Can Embracing Gen Z in the Workplace Help Retain Talents in the Country?

LightCastle Analytics Wing
September 4, 2023
Can Embracing Gen Z in the Workplace Help Retain Talents in the Country?

Content warning: This content includes sensitive discussions of suicide, mental health, and COVID-19 mortality rates, which may be distressing for some readers. 

It is a truth universally acknowledged that every generation has been seen as lacking motivation and pragmatism by the generation before. Gen Z – the world’s first digitally native generation – faces the same challenges today.

Born between 1996 and 2010, they are estimated to make up a third of the workforce by 2025, but engaging Gen Z is already a hot debate in workplaces around the globe. This conversation is even more nuanced for Bangladesh, where students leaving for higher education abroad have tripled in the past 15 years.

Against this “brain drain” issue, the need for actively including the younger generation in the workplace in Bangladesh takes on added significance. Can embracing Gen Z at work be an antidote to this macroeconomic problem?

Being Gen Z is complex, but even more so in Bangladesh

Nearly three-quarters of managers and business leaders find working with Gen Z more complex than other generations. The general perception of this group is dominated by a perceived lack of effort, motivation, and productivity – undercutting this generation’s unique struggles with a confusing, fickle, and terrifying world:

  • The pandemic made our time on earth even more precious. COVID-19 transformed life in more ways than one. By 2022, close to 7 Mn lives had been lost to COVID-19 – an unprecedented point of grief for anyone who has lived through it. Lockdowns and safety measures drove workplaces to switch to remote work, which has continued in the form of hybrid work for many workplaces. Unemployment rates rose around the world and in a developing country such as Bangladesh, this undid a remarkable amount of progress previously made in poverty, domestic abuse, child marriage, and gender inequality. For the bulk of Gen Z who were at a defining period in their tertiary education or career during COVID-19, this changed our entire outlook on life: when a deadly virus brings the world to its knees, job titles and career goals begin to mean very little and time with loved ones become all the more precious.
  • Changing job criteria and recessionary pressures make career aspirations bleak. An economic depression looms globally, and the consequential inflation and dollar crisis have made living immensely difficult. This is true everywhere, and Bangladesh is no exception. The entry-level salary for graduates in 2022 was between BDT 20,000 and 30,000. This is barely enough to cover living expenses in Dhaka, which is BDT 23,003 for one person – that too, a conservative estimation by the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD). In the meantime, skilled jobs require not only a Bachelor’s degree but also stress on previous work experience which is often gained through unpaid or underpaid internships. 
  • Finding purpose and meaning is complicated when anything is possible. As the world’s first digitally native generation, we are more connected and globalized than ever before. This can also make room for a sense of isolation and discontent that previous generations cannot relate to. The world is at our fingertips, and every scroll on the internet presents experiences and possibilities beyond imagination. For the Gen Z’s of Bangladesh, this dissonance is exacerbated. The reality in Dhaka is often more restrictive (especially for women, girls, trans, and other gender-diverse communities), with less room for individualism, less time for socializing, and less money for the experiences we seek. Every possibility that we see on our screens becomes one more version of life we are missing out on. 

“While our previous generations had the internet, they also had a large portion of their childhood without the internet. We were born into a digital world, where content is everywhere and much more personalized than it was before. It is much more difficult for us to segregate the digital world from our lives.”
– Female Gen Z from Bangladesh

  • Mental health takes precedence for Gen Z and often overshadows career in our list of priorities. According to McKinsey & Company, 55 percent of Gen Z in the U.S. have been diagnosed with or received treatment for mental illness. Nearly half of Americans aged 18-34 report mental health issues as a difficulty in their ability to work, according to the same study. Anecdotal evidence suggests a similar sentiment among young people in our country: it may be that this is not a generation that opts out of the hustle culture willingly, but rather, cannot afford the pressures of it in the first place. While the stigma around mental health in Bangladesh makes for scarce data, there are other data points that serve as grim proxies. In 2022, 75.9% of university students reported mental health struggles in the country, while 585 students from school to university level were lost to suicide. With such pervasive rates of mental illness, it is no wonder that our generation prioritizes fulfillment and purpose over the traditional notions of ambition. 

Gen Z is not that different from other generations in their search for a more fulfilling life

Despite the general consensus, work is not simply transactional for Gen Z. We care about the broader scheme of how our workplaces fit into our lives and our values. McKinsey and Company reported in 2023 that flexibility, career development, meaningful work, and a safe, supportive work environment are more important to Gen Z than compensation in deciding to stay with a company.

Deloitte’s 2023 Gen Z and Millennial Survey lists Gen Z priorities as work-life balance, diversity and inclusion, and societal impact – and we are much more likely to switch jobs to find it.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics found in 2022 that young people are hopping jobs more frequently than previous generations. The median tenure of workers between 55 and 64 was 9.8 years, while it was only 2.8 years for workers between 25 and 34. 

“Work-life balance is important to me in ways that I have not seen in our previous generations. For example, I have noticed that an older person who is expected to work outside of working hours is much less bothered by it than I would be in their position.”
– Male Gen Z from Bangladesh

For Bangladeshi Gen Z, this is on a macroeconomic scale: the greatest minds of our generation are not just leaving workplaces, they are leaving our country for opportunities.

Around half of the students from each batch at the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET), the top engineering university in the country, seek educational opportunities abroad, and often do not return. 

Motivations behind this include better-paying jobs, increased scope of growth, a greater sense of purpose, and even the scope for more freedom and individualism. At the end of the day, these are not very different from the aspirations of generations before us, but it is often felt more intensely because we have so many more possibilities today.

“I think our previous generations, to a certain extent, held onto traditional ideas of life more strongly than we do. In a way, they did not get to choose a whole lot about their life outside of work – it was within a stricter notion of what was acceptable in society. In contrast, our generation has more freedom to decide what kind of life we lead, which is why we tend to value life outside of work – and, subsequently, work-life balance – a lot more.”
– Female Gen Z from Bangladesh

Workplaces that embrace Gen Z values can balance the gap in opportunities at home and abroad

It is simplistic to claim that workplaces in Bangladesh hold the power to reverse the brain drain problem, but it is also naive to think that they cannot make an effect on it at all.

Decision-makers in the top management at firms would benefit from accepting that it is far easier to cultivate a Gen Z-friendly work environment than it is to criticize them into changing their values. For Bangladesh, this is even more crucial, because without sufficient opportunities, this generation retaliates with a flight response not only to other jobs but to other countries. 

Some of the ways to embrace Gen Z include the following:

  • Understand and respect our value for life outside of work. This involves instituting flexible approaches to promote work-life balance, ensuring fair pay, and incorporating non-monetary benefits to make the overall compensation more competitive.
  • Provide a safe space to discuss and ask for mental health support. Because this is a topic that is still heavily stigmatized in Bangladesh, resources for mental health support are limited, both in terms of number and quality (there are only 1.17 mental health workers per 1,00,000 people in the country). An effective short-term solution can be ensuring access to credible and affordable resources for mental health care.
  • Create a culture driven by openness to differences in identities, values, and opinions. For us, a greater sense of freedom to be authentically ourselves has become increasingly important – 70% of our generation feel strongly about issues related to identity and care more about race and ethnicity, LGBTQIA+ rights, and feminism than previous generations. 

“While diversity within a team is not something I specifically look out for, it is extremely important to me that the team is accepting of diverse identities and expressions.”
– Male Gen Z from Bangladesh

“There is an expectation to always consider societal approval or perceptions when I am making personal decisions about my self-expression, which is exhausting. I want to be able to express myself how I want to without having to think about whether it might be acceptable in my working space.”
– Female Gen Z from Bangladesh

  • Value flexibility and career growth. Gen Z seeks a greater scope for flexibility and growth in their careers far more than loyalty to a company. Commitment to skills development and training, paid courses for professional development, transparent growth opportunities, and flexible career paths within the company can build trust and stand out as adequate alternatives to seeking educational opportunities abroad.

Reversing the brain drain is complex and needs a radical and intersectional shift

Migrating to a foreign land away from loved ones is not an easy decision for anyone, but it is one that more and more Gen Z’s are making in the hope of a better life. In a different world, perhaps young, bright Bangladeshis would return with a great sense of citizenship and responsibility, but this is rare in a generation where feeling powerless and frustrated has been so frequent.

Gen Z has grown up in a precarious world, and any dialogue on the brain drain needs to address this in order to be holistic.

To reverse the drain, our approach requires more robust engagement from workplaces. We need to be able to come back to our home countries and find jobs that satisfy us in terms of purpose, overall fulfillment, and quality of life.

For this, it is vital that our workplaces listen and evolve to fit our needs. Perhaps if Gen Z can find greater satisfaction in workplaces at home, we can close the gap in long-term opportunities, and leaving home will at least be a more difficult decision for more young people, giving them reasons to stay.


This article was authored by Raidah Morshed, former Business Analyst at LightCastle Partners. Bijon Islam, Wasema Rahman Sreya, Sutopa Ahmed, Priyo Pranto, Anusha Din, Samiha Anwar & Mustafa S. Hamid provided help and guidance in the writing of this article. For further clarifications, contact here: [email protected].

Note: The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not represent the views of the organization.

WRITTEN BY: LightCastle Analytics Wing

At LightCastle, we take a data-driven approach to create opportunities for growth and impact. We consult and collaborate with development partners, the public sector, and private organizations to promote inclusive economic growth that positively changes the lives of people at scale. Being a data-driven and transparent organization, we believe in democratizing knowledge and information among the stakeholders of the economy to drive inclusive growth.

For further clarifications, contact here: [email protected]

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