PUBLISHED JULY 8, 2021
While the conversation around the newer workforce has long been centered on millennials (those born in the early 1980’s to the mid-1990s), another generation has arrived to make their mark: Generation Z. Accounting for over 60 million people in the U.S., this generation outnumbers millennials and will soon make up a significant portion of the workforce, so it’s important for leaders to grow their understanding of its defining and driving factors.
Who is Generation Z and what sets them apart?
Gen Z is most commonly defined as those born from the late 1990s into the early 2010s, meaning the oldest are now the age where they are entering the workforce. One of the most notable distinctions between Gen Z and its predecessors is the influence of technology. As the first “digital” generation, Gen Z individuals were raised alongside the rise of technology like smartphones, as well as during the advent of streaming services and social media, creating a tech-savvy, highly digitally literate generation.
Gen Z is also the most diverse generation to date; nearly half are from racial or ethnic minority groups. Because of this, we can observe a greater variety of backgrounds, experiences and needs in today’s workforce than ever before. Due to the depth of their lived experience, Generation Z employees are also more likely to have higher standards for social justice, DE&I and corporate social responsibility in the workplace.
Overall, Generation Z is entering the professional world with plans to build a technology-forward, innovative and change-driven workforce. And, as is often the case when traditions must change for the sake of progress, there may be differing expectations between the newer workforce and established leadership.
Here’s how managers can work to better understand Generation Z to navigate common challenges and create a mutual bond of support.
1. Offer diverse channels of communication
In a Kforce survey, those who identified as Gen Z said they consider strong communication to be the most important factor in their relationship with their manager. Furthermore, a CNBC report found that over 1/3 of Gen Z employees want daily interaction with their boss. Managers can support these needs by establishing diverse channels of communication.
Offering various options for communication will foster confidence and autonomy among Gen Z employees. A LivePerson study of the digital habits of Gen Z and millennials found that 65 percent of respondents communicate digitally more than they do in person, and nearly 75 percent prefer messaging/texting to phone calls. Using channels that Gen Z employees are already comfortable with, like texting or messaging apps, is a good way to foster ease of communication.
But while Generation Z is a digitally reliant generation, don’t underestimate the value of in-person conversation. For example, keep daily interactions to quick texts or chats but consider setting recurring meetings over video chat or in-person when possible. Keeping various lines of communication open will make Generation Z employees feel heard and respected.
2. Focus on the human element
As the youngest generation in the workforce, Generation Z places significant value on empathy and understanding. A report by the Workforce Institute found that the top three attributes Gen Z employees value in a manager are that “they trust me,” “they support me,” and “they care about me.” The same report also found that Gen Z often experiences emotional barriers to achieving workplace success, like anxiety and low self-esteem.
Demonstrating a commitment to supporting Gen Z’s professional wellbeing is an important part of maintaining a healthy manager-employee relationship. Offering options for remote work and flexible hours when possible will help to forge a sense of trust and respect between Gen Z employees and their leaders. It can also be helpful to have resources available for when emotional or motivational challenges do arise, such as company-sponsored mental health programs. While it’s important to create a professional environment with set boundaries and expectations, a little flexibility and compassion can go a long way.
3. Provide clear expectations and feedback
Learning professional practices for the first time can be daunting. Because Generation Z is new to the workforce, there is bound to be a learning curve as they discover the standards of behavior for a professional environment. It can be difficult for leadership to communicate those expectations: in a Kforce survey, respondents reported that instilling professional norms was their greatest challenge when managing Generation Z employees, followed closely by conflicting expectations for tasks/assignments. Furthermore, the Harvard Business Review found that 54 percent of recent college graduates described difficulty transitioning from college to the workplace.
To ease this transition, consider implementing a mentorship program for new graduates’ first year in the workplace. Matching newer employees with more experienced ones is a great way to provide support and guidance as well as an opportunity for mutual networking.
Managers should also establish regular 1:1s during onboarding . Use this time to check in on assignments, offer feedback and open the floor to questions and concerns. It’s also helpful to have a streamlined process in place for designating and monitoring tasks, whether it’s a physical checklist or project management software. These priorities are important in any work environment, but particularly so in a remote or hybrid model, where there is more opportunity for disconnect between managers and their direct reports.
4. Share opportunities to support corporate social responsibility
One of the most notable factors among Gen Z is their commitment to corporate social responsibility. A Cone Communications study found that 94 percent of Gen Z believe that companies should address social and environmental issues. And, as an exceptionally diverse generation, they place higher value on a commitment to social justice both inside and outside of work. Promoting opportunities to get involved with CSR initiatives will not only help reinforce motivation, connection and a sense of purpose among Gen Z employees; it will also demonstrate transparency about the organization’s overall CSR practices. Directing Gen Z towards workplace affinity groups, which bring together employees with similar backgrounds or interests, is a great place to start. Managers can also demonstrate their commitment to supporting Gen Z’s CSR priorities by exploring local partnerships that align with specific causes that their Gen Z employees are passionate about. For example, if a Gen Z employee feels strongly about environmental conservation, leadership can look into getting their team involved with a local beach or park cleanup group.
From corporate volunteering opportunities or employee giving campaigns, getting Gen Z involved will result in greater engagement and pride in their role.
5. Share opportunities for learning and growth
Career advancement is a high priority for young jobseekers today. In a Kforce survey, nearly 61% of those who identified as Gen Z said opportunities for career growth was the most important factor when considering a job offer.
Leaders can support career progression in Gen Z employees by connecting them to webinars, trainings and mentoring opportunities relevant to their interests and goals. Another strategy is to encourage them to block weekly time in the work schedules for professional development. Incorporate continuous learning as a regular practice rather than an as-needed activity.
Even in a remote or hybrid environment, today’s virtual world means options for skill growth are always at our fingertips. Guiding Gen Z employees toward these opportunities will reap rewards for both managers (growing a motivated and diversely skilled team) and employees (avoiding career stagnation and burnout).
Building a strong relationship with Gen Z employees will not only result in a rich and rewarding management experience; it will also drive your organization towards the innovative working world of tomorrow.
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