Will Gen Z Want to Work for You?

With an estimated 61 million members of Generation Z poised to enter the workforce, here are five keys to becoming that demographic's employer of choice.
By: | January 15, 2018 • 6 min read

Generational literature has been fixated on the Millennials for over a decade, describing them as the “entitled generation” that was nearly a polar opposite of their Baby Boomer parents. There’s a new sheriff in town. Enter Gen Z. While closer in age to millennials, the warning for organizations is to avoid the assumption that they are simply a younger millennial. A cover story in Time magazine described Gen Z as “wired differently”—reminding us of these differences. This cohort has distinctive expectations of their employers.

Gen Z has been raised by Gen Xer parents who instilled a healthy understanding of losing in them. They grew up in a time of the greatest economic instability since the Great Depression. Many experienced a parent losing their job due to tough economic times. This mentality and coming of age in the recession have significantly impacted their pragmatic view of the world, their focus on preparation, and the need to be financially cautious. This outlook has shaped a generation that values hard work and acknowledges the need to invest in their future now. They want to be financially stable and are willing to perform to make this happen.

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The Gen Z group includes those born after 1999. Some of the descriptors for this generation include Post-millennials, iGeneration, Digital Natives, Gen Tech, and Centennials. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Gen Z is larger than the millennial or the baby-boomer generation at 61 million. They are poised to have a tremendous impact on the workforce.

Is your organization an employer of choice for young workers entering the labor force? By 2020, Gen Z will comprise 20 percent of the American workforce—a critical mass that cannot be ignored. To attract this generation, and even more importantly to retain them, organizations must re-assess key elements of their workplace. With that said, consider these five tips to become an employer of choice for Generation Z.

Provide flexible, unique career advancement opportunities.

Sixty-four percent of Gen Z respondents in a Robert Half survey cited the importance of career opportunities in selecting a job. They are not seeking just any opportunity in an organization. They want individualized career paths and performance-based advancement opportunities. Providing flexible and unique career advancement opportunities are necessary to attract and retain this generation.

The one-size-fits-all career paths won’t appeal to Gen Z. These individuals won’t be accepting the same career path as their co-worker. They seek a more customized career path that fits their specific needs and capitalizes on the experiences they have already gained. Gen Z wants to use their talents and experience multiple roles. Rotation programs can be used to leverage their experience and provide growth opportunities.  This customization may even go as far as allowing them to create their own job description!

Gen Z values stability and this can easily translate to a longer tenure with an employer. A key driver to gain this longevity is advancement. Members of Gen Z are willing to work hard and they want to be rewarded for their performance with advancement opportunities. Growth and professional development opportunities can be substituted when advancement is not available. The bottom line: Gen Z must be constantly challenged.

Deliver continuous learning.

Continuous learning is a critical part of growth for Gen Z. However, these opportunities for learning may look significantly different. Rotation programs could become a cornerstone in continuously exposing Gen Z to new opportunities for learning. With an emphasis on active learning, face-to-face communication becomes essential.

Gen Z expects to start at the bottom. They will embrace lateral moves that provide a challenge and an opportunity to grow. With clear expectations for their managers, they want mentoring and learning opportunities to prepare them for upward mobility and growth.

This need for continuous learning, then, requires that managers and mentors be available and provide continuous feedback. While Gen Z embraces those stretch assignments, these must be accompanied by feedback. They need to be kept apprised. Leveraging technology, learning takes place anywhere and anytime. They are used to figuring many things out on their own, so detailed instructions are not needed. They can simply be pointed in the right direction with general guidance. Gen Z prefers to find solutions and do so solo. They are used to sorting through large amounts of information on their own. After all, their parents often sent them off to “figure it out on your own.” When Gen Z comes back with a solution, one-on-one mentors will take on added importance in building Gen Z’s confidence to take the next step.

Change up training.

It’s back to the drawing board!  Literally! Gen Z seeks more of a partnership with trainers – positioned more as “learning guides.” Gen Z is prepared to become “self-learners” or active learners. They prefer solving problems and finding solutions on their own—with a guide providing feedback.

Today’s organizations must consider re-thinking the lecture. An overreliance on lectures is out. Gen Z doesn’t want formal workshops. With shorter attention spans, smaller training pieces and faster paced approaches with more feedback are essential.

A variety of approaches is required to engage the Gen Z learner. “Observing and doing” is critical. This is a very visual learning generation. Short videos can be an effective training tool. Trainers should also consider games for learning—especially on mobile devices- and small group activities. Training must expand beyond the classroom as on-the-job training takes on added importance for these individuals.

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It’s not just about how the training is delivered, but also about what is delivered. Learning should be competency based with a focus on problem-solving and soft skills training. Gen Z has grown up communicating through short text messages, twitter, and snap chat. As a result, specific training in writing and interpersonal skills are needed. Gen Z readily admits to needing help in the areas of self-evaluation, professionalism, time management, keeping a positive attitude, and maintaining high productivity levels. Training programs must be adjusted to target these areas.

Gen Z excels in thinking outside the box because they have had practice in being creative, critical thinkers—thanks to their parents’ approach to “go figure it out yourself”. They have always been exposed to the web for finding information, so seeking creative solutions is just second nature.

Re-think that open office-plan.

The office environment created to attract millennials may not appeal quite as much to Gen Z. The newest generation in the workplace is not as tribal as the millennials; they are a little more focused on individuality and their work environment should reflect this. Organizations, then, may need to morph this open office plan into one that more effectively meets multiple needs for multiple generations. Gen Z appreciates a collaborative work environment where they are constantly in touch with their peers. But it is important not to eliminate those offices yet!  A hybrid office plan with private as well as collaborative work spaces is the environment of choice.

Gen Z prefers flexibility at work. This can be achieved through multi-locations and adjustable work hours. Unlike their Millennial counterparts, Gen Z is more likely to be willing to travel and/or relocate for a stretch assignment. The desired flexibility can be achieved with some remote work. This may mean that they work from home or even a coffee shop. Co-working spaces are also appealing. They are already accustomed to working remotely as they completed homework from virtually anywhere and at any time.

But Gen Z won’t be telecommuting full-time. The personal interaction that they value is achieved in the office and through on-the-job training, in-house mentoring relationships, and regular check-ins with their managers. Their need for face-to-face communication and collaboration is best met with a hybrid office format that provides opportunities for some remote work and flexible hours.

Rewind recruiting.

The uniqueness of today’s newest generation joining the workforce must be considered. Organizations can’t expect to recruit by the old means and attract this generation with old policies. Organizations must be flexible and creative to successfully recruit Gen Z employees.

For this digital generation, posting jobs online is essential. Companies, then, must have a stronger online presence and consider consistent branding across all channels. Because Gen Z is tech-savvy, organizations must be active online to be on the radar screen of Gen Z. To attract them, employers need to advertise the development opportunities they offer by including them in online job postings, in videos at career websites, and through social media branding messages.

Mobile optimization is a requirement for this generation. Companies must update the application process and consider the ease of navigation. Gen Z wants to upload their resume from their mobile device and prefer that it only take a few seconds to do so.

Gen Z wants to connect with the company, its culture, and its purpose. So companies must make it personal!  Creating a consistent, memorable brand with stories gets the attention of Gen Z. They want to know what makes a company unique and they want a personal connection. Posting a video sharing stories from current employees helps in connecting to and attracting the Gen Z applicant. Organizations must be clear (and honest) in the company’s value proposition.

The war for talent is far from over. Those organizations that accommodate Gen Z workers sooner (rather than later) will be better positioned to more effectively wage that war. Organizations should begin preparing now by providing unique career advancement opportunities, delivering continuous learning, focusing on face-to-face communication, revamping training, creating hybrid work environments and re-thinking recruiting approaches.

Patricia M. Buhler is a professor of management at Goldey-Beacom College and Nicole Evans is an assistant professor of management at Goldey-Beacom College in Wilmington, Del.