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Belonging in the COVID age: Gen Z is ready to make a difference

December 21, 2020 - 849 views

Belonging in the COVID age: Gen Z is ready to make a difference

Employers need to commit to real and tangible action to be ready for the soon-to-be largest generational cohort entering the workforce: Gen Z.

Although the global pandemic has taken a toll on different segments of the population, Gen Z workers may have borne the brunt of the economic fall-out of this crisis. Companies have slashed hiring and halted college recruitment efforts. Recent data shows that one in six Gen Zs have stopped working as a result of the pandemic, and those who’ve been able to remain working have had their hours cut by almost 25%.  

It’s too early to tell how this generation’s overall expectations of potential employers will evolve as a result of this unprecedented economic challenge. But one thing is certain: Gen Z still believes it’s important to work for a company that aligns with their social values and allows them to make a difference. 

Ready to Make an Impact

Born after 1996, our youngest generation, Gen Z, already accounts for one-third of the global population and 24% of the active workforce – and they’re just now moving into adulthood. When combined with millennials, they currently represent 59% of the total global workforce. It’s important to realize, however, that nine out of 10 Gen Zs are located in emerging markets, with the largest cohorts working in India and China.

Gen Zs are a large and diverse generational cohort that is already making an impact on organizational culture. For them, like millennials, a company’s commitment to diversity and inclusion is a crucial factor in choosing an employer. Why? Because when we see others similar to ourselves, see them succeed in the organization, see them included in decision making, we can begin to feel like we belong

In our recent global survey of full-time employees, 93% of Gen Zs globally believe that feeling like they belong at work is important. In fact, 65% of Gen Zs globally – specifically, 65% of Gen Zs surveyed in China and 81% in India – believe that belonging is even more important than pay. Gen Zs report that fostering a sense of belonging at work significantly increases their motivation (globally 85%, China 90%, India 96%), commitment (globally 79%, China 83%, India 83%), well-being (globally 76%, China 80%, India 81%) and overall engagement (globally 82%, China 87%, India 89%). Furthermore, Gen Zs said these feelings of belonging ultimately lead to greater innovation (globally 76%, China 77%, India 88%) and increased productivity (globally 79%, China 83%, India 89%).

Influences on Gen Z's Sense of Belonging

There’s a certain intimacy to belonging; it is, in fact, the feelings we get from our day-to-day interactions with our workgroup. Front-line managers play an important role in creating an empowered environment in which everyone feels they belong.

Our Gen Z respondents identified four crucial sets of behaviors that contribute to a sense of belonging:

  • Feeling welcome: The need for social acceptance influences almost everything Gen Zs do, including their willingness to be connected to an employer. Factors that contribute to an inviting organizational culture include seeing people similar to themselves, sensing they could be successful based on what they hear, and feeling that the organization fits with their “personality.” For Gen Z, diversity is defined more broadly –including a mix of experiences, identities, customs, social structures, linguistics, ideas and opinions, in addition to the more traditional demographic attributes.
  • Feeling included: Their self-confidence and motivation are heavily influenced by whether they are included in the processes and decision making that affects their work. Through the pandemic, Gen Zs report feeling concerned about their long-term career prospects. For them, feeling included is about having the training and skills they need to do their work, as well as having their ideas and opinions actively solicited and acted upon.
  • Feeling valued: Gen Zs know they’re valued when they have trust-based, caring relationships with their managers and co-workers. If they can bring their differences to work and those differences are valued – that’s when they can contribute their personal best. Seventy-five percent of Gen Zs surveyed indicated that as a result of the pandemic, they have become more empathetic to the needs of others and feel a stronger sense of individual responsibility.
  • Feeling connected: Creating personal connections with managers and co-workers is an important part of belonging – it’s about confirming fit with the community. As remote becomes the working norm post-pandemic, the natural touchpoints that feed our social connections, build trust, inspire collaboration and spark new ideas in the physical workplace will disappear. But Gen Zs remind us that a wide range of technologies can be very effective in maintaining social connections. For them, connectivity through technology is a way of life.

While an increasing number of organizations have made diversity and inclusion a value or priority, 46% of employees surveyed say their company “says all the right things about diversity, equity and inclusion but does not do what they say.” Employers need to be ready for the newest and soon to be largest generational cohort entering the workforce – Gen Zs – and that means committing to real and tangible action. Because one thing is certain: Gen Z believes that it’s important to work for a company that aligns with their social values and allows them to make a difference.

Digital Business & Technology , Diversity & Inclusion belonging , diversity , diversity and inclusion , gen z , inclusion

Margaret Schweer


COO and Managing Principal of Tammy Erickson Associates

Margaret Schweer is COO and Managing Principal of Tammy Erickson Associates, a firm committed to helping organizations...

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