Looking to move on after four years at his first job after college, Alex Frandsen knew what he wanted in a new position: a decent work/life balance, a mission he believed in, flexibility to work remotely and an employer committed to racial equity.
Frandsen, who grew up in Silver Spring and graduated from Montgomery Blair High School, found what he considered his dream job this past spring as the journalism program manager at Free Press, a nonprofit in Washington, D.C., that works to transform media through advocacy and activism in pursuit of a more just and equitable democracy.
What sold him on the job was a hiring process in which interviewers emphasized the organization’s commitment to racial equity—a quality highly valued by Frandsen, who is white, and others of his generation. The organization also demonstrated how it values its employees by supplying interview questions in advance, scheduling interviews at Frandsen’s convenience, and moving quickly to a decision.
“They placed an emphasis on racial equity throughout the interview process, which I really valued because I just know there are a lot of organizations, especially in this political advocacy space, that kind of give racial equity lip service and make it a part of the window dressing for their organization,” says Frandsen, who lives in Northwest Washington, D.C. “But this interview process made it very clear that this was a top priority and that it would be a priority on an almost daily basis. That was just important to me from a values perspective.”
Frandsen, who turned 26 in August, is part of Generation Z—defined by the Pew Research Center as being born between 1997 and 2012. This generation makes up 21% of the U.S. population and is the most racially and ethnically diverse of all generational groups, according to Statista, a provider of market and consumer data. Along with millennials, born between 1981 and 1996, Gen Z is driving more change in a business environment fundamentally altered by the shift to remote work during the COVID-19 pandemic and a subsequent reexamination of the role that work plays in people’s lives.
A 2023 survey by global financial services firm Deloitte of more than 22,000 Gen Z and millennial respondents in 44 countries found that just under half of Gen Z workers and 62% of millennials say work is central to their identity. According to the survey, in its 12th year, having a good work/life balance remains a top consideration for these workers when choosing a new employer—and they are more likely to be satisfied with their work/life balance than they were before the pandemic.
“They feel they have more flexibility in where they work. They believe their employers have made progress in driving greater diversity, equity, and inclusion. And they are slightly more likely to believe that businesses are taking action to address climate change,” the Deloitte survey says.
In addition to flexibility, Gen Zers and millennials are also looking for higher salaries from employers, a sense of purpose, frequent feedback, mental health support and plenty of opportunities to develop and advance, according to the Deloitte survey and others.
“They’re very interested in diversity and social issues,” says Sally Bartas, chief talent and culture officer for Choice Hotels International in Rockville, who adds that 43% of the company’s 1,700 employees are millennials and 3% are Gen Zers. “They’re really focused on their purpose…and really being able to have that visibility to knowing that they have growth in the organization.”
A willingness to change jobs frequently is another factor that separates these younger workers from those of previous generations. “Gen Zers—they’re flighty,” says Danielle McMahon, marketing director at Anthony Wilder Design/Build, a Cabin John firm named to Bethesda Magazine’s 2023 list of Top Places to Work. “They will job-hop like no one’s business.”
Local employers say they’re adapting to meet the needs of Gen Zers and millennials in ways that include revamping their hiring efforts to make the recruiting process more personal. Businesses also highlight their work culture and values—including a commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion—and benefits that appeal to younger workers.
McMahon says her firm turned to a local staffing agency for help when it was having difficulty finding qualified talent about a year ago. The agency’s top advice: Tailor job postings to focus on the candidate instead of how great the company is.
“It used to be about the employer. Now it’s all about the candidate,” McMahon says. “You need to let them know you want them.” That means using “you” instead of “we” and opening with a question that caters to the candidate, such as: Are you looking for a company that can take you to the next level? She says Anthony Wilder also asked employees to post reviews on the job-search website Glassdoor. “It’s a very different workforce out there when it comes to attracting people,” McMahon says.
Charlotte Donati, 25, of Northwest D.C. was hired by Anthony Wilder after a friend who was leaving the firm recommended that Donati apply for her job. Donati, who focuses on business development, says company perks that were promoted during the interview process made the job more appealing, including that employees are allowed to bring their dogs to the office. Having her 95-pound Bernese mountain dog, Beau, at work helps her save on pet care and also improves her work/life balance, she says.
“I’m not rushing home every day to walk my dog, and if I do have to work a little bit later, I do feel more comfortable because I have my dog with me, so it, like, relieves that stress,” Donati says. “So that’s probably to me the No. 1 benefit of this job.”
Another big draw was that employees work nine-hour days from Monday through Thursday, and finish at noon on Friday, Donati says. The schedule is “really nice because if you have doctors’ appointments or if you’re traveling or if you just have errands you want to get done, you have a longer weekend every weekend,” she says.
Aledade, a Bethesda-based network of primary care practices, promotes its workplace culture to prospective hires, including a flexible work environment, generous personal time off, health benefits with low premiums, the ability to purchase stock options, paid volunteer days—and the option to choose your own computer, says Jessica Gladden, senior vice president of people strategy and operations. A one-year program for early-career employees helps them build foundational knowledge and skills.
Gladden says the company has made its hiring process more efficient by “not spreading it out over weeks and weeks.” Recruiters will contact candidates by text instead of email or phone calls if requested.
Aledade, which was named to Great Place to Work’s list of Best Workplaces for Millennials 2022, recently introduced “CARE” actions to govern the work of its 1,000 employees. “It’s an acronym for being courageous, being appreciative, being respectful and having empathy,” Gladden says.
The hiring process now includes a “CARE” interview that poses questions about how candidates would handle specific work situations to determine whether they demonstrate those qualities. “It’s evaluating how they approach the people side, right?” Gladden says. “We ask so much in interviews about the skills. But really it’s: How do you kind of show up? How do you treat and interact and collaborate with the individuals that you’re working with or managing?”
In 2019, Brittany Barnes had graduated from college and accepted a job at a firm that managed revenue for hospitals when she was asked to interview for a job at Aledade, where she’d had a summer internship.
During her job search, opportunities for career development and mentorship were her biggest concerns. “I really just cared about: What are my career opportunities? Am I going to feel supported? Am I going to be doing work that is meaningful versus do I feel like I’m just doing busy work or being someone’s assistant and getting them their coffee or whatever?” she says.
Barnes, 26, accepted the job with Aledade because she knew the company’s culture and mission were more in line with her interest in helping decrease health care costs than the job she had initially accepted, where “it didn’t feel like I was doing good work necessarily,” she says.
According to the Deloitte survey, an employer’s culture and values are among the top drivers for Gen Zers and millennials when choosing where to work. The survey found that 44% of Gen Z respondents and 37% of millennials say they have rejected work assignments because of ethical concerns, while nearly 40% of Gen Zers and 34% of millennials reported turning down employers that don’t align with their values.
Local employers say they recognize the importance of demonstrating their values, acting on issues or concerns that may arise in employee engagement surveys, and providing opportunities for growth—a sentiment shared by Sodexo, a food and facilities management company based in Gaithersburg. “Today’s employees want to know they’re working for a company that is doing the right thing while it’s making money—but they equally want to grow with that company and have a clear idea of what that looks like,” a Sodexo spokesperson said in an email.
At Choice Hotels, Bartas says the company’s “diversity, equity and belonging efforts have really shaped the culture of choice and therefore the purpose that we have of making tomorrow better than today. I think that speaks to that culture of Gen Zers and millennial associates and all associates, really.”
Businesses also have found that younger workers, particularly Gen Zers, want frequent feedback and recognition of their job performance. “This is also a group that does like to be recognized,” Gladden says, noting that Aledade holds an all-staff remote meeting on Mondays, provides managers with best practices for recognizing staff, and hands out awards.
In Frandsen’s first job at the nonprofit Friends Committee on National Legislation, he says a strong relationship with his supervisor was key to his job satisfaction. “What I really valued about her is that she was incredibly responsive to my interests and desires. But she also was just a great advocate for me, while also making sure that I was keeping a strong work/life balance,” he says.
Bartas says Choice Hotels recognizes the importance of feedback and of training managers in how to provide it, and employees in how to receive it. “Folks that are early in [their] career may not always receive feedback well. And so it’s also about training our younger generation to receive feedback in a way that’s objective, and that it’s something that they can work on,” she says. “It’s for their benefit and not personal. And I think that that is an ongoing development area for folks that are younger in [their] career for sure.”
Ultimately, though, it’s the company’s commitment to its mission and its workforce that encourages employees to stay, she says.
“While the perks are always fun, passion is sometimes more important. And I do think that regardless of generation, people want to feel valued,” Bartas says. “They want to work with other folks that bring innovative perspectives to the workplace. I think if we can cultivate that, we’ll be in good shape.”
Contributing editor Julie Rasicot lives in Silver Spring.
These companies have the happiest employees in the Bethesda area, according to research by Best Companies Group
In alphabetical order.
American Gene Technologies
What they do: Gene and cell therapy
Address: 9713 Key West Ave., 5th floor, Rockville
Employees (local): 36
Employees (total): 36
Anthony Wilder Design/Build
What they do: Custom architecture, construction and interior design
Address: 7913 MacArthur Blvd., Cabin John
Employees (local): 57
Employees (total): 57
What they do: Compliance and safety management for business aviation
Address: 700 King Farm Blvd., Ste. 610, Rockville
Employees (local): 30
Employees (total): 30
Bregman, Berbert, Schwartz & Gilday
What they do: General law
Address: 7315 Wisconsin Ave., Ste. 800W, Bethesda
Employees (local): 50
Employees (total): 50
Councilor, Buchanan & Mitchell
What they do: Full-service tax, accounting and advisory business
Address: 7910 Woodmont Ave., Ste. 500, Bethesda
Employees (local): 81
Employees (total): 93
What they do: Mental health services and support
Address: 1000 Twinbrook Parkway, Rockville
Employees (local): 174
Employees (total): 174
Montgomery Surgery Center
What they do: General and specialty surgeries
Address:46 W. Gude Drive, Rockville
Employees (local): 42
Employees (total): 42
Potomac Law Group
What they do: Legal services for businesses
Address: Office is fully remote
Employees (local): 32
Employees (total): 124
Stein Sperling Bennett De Jong Driscoll
What they do: Commercial litigation, construction, criminal, estates, family, personal injury and tax law
Address: 1101 Wootton Parkway, Ste. 700, Rockville
Employees (local): 142
Employees (total): 148
What they do: Event management and fundraising
Address: 11128 Luxmanor Road, Rockville
Employees (local): 17
Employees (total): 17
What they do: Wealth management, advice and planning for individuals and families
Address: 12435 Park Potomac Ave., Ste. 500, Potomac
Employees (local): 39
Employees (total): 284
The list of winners was generated by Best Companies Group (BCG), based in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, which conducts employee engagement research on over 1 million professionals from more than 5,000 companies every year. BCG’s proprietary survey methodology determines whether a company makes the “Best” list. In addition to its partnership with Bethesda Magazine, BCG runs over 70 programs worldwide and provides a host of custom research services. For more info, visit bestcompaniesgroup.com.
If your company would like to be considered for a future edition of Bethesda Magazine’s Top Places to Work list, please visit topplacestoworkbethesda.com.
This story appears in the September/October issue of Bethesda Magazine.