Millennials have officially made their mark on the workplace. Headphones are a staple office accessory, and desk phones gave way to mobile phones (or as millennials call them, phones). Now, it’s time for Generation Z to make its own mark.
The Gen Z juggernaut ran smack into the pandemic as it entered the workforce. 2020 left few options for how to work — meaning Gen Z couldn’t “influence work and the workplace” as much as an incoming generation typically does. Now, it's time to identify environmental changes that will let Gen Z thrive at work alongside their older counterparts.
For this article, we spoke with:
Patricia Karam, founder of HR recruiting company Mission Recruit
Hari Kolom, CEO of people intelligence platform Findem
James Rice, head of SEO at Picked, a talent acquisition software tool
Chuck Underwood, founder and principal of the Generational Imperative, a generational consulting firm
Research shows that the younger generation continues to prefer shorter-term jobs to long-term careers. In general, Gen Z-ers plan to move on from their current employer in fewer than three years, and only one in four plans to work for an employer for five years or more, according to a 2019 study from Yello Recruiting. In a survey from Robert Half, 75% of Gen Z respondents said they see rewards in job-hopping, including more money, experience and upward mobility. And, in a survey from the Adecco Group, 83% of Gen Z participants said they would leave an employer if they didn’t see the right opportunities for career advancement.
To keep your young employees, give them incremental responsibility. When possible, keep them engaged by articulating a clear career path with opportunities to move upward, learn new skills and explore various experiences. Opportunities for raises and bonuses never hurt, either. And at absolute minimum, maximize the efficiency of your hiring and employee onboarding processes to prevent turnover associated with this generational proclivity.
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Gen Z feels the need … the need for speed. And just like a slow, outdated plane would be uninteresting to Maverick and Goose, a company rooted in extensive process and long emails is likely to deter the youngest generation of employees. On average, Gen Z students switch between tasks every 19 seconds, psychology professor Jean Twenge notes in her book “iGen.” For more data on this generation’s attention span, look no further than 15-second TikTok videos.
“Gen Z have been conditioned to expect immediacy,” said James Rice, head of SEO at Picked, maker of a talent acquisition software tool. “If your organization appears to be slow-moving — like with your hiring process — then you may struggle to attract Gen Z employees.”
To feed Gen Z’s desire for a faster pace, the go-to is new technology — we’ll get into that next. Changing processes in order to speed them up, while beneficial to the organization as a whole, might not be immediately practical. However, you can make simple tweaks to keep pace with Gen Z’s work style: Keep communications short, sweet and visual.
When putting together information for Gen Z, try leading with imagery and videos and keeping text to short messages or brief bullet points. Also consider which processes you can speed up with little effort. For instance, can managers give constructive feedback immediately after a project instead of waiting until the next performance review checkpoint? This will create that Gen-Z-preferred sense of continuous learning and improvement. Can bosses and colleagues lean more heavily on chat tools vs. email to speed response time? Interactivity will likely result.
Buffering video, unavailable Wi-Fi, patchy phone signals, non-intuitive interfaces? Nobody has time for that — especially not Gen Z.
Eighty percent of Gen Z-ers aspire to work with cutting-edge technology, because they likely have been since grade school, according to a research study from Dell. When it comes to choosing employment, 91% say technology would influence their choice among similar employment offers. To appeal to Gen Z, ensure that technology is ingrained into every stage of their employee lifecycle -- from hiring and onboarding to the daily work experience.
Once onboard, Gen Z employees can be a valuable resource in decision-making around technology adoption.
“Younger talent is actually a breath of fresh air. They are in-the-know with trends and technologies, giving employers the opportunity to take advantage and consider other platforms,” said Patricia Karam, founder of the HR recruiting company Mission Recruit. “I guarantee you they will know how to operate it better than anyone else. Same goes with newer technologies and social media – go ahead, listen to their advice, and let them take the lead.”
Gen Z is also well-versed enough in technology to know what they want. According to Forrester research, areas in which Gen Z tends to differ from previous generations are:
One-third of surveyed Gen Z employees want a tablet/laptop combo to work with, compared with 23% of Gen X and 17% of baby boomers.
Gen Z still uses traditional productivity tools like email and spreadsheets but not as much as older generations. Surveyed Gen Z-ers were much more likely to use applications such as voice recognition, virtual assistants, design and drawing tools, and augmented and virtual reality.
Gen Z employees are more likely to circumvent security policies for the sake of productivity. They also are more likely than their older colleagues to want to choose their device’s security software.
Versus older workers, a larger number of Gen Z-ers are concerned about their company accessing personal data on personal devices they use for work.
While Gen Z workers are less likely to want to work only at home, they're more likely to work in a variety of locations, such as coworking spaces, on a commute or in multiple spots in your office. To do so, they need the appropriate technology. Research from The Economist suggests that employers that make good use of mobile technology have more productive, creative, satisfied and loyal employees, so the benefits go well beyond the youngest workers.
Though a company is likely unable to give each Gen Z employee the autonomy to choose their own devices and programs, it can move toward equipping individuals with the technology they want to use. Ask about preferred technologies; keep track of technology trends; solicit feedback from employees; and monitor satisfaction with the overall digital experience. It’ll keep Gen Z engaged, particularly when working remotely. Choosing appropriately will also facilitate an easy transition from the technology they use in their personal life to their workplace technology.
In 2019, a New York Times article proclaimed “young people are going to save us from the office,” noting millennials’ and Gen Z’s penchant for “work-life balance,” flexible schedules and the ability to shape their jobs to fit their daily lives. The publication date proves this was Gen Z’s thinking before 2020 gave everyone a taste of the remote life. Even then, nearly 75% of Gen Z-ers ranked workplace flexibility as the top employee benefit.
“As with every generation, Gen Z is guiding us into a new way of thinking. Companies need to think about how to adapt to a more relaxed environment,” said Karam. “Can they accommodate a new dress code? Can there be unlimited PTO like other companies? Can [employees] work from any place, city or state as long as they deliver?”
When trying to attract and retain Gen Z talent, ensure that you are offering at least some or all of the flexible workplace attributes they seek. Examples include partial or fully remote work options, paid time off to volunteer, exercise or therapy breaks, a schedule that allows for caregiving and a casual dress code.
Flexibility isn’t just about where we work. Consider also empowering managers to help employees find their “productive zone.” Rigid requirements around work hours, output and location can sap overall productivity and creativity. Working with employees to foster autonomy in their own working style can keep them engaged and allow them to take charge of their own job performance, which influences the company’s growth and profitability.
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In-and-Out offers employees free burgers, and Intel provides free car washes. Get a list of employee perks and benefits — both snazzy and more commonplace — that candidates routinely cite as the most important factors when considering a position.
Up your work-from-home game with some free or low-cost collaboration tools, services and policies. See a roundup of tools that cost less than $50 per user per month — and most a lot less.
Simplify and organize new hire management, employee onboarding and more via NetSuite’s HCM software, SuitePeople. The system also allows employees to easily request time off and monitor vacation schedules as they take advantage of all those Gen-Z-friendly perks.
For Gen Z, culture carries even more weight in the job search than it does for their colleagues from other generations.
“As Gen Z is coming into the workforce with ample opportunities in front of them, they’re largely making decisions about employers based on culture,” said Hari Kolam, CEO of Findem, a “people intelligence” platform. “Their goal is to work for a company with a remarkable culture, and if that’s not being demonstrated to them early on, they may go off to a competitor.”
According to Kolam:
Continuing to foster that sense of culture and community after the employee starts work can be difficult, especially as workers outside the office can incur an “out of sight, out of mind” mentality. The strongest teams put the most effort into building relationships with each other, as a united team is a productive one. To convey culture to all employees, regardless of location, companies need a strong communications program that includes multiple components: a blend of informal and formal conversations, video and phone, email and instant messages, scheduled and random chats.
Gen Z marks the first generation of true digital natives. The emphasis on technology, though, can sometimes result in depreciation of soft skills.
“We’re finding that the biggest jolts that younger talent is experiencing is not tech-oriented but instead human-oriented,” said Chuck Underwood, founder and principal of the Generational Imperative. “They’ve been relentlessly trained in tech. But when they leave their classroom years and suddenly find themselves immersed in people in their 30s, 40s, 50s and 60s, they [sometimes] lack the human and interpersonal skills: communication skills, critical thinking, empathy, organization, punctuality, social savvy, creativity and other absolutely essential workplace skills.”
The focus on soft skills isn’t one-sided. In a Tallo survey of 2,400 Gen Z students, nearly three-quarters ranked soft skills — like critical thinking, leadership and communication — as more important for success than hard skills. Even as the “digital generation,” more than 90% of Gen Z prefer to have a “human element” to their teams — i.e., coworkers vs. machines — an EY survey found. Yet 52% of Dell’s survey respondents said they’re more confident they have the technology skills employers want than non-technology skills.
Providing opportunities to acquire soft skills within the company can benefit both employer and employee. Coaching and mentoring, virtual and in-person training, job rotations, multi-generational teams and peer learning, when paired with the opportunities to practice in employees’ day-to-day job, can bolster soft skills.
Building Your Generational Toolkit
While Gen Z’s traits tend to be top-of-mind for employers right now, there are nuances with all generations to keep in mind.
“The problem [employees] face is this: Their bosses have not been adequately trained in managing the different generations,” said Underwood. “And each generation brings unique generational strengths and weaknesses and preferences to the job each day.”
Businesses tend to see more success when owners and supervisory personnel have been trained in generational human resource strategies to understand the respective work preferences of Gen Z, millennials, Gen X and boomers.
Day-to-day, considering how a colleague might prefer to receive and is most likely to consume a message, vs. how you want to deliver it, can bridge generational divides and meet the individual's unique needs.
Gen Z is expected to produce roughly 60 million job seekers in the next decade. As this generation continues to enter and reshape the workplace, take its work preferences into account in order to attract, retain and bolster its promising talent.