How to manage the needs of Gen Z in the workplace

How to motivate Gen Z in the workplace? Zoe Morris has a few ideas.

Reading time: 5 minutes.

Today’s workplace is more diverse than ever, with organisations often having professionals from many different generations working together under one roof.

As each new demographic enters the workforce, they bring with them fresh knowledge, new skills, and innovative ideas. They also come with new expectations, ambitions, and ways of working, putting employers in the uniquely challenging position of adapting to an unprecedented breed of worker, to attract and retain the talent they need to fill their roles.

Maintaining employee engagement is one of the biggest trials facing employers today. For some businesses, it can feel like just when they think they’ve cracked the code for their workforce, a new one rolls in and turns what they thought they knew on its head.

This is especially true today, as a brand new group begins to flood the labour force: Gen Z.

Gen Zers are typically born between the mid-1990s and the mid-2000s, meaning they’re now starting to graduate into the job market. Given that Gen Z is a more populous faction than their millennial predecessors, it’s thought that they’ll make up 40% of the workforce by 2020, so employers need to learn how to engage them fast, or risk alienating a huge chunk of the talent pool.

A new type of worker

The first thing that employers need to understand is that not all workers under 35 are the same. Your millennial employees might have more in common with Gen Z than the office baby boomers, but that doesn’t mean that any provisions you’ve made to attract millennial workers will have the same effect on this new generation of talent.

Maintaining employee engagement is one of the biggest trials facing employers today.

Gen Z is competitive, self-sufficient, and entrepreneurial. They represent the next step in the ongoing evolution of autonomous workers. They want to be trusted, and thrive in an environment of mutual respect and honesty where they’re judged on their own merit and given a clear path to bigger things.

This is an age group that grew up in the shadow of recession; they’re pragmatic, they want security, and they’re willing to work for it. The post-millennial generation are the first true digital natives, born with a smartphone in their hands. 

Digital mavens they may be, but perhaps surprisingly almost three quarters of Generation Z employees prefer to communicate with colleagues face-to-face.

Getting the best from Gen Z

So, how do today’s managers get the best from this new generation of employees? The answer lies somewhere in the centre of a Venn diagram between ‘high touch’ and ‘high autonomy’.

When it comes to management styles, any good manager knows that one size does not fit all. Leaders in the workplace need to be flexible, adapting their approaches on the fly to deliver support and motivation in a way that each employee responds to individually.


For managers unfamiliar with younger generations of workers, they may need to embrace an altogether new way of supervising.

One of the most important contributors to Gen Z’s job satisfaction is supportive leadership – 23% wouldn’t even consider a role without it, and a further 55% would ‘love to have it’. What supportive leadership means differs across generations, but to Gen Z, it’s about continuous, real-time feedback.

If they’re doing something well, use it to bolster their confidence and make them feel appreciated. If they could improve on something, they expect to be told right away so they can course correct and move on. Young workers are used to instantaneous communication and commentary; if you have something to say, say it. Don’t store it up for a quarterly review.

Part of the reason Gen Z workers place such high value on support and guidance is because they’re ambitious. Three in five aspire to leadership positions themselves, and expect managers to be able to coach, not just command. They want to learn new things, develop their skills, and to take on additional responsibility.

It’s crucial that employers don’t just roll out the same old training they’ve been using for years, however. Gen Z are visual learners, having grown up using platforms like YouTube to teach themselves everything from how to cook, change a tyre, put on makeup whenever and wherever the need arises.

Businesses need to invest not only in multimedia training, but in creating clear career pathways and long-term goals for employees to work towards in order to keep them motivated. The foundation of great engagement with young employees comes down to one crucial factor: trust.

Building trust

Less than half of global professionals have a ‘great deal of trust’ in their current employers. Of course, that bond between employee and employer should be fostered at every level, for every generation, but for Gen Z, integrity is paramount.

This is a group that has been marketed to from day one, surrounded by advertisements and brands trying to win their attention, their custom, and their loyalty. Up-and-coming workers expect their employers to be genuine and candid, and if you’re not offering that, they’ll be quick to sniff you out.

To a Gen Z employee, a trustworthy boss is one who treats them with respect, conducts business ethically, actively works toward equality and inclusivity, both internally and externally, and communicates with transparency. As an employer, it’s vital you don’t make promises you can’t keep.

When seeking to build trust with young employees, confusing high-touch support with micromanagement is a deadly mistake. Gen Z workers want leaders who will empower them, and trust them enough to point them in the right direction and get out of the way.

Failure to properly manage Gen Z will have a massively detrimental effect on an organisation’s ability to recruit and keep talented people. Not only are this demographic on track to make up an enormous portion of the workforce, they’re more mobile than any other working-age group.

On average, 48% of employees have left a job that didn’t meet their expectation, jumping to 73% for Gen Z workers; a clear warning for businesses who don’t ready themselves for the changing landscape of the workplace.


About the author

Zoe Morris is the President of niche IT staffing firm Frank Recruitment Group


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