By Ted Kitterman
The latest generation of employees to mystify well-meaning managers, Generation Z (born between 1997 and 2012) is steadily increasing its influence in the workplace as more and more young people join the labor force. These outspoken newcomers are at the forefront of rising activism in the workplace: they want it all—and they’re willing to take action if they feel that their needs aren’t met. Starting with the Great Resignation and continuing today, business leaders have been struggling to hang onto their Gen Z employees who are ready and willing to look elsewhere for better pay, more opportunities to develop their skills, and less toxicity in the workplace.
Serving the unique needs of Gen Z is something great workplaces are taking very seriously. Ranked number 52 on the Fortune Best Large Workplaces for Millennials list for 20221, the convenient store chain Sheetz knows a thing or two about engaging with young employees. “Like most employers today, we have to consider that we have multiple generations in our workplace,” says James Colino, director of talent acquisition at Sheetz. “That requires sensitivity in how we market, how we recruit, and how we manage our work family.” Key to this approach is thinking about Generation Z as its own demographic (not lumping it in with Millennials) and addressing its unique needs.
What’s Missing for Gen Z
Gen Z workers are leaving their jobs for a reason. According to Great Place to Work research, the members of this generation share Millennials’ experience of having a demonstrably worse time in the workplace than older generations (including in how they feel pay and profits are distributed).2 Of all the generations currently in the workplace, Gen Z workers are the least inclined to want to stay in their jobs.
Driving their exodus is a lack of purpose or meaning in their work. Per Great Place to Work data, Gen Z workers who agree that their work has “special meaning” are three times as likely to stay with their organization. Those who say they want to stay with their organizations a long time are also three times more likely to recommend those companies to others—thus creating a virtuous cycle.
What’s Working for Gen Z
Great Place to Work research highlights the aspects of the workplace experience where Gen Z is having a better experience than other generations. In fact, in organizations designated as Great Workplaces, they’re having the most positive experience when it comes to certain aspects of fairness, pride, and respect. In those places, Gen Z workers feel that
- colleagues avoid politicking and backstabbing
- promotions are awarded fairly
- managers don’t play favorites
- colleagues quickly adapt to changes
- management involves workers in decision making that affects their work
This generation is “more racially and ethnically diverse than any previous generation,”3 and nearly 21% of its members identify as LGBT.4 With such demographics, Gen Z also has hefty expectations around diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB).
Colino recognizes that each generation has different needs from the generations that preceded it. “Every generation is a product of the environment they grew up in,” he says. “This generation has been subjected to political, privacy, technological, and gender issues that have shaped how they think.” Colino points out that this difference doesn’t mean giving Gen Z a free pass on performance—but it does require that leaders take the extra time to acknowledge differences, be inclusive, and find solutions that work for customers and employees.
How to Engage Gen Z in the Workplace
Colino offers the following recommendations for managers who want to engage their Gen Z employees:
Create a nurturing environment. “They need someone to acknowledge that, purely based on the number of years they’ve been alive, they might not be fully equipped to handle all the situations they’ll encounter in a busy store. It’s more than training; it’s a mentorship approach that ensures they have a positive experience.”
Develop your listening skills. “I think Gen Z is one of the more vocal generations. They’re not afraid to speak up, so I think they really appreciate that we’re asking for input.” Every generation wants to be heard, but this desire is especially strong in Gen Z.
Build in opportunities for fun. “Our industry has to figure out how to keep this critical segment of talent excited.” Younger workers’ early work experiences will influence whether they will return to jobs in a particular sector. If workers see an industry or workplace as a buzzkill, they won’t stick around to become the leaders of tomorrow.
Think about targeted benefits for education. Sheetz has increased its tuition reimbursement program to the maximum amount allowed by the IRS. “We also expanded our partnerships with online universities to ensure that all of our employees, no matter where they’re located, can continue their education.”
Take time to learn more about Gen Z as a whole. “I don’t think companies fully understand the Gen Z workforce yet; they’re just barely entering the workplace.”
Organizations that invest in learning more about Gen Z as a macro concept will have an invaluable opportunity to bring in diverse viewpoints and build a talent pipeline to sustain their growth for years to come.
Gen Z employees want to work for ethical, flexible, and forward-thinking workplaces. In order to attract and retain these workers, organizations need to win their trust by demonstrating a willingness to meet them where they are.
Ted Kitterman is a content manager at Great Place to Work, the global authority on workplace culture. With a mission to help every place become a great place to work for all, Great Place to Work gives leaders and organizations the recognition and tools they need to create a consistently and overwhelmingly positive employee experience by fostering cultures that are proven to drive business, improve lives, and better society. For more information, visit greatplacetowork.com.