How to engage Gen Z employees

Top HR leaders share their strategies with HRD

How to engage Gen Z employees

By 2025, it’s estimated that Gen Z will make up almost 30% of the global workforce. It’s a generation of workers who grew up with information at the touch of a button and more choice than ever before.

But while some older generations may lambast Gen Z for having it easy, they’ve experienced the devastating impacts of global warming and lived through a pandemic that is still costing thousands of lives worldwide. It’s why from a workplace perspective, Gen Z is a fascinating cohort of employees and one that typically looks to more than their salary when deciding where to work.

At a lively roundtable session hosted by HRD and Indeed, top HR leaders discussed their experiences of leading and engaging a multi-generational workforce. They delved into the biggest challenges and benefits of supporting employees across the age spectrum, from baby boomers and gen X on one end, to millennials and Gen Z on the other.

Kicking off the session, social researcher Claire Madden outlined the key trends she has identified through studying the next generation of workers. She identified Gen Z workers as a highly empowered, innovative and tech-savvy group. Through the connectedness offered by the internet, they are world travellers who are not confined to location when it comes to looking for a job. Pre-pandemic, she said Gen Z’s top three needs from a workplace included being able to reach their full potential, respect and recognition from colleagues, and the social bonds created at work. But interestingly, the pandemic has brought another need to the forefront.

“Security has started to matter more to this generation who previously had never had any global or world event that had shaken their sense of financial and vocational security,” she said. “I think that is an area that will continue to matter to this generation moving forward. It’s a sense of security, a desire for permanent roles in an organisation where you can move your way up, where you can grow and have a development pathway. Whereas previously before the pandemic, I just wasn't hearing the word security mentioned when it came to vocation.”

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One roundtable attendee said she had experienced that increased desire for security firsthand among her company’s new intake of graduates. They had begun seeking reassurance over the permanent positions available and their future within the organisation despite having just started the program - something she hadn’t witnessed from a group of graduates before the pandemic.

Madden said it’s a factor that could become an attraction and retention tool for employers seeking out Gen Z employees. Companies that can satisfy that need by offering permanent jobs and a clear path of progression may find it easier to attract the next generation of workers.

Another HR leader said she has witnessed a greater appetite for information and involvement in decision making from her organisation’s younger employees. With staff members ranging from 18 to 80, she said collaboration is key to fostering a culture that is inclusive, regardless of age.

“They [Gen Z] like to tell us how much they want to know and to be a part of the team,” she said. “What we do when we’re working on big projects is to get generation X, Y, Z - everybody - involved. That is the way we are dealing with a multi-generation workforce so that we have voices from all the different generations, and then we collectively make the decision.

“Now, it might prove to be a little bit of a slow process because there are extra meetings that we have to do, but ultimately it leads to a better outcome.”

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Others around the table echoed the sentiment, describing Gen Z as a generation that craves involvement. One attendee said this desire is shaping her organisation’s graduate program, which is being designed around the principles of connection, collaboration, purpose and voice. Gen Z workers also know what they want – and they aren’t afraid to ask for it. Combined with the sudden rise of remote or flexible working in the last 18 months, one HR leader said it has sometimes been a source of tension between older and younger workers.

“Sometimes there's differences in opinion about the way we work,” she said. “The older workers remember when they used to work 70 hours a week, while the younger generation really value their wellbeing, balance and having time off, and the pandemic has made that a little bit worse.”

It's a point of tension that has become common in many multi-generational workplaces. Is flexibility given, or is it earned? Some would argue that in the current talent market, organisations cannot afford to ignore the desire for flexibility among the younger generation of workers. The HR leader said they have tackled this challenge by seeking to bring generations together around the company’s driving purpose.

“If we can bring them in and all agree what the goal is in the middle, we can create those connections and community,” she said.

A further talking point from the session was technology, which naturally is a big part of the Gen Z’s employee experience. As a generation that has grown up with iPhones, high-speed internet connection and entertainment at their fingertips, the expectation around technology is sky-high.

Therefore, they expect the platforms they use in the workplace to be consumer-grade quality, whether that’s to check their shifts, video call with their team or book a day off. As one HR leader commented: “Everyone is expecting everything that comes out of the HR team to look like an Apple product.”

From the discussion it was clear that HR leaders today are cognizant to the unique needs and desires of the next generation of workers. In fact, they’re not just aware, they’re being proactive. Leading organisations are designing and evolving their HR strategy to meet those needs, support Gen Z as they enter the workforce and nurture them into the leaders of tomorrow.

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