How Gen Z Is Reshaping Agency Culture

How Gen Z is Reshaping Agency Culture Blog Hero Image

With the arrival of Generation Z in the workplace, agency leaders are at a crossroads.

Lewis Vandervalk, founder of Blue Crocus Solutions, isn’t far removed from Gen Z. But even as a millennial, he admits he’s experienced a generational clash in working with younger team members. 

The good news? He’s found a way to benefit from it.

I still find that I have some very entrenched ideas that can be overturned and bettered by those in Gen Z. The key is to keep an open perspective and let them shine.

Lewis Vandervalk, Owner, Blue Crocus Solutions

Lewis Vandervalk Blue Crocus Solutions

Lewis Vandervalk may not be much older than his Gen Z employees, yet he has experienced first-hand the differences in Gen Z mindset versus his own. (Credit: Lewis Vandervalk/Facebook)

The established norms of the marketing industry occasionally contrast with Gen Z’s approach to work. However, agency leaders willing to seek a deeper understanding will benefit from the younger generation’s fresh perspective.

In this article, we’ll offer practical tips and strategies to effectively integrate Gen Z values into your agency. 

Core Tenets of “Typical” Agency Culture

The typical agency culture—as shaped largely by the influences of Baby Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964), Generation X (born between 1965 and 1980), and Millennials (born between 1981 and 1996)—has defined the workplace for the last few decades. 

Let’s take a look at how this has played out so far:

“Always-On” Mentality

Older generations value hard work and dedication at any cost. For them, long hours and an “always-on” mentality reflect persistence and endurance to achieve success.

Respect for Hierarchy

Another hallmark of agency culture has been the hierarchical structure. Leadership within agencies under Gen X and Millennial influence has typically followed a top-down approach, with high-level decisions trickling down to the rest of the team.

Client Relationships Focus

The agency world under Gen X and Millennials has seen a strong focus on client relationships and service at the expense of work-life balance. This client-first approach often drives the pace and nature of work within agencies.

Learned Technology

While both Gen X and Millennials are comfortable with digital tools, their adoption of technology has been more of a learned skill. This results in a different way they leverage technology, often more pragmatic and less integrated into all aspects of their lives.

Climbing the Corporate Ladder

Gen X and Millennials value career development and growth opportunities, but their approach to professional advancement tends to be based on climbing the corporate ladder through longevity and accrued experience.

Key Characteristics of Gen Z Workers

The arrival of Gen Z, which includes those born roughly between 1997 and 2012, has been marked by a distinct set of work ethics and beliefs that are reshaping the traditional agency ethos. 

Lewis Vandervalk is proud to say that Gen Z employees make up 20 percent of his agency, which offers a comprehensive range of services, including website design and development, digital marketing, SEO (Search Engine Optimization), and content creation.

Let’s take a closer look at the career values currently embodied by Gen Z:

Digital Natives

Being the first generation to have grown up in a world where the Internet always existed, Gen Zers are extremely comfortable with digital tools and platforms, often expecting a high level of digital fluency in their work environment.

Gen Z grew up with tech in their hands. They don't have to learn it, they are fluent in tech speak. So their creative brains can focus on the nuances around them rather than learning the language.

Lewis Vandervalk, Owner, Blue Crocus Solutions

Authenticity and Purpose

Younger workers are more likely to seek out roles that align with their personal values—corporate social responsibility, environmental sustainability, climate change awareness, and sound ethical practices. 

Transparency and Open Communication

Gen Z appreciates honest feedback, clear expectations, and regular updates on company goals and personal performance. Gen Z’s desire for transparency extends to a need for equitable treatment and inclusivity, with a strong emphasis on diversity.

Balancing Work and Life

As outlined by the World Economic Forum, Generation Z workers place a high premium on work-life balance and mental health. They’re more likely to reject the “always-on” work culture and instead favor remote work options, flexible hours, financial security, and a clear separation between work and personal life.

Continuous Learning and Development

Gen Zers want to acquire new skills and appreciate opportunities for professional growth and career advancement. This generation values mentorship and training programs, preferring a collaborative and supportive management style over traditional hierarchical structures.

Top work priorities for gen-z graphic

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Shared Struggles When Gen Z and Agency Cultures Collide

If you spend any time on social media (especially TikTok) you’ve likely witnessed the debate around Gen Z workplace stereotypes, including frequent cries from older generations who insist that Gen Z is demanding, or that they need to work harder if they want to succeed.

Responses from Gen Z creators point to the fact that their qualms with the 9-5 grind are valid, and that, in fact, all generations stand to benefit from the changes they want to see in the workplace.

For example, there's a growing appreciation across all age demographics for quick, efficient information exchange. The desire to seek and implement solutions that streamline workflows and save time is ageless, too–despite some differences in how various generations approach this task.

Gen Z employees may spend five hours working on a solution instead of just doing the work in front of them. This took some adjusting, but in the end, it has helped our agency move forward with some automation solutions that wouldn't have existed otherwise.

Lewis Vandervalk, Owner, Blue Crocus Solutions

All generations feel the need to balance work and personal life. There's also a shared desire for enhanced collaboration, flat organizational structures, and regular, constructive feedback.

Finally, the desire for continuous learning and career development is not exclusive to Gen Z—issues like social responsibility, diversity, and ethical practices are increasingly important to all employees.

Therefore, it’s no surprise that, when agency employees were asked about what would improve agency culture, most employees sought the same perks and considerations as Gen Z.

pie chart showing what employees look for in better agency culture

Based in Silver Lake, California, Danny Star is a millennial and the CEO and Founder of Website Depot, a full-service digital marketing, advertising, and consulting agency with a team of 35 employees.

Star says the stereotypes attached to Gen Z employees are all wrong.

They aren’t staring at their phones all day, afraid to work. They’re hard workers, good employees, and effective teammates. They work well together, they work well in groups, and they’ve made our company better from top to bottom.

Danny Star, CEO & Founder, Website Depot

Danny Star Website Depot

Danny Star, CEO of Website Depot, praises the hard work of Gen Z employees. (Credit: Website Depot)

10 Tips to Integrate Gen Z Core Values into Agency Culture

Agencies must offer more than just a job to attract and retain Gen Z talent, they must signal their willingness to move away from traditional norms to benefit all employees. 

We love Gen Z and will continue to hire in that age group. The energy, new ideas, and creative innocence (not marred by old bad habits) have breathed life into our agency.

Lewis Vandervalk, Owner, Blue Crocus Solutions

How can your agency integrate what Gen Z brings to the table? Here are 10 practical tips to achieve this:

1. Rehabilitate the Hustle Mentality

Consider initiatives like a 4-day workweek, which has been shown to boost productivity and Gen Z employee satisfaction. This approach helps in preventing burnout, keeping staff energized and more engaged in their work.

I know there’s a stereotype that Generation Z doesn’t want to work, but that’s not an issue at my company. They’re some of the hardest workers we have.

Danny Star, CEO & Founder, Website Depot

2. Regular and Honest Communication

Foster an environment where open and frequent communication is the norm. Implement regular check-ins and feedback sessions. This practice builds trust and ensures that all employees feel heard and valued.

By making it clear (through Basecamp, Slack, and the like) that they’re a part of our team from the very beginning, we’re able to integrate them that much more quickly.

Danny Star, CEO & Founder, Website Depot

3. Focus on Mental Health Awareness

Create a supportive environment that prioritizes younger employees’ mental well-being, creating a culture where it’s okay to take mental health days, and ensuring that workloads are reasonable.

4. Train and Mentor Gen Z

Shift from a managing mindset to a coaching approach. Support career development and growth by mentoring employees and offering continuous learning opportunities.

An infographic explaining the differences between mentoring, coaching, and sponsoring

5. Innovative Workplace Design

Embrace flexibility by implementing desk hoteling and offering remote work or hybrid options, catering to Gen Zers’ desire for a flexible work environment.

6. Pay Transparency

Generation Z workers value fairness and equity, and transparent pay structures help build trust and a sense of fairness in the workplace.

7. Perks and Programs

Offer perks such as wellness programs, professional development opportunities, or volunteer days. These benefits show that the agency cares about employees’ overall well-being and personal interests.

8. Diversity and Social Justice Initiatives

Implement and actively promote diversity policies and social justice initiatives. Many Gen Zers are highly attuned to issues of social justice and equality. They expect their workplace to reflect these values.

9. Meaningful Work Beyond Just Job Security

Make sure Gen Z team members understand the reasons behind decisions and projects, and how their work aligns with greater company goals.

Some employers just want robots who work assembly lines, but Gen Zers are perfect in workplaces that value new perspectives.

Lewis Vandervalk, Owner, Blue Crocus Solutions

10. Community and Team Bonding

Foster a sense of community and teamwork. This is achieved through team-building activities, social events, or collaborative projects.

Marketing agency culture will always be competitive, but Gen Zers are going to make it more of a family/team dynamic.

Danny Star, CEO & Founder, Website Depot

By implementing these strategies, agencies create a more inclusive, productive, and satisfying workplace that resonates not only with Gen Z talent but enhances the work culture for all employees.

How Can Agencies Better Appeal To and Engage With Gen Z Employees?

Promote mental health awareness

Agencies must establish stigma-free work cultures and integrate mental health across the business through policies and programs that care for people and respect their personal and professional wellness.

Promote diversity and inclusion

Agencies must make neurodiversity a fourth pillar of DEI programs, alongside gender, race, and sexual orientation to signal understanding and dedication to your organization’s Gen Z workforce.

Encourage focus on career growth

Agencies that provide mentorship and training programs are generally preferred by Gen Z employees.

Improved communication

Prioritize video calls over phone calls. Choose frequent gatherings to provide Gen Z with the personal connection they need. Managers should check in frequently, provide insightful input, schedule weekly feedback and performance evaluations, and organize social activities that promote team bonding.

Environmental, sustainable, and social responsibility

Gen Zers are driven to make a difference and seek employment with organizations they believe share similar values to their own.

Pay transparency

Agencies that offer equal pay are more likely to see employee retention.

Source: Johns Hopkins University

Build a Gen Z Workplace To Shape the Future of Your Agency

As the most diverse generation, Gen Z employees and Gen Z job seekers are redefining what it means to be part of a modern, digital-age agency. Their arrival brings fresh perspectives, especially in areas like soft skills, digital fluency, and ethical business practices. 

Keep learning. Keep Implementing. Keep growing. There is no other way to stay at the forefront of an industry. You must keep innovating, and Gen Z workers have that built into their DNA.

Lewis Vandervalk, Owner, Blue Crocus Solutions

By acknowledging and aligning with Gen Z’s desires and values, agencies will be able to revamp their organizational structure, their approach to employee engagement, and their growth strategy

My advice for working with Generation Z is to ask yourself, “How would you treat the young version of you starting at your company?” That’s essentially what so many of Generation Z are.

Danny Star, CEO & Founder, Website Depot

Business leaders must embrace Gen Z’s ethos and a workplace where flexibility, open communication, mental wellness, and meaningful work are prioritized. This new generation is improving the very core of how agencies operate and thrive in the digital age.

Headshot for Francois Marchand

Written by

Francois Marchand

Francois Marchand brings more than 20 years of experience in marketing, journalism, and content production. His goal is to equip agency leaders with innovative strategies and actionable advice to succeed in digital marketing, SaaS, and ecommerce.

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