Gen Z entered the workforce during a strange time. No one knows what to expect when first starting out in their careers, but for Gen Z joining the workforce during a pandemic, the added layer of uncertainty made for an even stranger career starting point.

For a generation whose career-building has just begun, things such as work-from-home policies, the need to work multiple jobs and uncertainty in the job market has made vertical career growth exceptionally difficult. Because of this, Gen Zers might be limiting themselves to lateral movement in the workforce.

What does Gen Z want from their careers?

Gen Z is characterized by their desire for diverse experiences and continuous learning. This generation is known to seek out opportunities that allow for exploration of different roles and industries, rather than following a traditional linear career path. Additionally, Gen Z values flexibility and work-life balance, which may contribute to their preference for later movement within the workforce.

Why Gen Z is limiting their opportunity for promotion

Since the pandemic began, the amount of people who have been promoted has been cut almost in half according to a survey by HowNow. Gen Z might be contributing to this decrease in vertical movement because of the following:


Even though Gen Z is the newest entrant to the workforce, they are already dealing with a significant amount of burnout. An Indeed survey found that 58% of Gen Z workers reported feelings of burnout. These feelings can lead workers to go into "survival mode" where their main objective is just to get through the workday. An employee in "survival mode" is unlikely to put in the extra effort it usually takes to be seen as worthy of a promotion.


Gen Z has shown interest in continuous learning and experiencing various responsibilities in different industries. As they are not staying in one position for a significant amount of time, they are unlikely to see vertical movement in the workforce. Gen Zers want to build a variety of skills and feel the need to take on different roles in order to achieve skill development. Organizations typically look to promote people who have shown development in one position, which makes Gen Zers less likely to see promotion opportunities.

Work-from-home policies

Work-from-home policies became the norm when the pandemic began, which coincidentally is around the time Gen Z entered the workforce. As a result, many Gen Zers have spent the majority of their careers in a work-from-home or hybrid-work arrangement. Due to remote work, it has become difficult for employers to keep track of individual employees' contributions and growth in the workplace. Because Gen Z is the generation who has spent the largest portion of their career in a remote work setting, their workplace contributions are more likely to go unnoticed by their employer, which can lead to stagnation in their career development.

Fewer organizations with hierarchical structures

Not only has the pandemic shifted where employees work, but it also shifted how organizations are structured as a whole. The workforce is seeing a shift away from the traditional hierarchical structure to a more modern flat structure. This leads to less middle managers needed in an organization, which means that there will be fewer promotions. Getting a promotion is more competitive in companies with flat organizational structures because there are fewer levels of intermediate management between executives and employees. Gen Z is entering the workforce while this shift is occurring, which means they will have to compete for the few promotions available with more tenured and experienced employees.

How Gen Z can achieve vertical movement in the workforce

  • Showcase their unique skills: Gen Z is arguably the most technologically proficient generation in the workforce. Their tech savviness makes them stand out from all other generations. It is important for them to be confident in their own technological skills and be willing to teach others around them. Not only will this show them as skillful and proficient, but also as a leader capable of vertical movement.
  • Look for opportunities to engage: It is important for Gen Z to make their presence known in the workplace. By joining workplace committees, attending company-sponsored events and participating in department discussions, Gen Z can show their willingness to learn and desire to advance within the company.
  • Work in the office when possible: Making your presence known in the workplace is more effective when it is face-to-face. Gen Z should strive to work in the office when possible and gain soft skills such as communication skills, listening skills and interpersonal skills. These skills are crucial for career development and make for a good leader.

Gen Z values skill-development, continuous learning and flexibility. These traits make for a good employee but are unfortunately not always conducive to vertical movement in their respective career paths.

How Gen Z can advance in their careers

In order for Gen Z to advance in the workforce, they must be willing to use their skills to their advantage, engage with colleagues and develop in-person soft skills. Gen Z has dealt with an abundance of adversity already in their careers, but are capable of climbing the corporate ladder if they utilize the skills they already have and give themselves opportunities to prove their worth to their company.