Understanding and Engaging Generation Z in the Workplace

25 March 2024

F Ront Cover   Gen Z In The Workplace

An incredible transformation is unravelling in the way we work – from AI to Zoom. The growth of digital technology coincided with a pandemic is shifting the rules of work.

But there’s arguably a more influential change: The rise of a new generation that plans to make its mark on the workplace.

Born between 1997 and 2012, generation Z – currently makes up 30% of the world’s population and are expected to account for 27% of the workforce by 2025.

As Gen Z are about to step into the workforce, the impact of their entry will be swift and profound. Radically different from Millennials, this generation has an entirely unique perspective on careers and how to define success in life and in the workplace.

This generation is characterised by their skills with technology, passion for social issues, and distinct approach to work-life balance, reshaping the norms of professional environments.

By recognizing and accommodating the distinct traits of Generation Z, businesses can create a dynamic and inclusive workplace by utilising their digital fluency and aligns with their values, setting the stage for a successful future of work.

Foster Open Communication:

Gen Z is the first fully digital native generation, having grown up with extensive access to information in real-time. Having also experience economic uncertainty driven by the global health pandemic, the result is a working cohort that is experiencing a lack of control and uncertainty about the future.

Thus, to build trust and a stronger connection with this generation, managers must prioritise transparency by shifting their communication style from a need-to-know policy to an open-access one. Access to information will alleviate Gen Z’s anxieties and allow them to proceed effectively, feeling in control. Organisations should engage in frequent two-way dialogues across various communication platforms to effectively close communication gaps, provide clear, direct feedback, and create an environment where Gen Z's voices are heard and respected.

To think about how you can improve, start reflecting on the following questions

  1. Do I currently have a two-way dialogue with team members across multiple communication mediums? Confirm with your team what communication methods they prefer and align on a realistic frequency of consistent interaction

  2. Have I made room to share and discuss the team’s strategy and the impact on the organisation? Does the team know how their role affects the strategy? Clarify the organisations vision and demonstrate how each employees’ skills and tasks contribute to achieving that vision.

  3. Do I leverage our team meetings to discuss results, performance, and future outlook, given the impact of new information? Discuss openly and honestly your outlook of the future and what is impacting the business. Ask your team if they feel empowered and supported to achieve their goals.

  4. Do I regularly ask the team for feedback about where we need more transparency or clarity (i.e., clear roles and responsibilities, expectations, etc.)? Make the necessary adjustments and acknowledgments to make team members feel seen and heard.

Recognize and Utilise Their Skills:

Rooted in an era of constant change, Gen Z bring a forward-thinking mentality that prioritises adopting more efficient methods over outdated procedures. Gen Z live in a world where any question is just one search away. If they want to know something, they readily seek the answer out for themselves. They question everything and everyone. They want to understand why something is done a certain way. They are also not afraid to challenge why things are done the way they are.

However by questioning the established norms they are proactively seeking fresh solutions to challenges. Educated to analyse critically rather than accept information at face value, employees should stay open to hearing about different ways to get things done, because Gen Z have one foot in the future.

Empower Gen Z with the autonomy to make decisions and the freedom to innovate. This generation thrives on the freedom to leverage their strengths and make informed decisions without constraints. Providing them with opportunities to innovate and improve work processes can increase engagement and boost productivity.

Cultivating Support of Career Development

Demonstrating clear pathways for career advancement is crucial for motivating Generation Z employees, as they are practical individuals highly concerned with job security and progression. According to the Pew Research Centre, “Half of the oldest Gen Zers reported that they or someone in their household had lost a job or taken a pay cut because of the pandemic". Therefore, understanding performance metrics, what good looks like, and how to overdeliver is key for this younger generation. These employees want to know what is expected of them to advance and how they can be in control of their future.

They seek mentorship and guidance from leaders who set clear goals, acknowledge their contributions, and foster an environment of continued professional growth. Managers can:

  1. Clearly define successful performance for individual contributors and potential leaders and elucidate how work is assessed with complex organisational structures.

  2. Organise mentorship initiatives that pair these individuals with seasoned professionals to facilitate knowledge transfer and promote intergenerational cooperation.

  3. Ensure consistent communication and personalised feedback, in a casual way, concentrating on positive reinforcement and constructive criticism.

Offer Flexibility:

Gen Z grew up in a period that saw the blurring of the 9-5 work schedule and the rise of flexible work models. They place value on the human experience and recognise that life is more than work. Gen Z is looking for flexible work arrangements that to integrate work and personal life seamlessly, prioritising flexible hours, and the freedom to work remotely.

Compensation & Security:

Given their experience growing up in the aftermath of the recession caused by the global financial crisis in 2008 – and the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic Gen Z top priorities when considering a new position are focused on base salary and intangible benefits.

Given generational priorities and considerations, companies must evolve their reward packages to not only be competitive in attracting and retaining talent, but to meet people where they are and where they want to be.

One way to do this is by allowing employees the opportunity to choose their benefits. Gen Z, especially want to feel like the benefits being offered to them are unique. Through this increase in flexibility, employees are able to choose benefits that not only directly address their needs but will motivate them throughout their career.

Intangible benefits

Short term: Gen Z want to know that a company will set them up for financial success as 71% say they are moderately to very stressed about finances. As such, employers should incorporate financial wellness into their packages. In addition, similar to other generations, these employees care about career progression. Implementing a mentorship program from the beginning will help them understand what a long-term career could look like at the company and provide them with the tools to attain it.

Long Term: There are three intangible benefits that companies must consider to retain this new generation of employees: Skill development, employee resource groups (ERGs) and stress management. These three benefits create a strong network and support system while simultaneously helping employees early on in their careers to understand the organisation, where they fit in and why they matter.

Prioritising Diversity and Inclusion Strategies

Diversity matters to Gen Z in multiple dimensions not just isolated to race and gender but also related to identity and orientation. They gravitate towards organisations that are diverse in composition, equitable in practice, and inclusive in culture.

  1. 83% of Gen Z job seekers say they prioritise the company’s stance on diversity, equity and inclusion.

  2. 1 in 3 Gen Zer’s say they would reject a job offer if they didn’t like the companies green credentials.

  3. 92% of surveyed Gen Zers want some alignment in values and purpose from the company they work for.

To win the hearts of Generation Z, companies and employers will need to highlight their efforts to be good global citizens.

And actions speak louder than words: Companies must demonstrate their commitment to a broader set of societal challenges such as sustainability, climate change and hunger.

Companies that better represent the spectrum of differences in their external branding/marketing are much more likely to diversify their talent pipelines.

Conclusion

Generation Z is not just entering the workforce; they are set to become a dominant force in it. They bring strengths in technology, innovation, and a drive for purposeful work. To harness these qualities, employers must create an environment that meets Gen Z's needs for compensation, work-life balance, meaningful engagements, communication, and diversity. By doing so, organizations can ensure high productivity, a culture of growth, and robust retention rates. Understanding and managing Gen Z is the key to building a dynamic and forward-thinking workplace.