The rise of Generation Z in the workplace comes during a transformative period.
The oldest members of Gen Z, people born between 1996 and 2012, are approaching their mid-20s and therefore have only been in the professional workforce for a few years. Like other generations before them, they bring a new mindset along with different wants and expectations.
In addition, they are entering and acclimating to the working world during a major shift that will forever change the way many companies conduct business: the mainstream adoption of the flexible workplace, including remote work and hybrid work.
Benefits of managing a Gen Z workforce
In this new era, there are plenty of great things about Gen Z in the workplace, especially in the remote era:
- The COVID-19 pandemic has covered the majority, if not all, of their career so far, which means they are far more likely to be adaptable and resilient.
- They value flexibility – in fact, it’s the norm to them and they thrive in it. Many of them have little to no experience in a traditional 9-to-5, on-site work setting.
- They tend to be very comfortable with technology, especially digital communication. After all, they don’t remember a world without computers, the internet, email, social media, cell phones and a host of other conveniences that are now commonplace. For this reason, they are adept users of existing technologies and often early adopters of emerging technologies.
- They are typically independent, creative and eager to learn. They want to make their mark on their workplace, and quickly.
Challenges of managing a Gen Z workforce
There also some challenges that are unique to this age group in this particular moment in time:
- They tend to crave social connection – both digital and face to face. In a remote work environment, forging and maintaining these connections requires more effort.
- Because many of them have only worked for companies remotely, or their current remote job is their first job, Gen Zers are more likely than prior generations to have weaker, distant relationships with colleagues and managers, and feel disconnected from their employer.
- For some Gen Zers, perceived isolation can feel like monotony and result in boredom.
- They expect success to happen quickly, as a result of their contributions rather than tenure. If success does not happen in alignment with their expectations, they can get frustrated.
- Job hopping is not viewed negatively among Gen Zers. Being younger and less likely to have families and firm commitments, and freed from the constraints of working within a particular location or time zone thanks to remote work, Gen Zers are more mobile and likely to change jobs frequently if they are unhappy with some aspect of their current job. If you fail to engage them, they are out the door.
To recruit, engage and retain this new generation of workers, companies must evolve in how they operate and manage employees in remote and hybrid work environments.
So, what are some things you, as a business leader, can do to help the Gen Zers in your workforce become more engaged and productive in a remote work setting – and overcome the challenges we have addressed?
1. Highlight your mission, vision and values
Members of Gen Z tend to be cause driven, meaning that they maintain awareness of current events and community issues, and feel passionate about their desired outcome based on their core values. Their values are extremely important to them and their identity, and they like to get involved and support causes they believe in.
For this reason, they are often true believers in good corporate citizenship. They want their employer’s values to align with theirs and prefer to be affiliated with a company that cares about (and positively impacts) the community around them.
When you recruit a Gen Z employee, emphasize the things that are going to engage and motivate Gen Zers: mission, vision, values and causes that you actively support. Speak their language. Remind them that they play on a team with a purpose. Communicate these themes continually throughout their tenure.
It can also be helpful to clearly explain to them how their individual role makes a difference to their team, the company as a whole, customers and the wider community – and remind them regularly.
By emphasizing values and purpose, you can help them feel more invested in your company and generate enthusiasm.
2. Focus on employee wellness
Let them know that you care about them individually as people. In fact, empathy for others may be one of your organization’s core values that you model every day.
The pandemic has made everyone more aware of physical and mental health and wellbeing. Gen Zers are especially attuned to wellbeing, and often prioritize their health and happiness over more traditional workplace perks that would have excited previous generations. Let them know about workplace wellness programs, your Employee Assistance Program and other flexibility measures that put their wellbeing at the forefront. Explain how your organization protects work-life balance.
3. Set new hires up for success
Employee onboarding and orientation are necessary processes with any new hire. But in remote work environments in which in-office time and face-to-face interaction are less common, onboarding and orientation become more important. And with Gen Zers, who are almost brand-new to the working world and already inclined to feel disconnected, it’s absolutely critical to get started on the right note.
Onboarding remote employees is your single best opportunity to immerse newbies into your culture, make them feel like part of a cohesive team and train them. This will convey everything important about the company and their role, and instill a strong sense of connection at the start.
Take the time to assess how you can enhance your onboarding and orientation process for Gen Z. Be intentional in crafting your procedures and curricula to effectively address the challenges associated with this group in a remote setting. For example:
- Set clear expectations.
- Assess how you can make new employees feel more welcome.
- Consider how you can help initiate good relationships between new employees and their colleagues.
- Let new employees know about opportunities for socialization, as well as unique perks that encourage well-being and enable flexibility and work-life balance.
4. Rethink the manager-direct report relationship
In the past, the relationship between managers and direct reports was more formal and distant, characterized by power and control. An employee’s prospects for a promotion or salary increase depended on the boss’s judgment in an annual review.
To be effective and engaging with Gen Z, leaders must now re-evaluate their role and shift their management tactics to align with new expectations.
That’s not to say that managers should swing in the opposite direction and cultivate friendships with their team members. But it does mean that Gen Z is looking more for a guide and a coach rather than a traditional “boss.”
It’s the concept of servant leadership – how can managers give employees the support they need to enable their productivity and success, whether that entails:
- Advanced training
- Learning and development opportunities
- Introductions to influential people within the organization
- Desirable work assignments
- Other resources
These qualities are especially important in a remote setting.
What should managers do to not only manage remote employees well, but also be effective with Gen Z?
- Frequently communicate with employees, checking in to see how things are going, asking about their workload, addressing any concerns, and providing and soliciting valuable feedback. Managers will need to take a custom approach with each employee – some may prefer weekly check-ins, others may need daily check-ins. The point is that a manager is very much an active presence and facilitator – but never a micromanager about every little task.
- Build trust.
- Commit to open, two-way communication and transparency.
- Serve as a source of knowledge and opportunities that can benefit employees.
- Give more autonomy and offer challenges, when appropriate, to enable growth.
- Intervene when downward trends emerge, such as a dip in productivity or work quality, and counsel employees on how to get back on track.
5. Establish and maintain connectivity
Many Gen Zers may never know the office water-cooler experience or be able to walk down the hall to have a spontaneous conversation with a colleague.
In addition to establishing positive manager-employee relationships, what else can you do to help Gen Z employees integrate well within a team?
- Try pairing them up with a colleague who performs similar or complementary work – also known as a “buddy system.” Usually, the buddy has been at the company for a longer period of time and can help train new employees and acclimate them to the remote work environment. Equally important, it gives new employees a familiar, friendly face to go to with questions and a source of much-needed social interaction.
- Assign new employees to a mentor – someone more senior and experienced from whom they can gain valuable knowledge and skills. Have them meet up with their mentor regularly to discuss their goals and progress, or allow them to shadow their mentor as they go about certain tasks.
- On the flip side, perhaps a Gen Zer has a valuable skill or expertise to share with more tenured employees. Reverse mentoring can help build confidence in younger employees by letting them assume a position of empowerment and giving them an opportunity to network throughout the organization. It can also help them feel included and accepted within their team.
- Initiate engaging remote team-building activities, including virtual socializing and more fun, casual events.
- Let employees know of any employee resource groups (ERGs) or employee affinity groups, such as a book club, fitness club or volunteer activity. This is a good way to fulfill their desire to further a cause and connect with others.
- Leverage communication platforms that enable casual, on-the-fly interactions. (This will also help avoid the perception among Gen Zers that your company is behind the curve on technology adoption.)
6. Map Point A to Point B
In the past, employees worked a number of years in their specific roles, working hard and waiting patiently for a promotion.
Gen Z doesn’t want to wait several years for a promotion – they want to see the results of their contributions much sooner. They need to know that they are regularly making forward progress, otherwise they may feel “stuck” and bored. One of the most common reasons that employees leave companies is the sense that they cannot accomplish their goals there. These feelings can be exacerbated when one experiences workplace isolation in a remote environment.
To build on Gen Zers’ enthusiasm while curbing potential frustration, be proactive about discussing their goals early on, and regularly. What do they ultimately want to achieve professionally? Which role do they aspire to? What does their life look like in five, 10 and 20 years?
Once you know this information, guide them through a career path-mapping exercise. Help them understand the skills they need to master and the knowledge they need to acquire. Explain which roles they should target on their ascension toward their ultimate goal. Give them a general approximation of the timetable, if possible.
Having a plan in place gives Gen Zers something concrete to work toward and feel productive. It also removes the mystery and anxiety surrounding workplace advancement.
If their priorities shift, help them adjust their career plan accordingly.
In the meantime, regularly recognize employees for their positive contributions and accomplishments. That can go a long way toward making them feel valued and “seen.”
7. Encourage learning and development
Because of their desire for forward momentum and purpose, Gen Zers tend to be enthusiastic learners and are receptive to new ideas. To keep them engaged and prevent boredom, consult with them on putting together a learning and development plan that aligns with their career goals and interests. There are many cost-effective, remote-work-friendly employee development ideas for your company to consider.
Bonus tip: Be flexible
In addition to allowing remote or hybrid work, how else can you introduce more flexibility into your workplace to appeal to Gen Zers’ desire for work-life balance and well-being?
- Institute a flexible schedule – or even a shortened work week.
- Increase paid time off (PTO).
- Offer other, less common types of paid leave (for example, to support their volunteerism and continuing education).
Summing it all up
In our permanent “new normal” of remote and hybrid work, members of Generation Z have unique attributes that make them highly effective employees. However, they are also susceptible to certain challenges. Here, we have outlined seven strategies that managers can adopt to better recruit and retain Gen Zers in a remote work environment while keeping them engaged, motivated and productive.
To learn more about being an effective leader, particularly during times of transition and disruption, download our free magazine: The Insperity guide to leadership and management.