator at StoryTime Village. As I was walking towards the student center at my university, I watched him pick up litter off the streets and the sidewalks. As I struck up a conversation with him, he started talking about the company and what they do. He continued to pick up litter, while greeting people as they walked by. I could tell that he is the kind of person who not only cares about people, but also inspires other people who to do the same. StoryTime Village takes the phrase “It takes a village to raise a child” to another level. Their focus is on reading, but I know he and other people in the company will also promote good ethical values and uncovering the great potential of others. Our interaction inspired me to ask if there was a spot for me to be involved in the organization, and it seems I may become a part of it in the future. 

Anna Stienike: I recently learned that IKEA has committed to using 100% renewable energy by 2020. I think that reducing emissions is an important issue going forward, so to hear that such a well-known company has made this a priority is really exciting. I am more inclined to join and support an organization with environmental friendly policies.

What’s the biggest way you feel you can have a profound impact on your community using your accounting skills and talents? 

Haydn Dawson: One way I feel as though I can give back to my community using the accounting skills I have formed is by volunteering. I see myself doing this by being involved within the community. Also, in the past two months I have been part of the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program, VITA, on campus where every Friday we prepare basic income tax returns for students and community members free of charge. I have really enjoyed this, and I would like to continue doing something similar in the future. 

Alan Nguyen: I recently learned that people tend to not want to share knowledge for various reasons. For example, if someone shares their high-level knowledge, someone else can learn that and more and then steal the job. However, the way that I do things in my office are different. I put time in effort into knowledge sharing because I want to help the company rather than help just myself. I have applied my accounting skills to help the community through my friends by showing them accounting concepts that could be applied in other life situations. 

Anna Stienike: I think non-profit organizations and local committees can often utilize the financial expertise of accounting professionals. I anticipate that I will be able to most profoundly impact my community as an accountant through volunteering on boards and serving in advisory roles in local non-profits.

What will you be looking for in an employer after graduation and how do you see your future employer supporting you to accomplish your goals? 

Haydn Dawson: The number one thing I will be looking for is a supportive, collaborative work environment where employees are challenged to continue to grow their skills and where their input is valued. I would like my future employer to also be community-oriented and strive to give back to those around them. Ideally, they would have some type of structured employee program that makes it convenient and beneficial for employees to give back. 

Alan Nguyen: It’s hard to say exactly one thing that I will be looking for in an employer, but I think one of the top things will be to find an employer who can help me help others who have struggled like I did. I would want my future employer to look for and provide opportunities for me to volunteer and give back alongside the organization. It’s one thing to provide the opportunity, but it’s another thing to participate with me. 

Anna Stienike: I am looking for an employer whose company culture and values align with mine. This includes promoting ethical business practices and a positive work environment. The companies that I am most drawn to, both as a consumer and a perspective employee, are those making an effort to reduce waste and emissions, to use ethical manufacturing and sourcing practices, and to be transparent in their business operations. Ideally, my future employer will support me by designating time during the year to volunteer in the local community, by promoting and facilitating pro-bono work and by acting in an ethical manner in their business practices.

The Ignite blog is an official publication of the Kansas Society of CPAs. Copyright 2019