What's the key to unlocking Gen Z workers' potential?

'Empty offices can leave young people high and dry without the chance to build relationships and connections,' says academic

What's the key to unlocking Gen Z workers' potential?

To help Gen Z employees thrive in the workplace, employers should prioritise training when it comes to aspects like communication, teamwork and people-skills.

That’s according to a report from Kahoot! which also found that 35% of Gen Z experience social anxiety in the workplace on a near-daily basis.

Taking time to build informal connections is important, said Dr Geoff Plimmer, senior lecturer in the School of Management at Victoria University, in discussing the survey results and his own academic research. “Research we've done at Victoria with workers generally found that to help grow and develop staff, good managers also look after the ‘whole person’ and get to know them a little bit personally.

“There're limits to how much you want to bring your personal life into your work life, and that can be negotiated, but treating [Gen Z] as fully rounded people, rather than just working widgets makes a real difference.”

Building relationships with Gen Z

So talking about career goals and maybe some personal ones – within the bounds of reasonableness - is important, said Plimmer.

“Managers are often really busy and it's hard to do, but investing time upfront, and building a relationship early on should pay off in the long term.”

In addition, induction programmes shouldn't just be about health and safety, says Plimmer, who specialises in healthy workplaces and leadership.

“They should also be about socialising new starters and helping them fit in,” he said.

“This generation, like others, want to do something worthwhile and meaningful. They want to be in an environment that reflects their values and to feel like they're part of something bigger than themselves. It can help to talk about why something is being done, and understand that the ethics and purpose are important to them. Feedback’s important too and generally they should be hungry for feedback.”

Assigning buddies or mentors can help Gen Zs flourish

Creating good relationships with colleagues is also vital, he says.

“Assigning buddies or mentors can help new starters flourish. Enabling them to work with other people in the organisation too on joint projects is a good idea. Good managers manage the team as a collective, as a group, to build collaboration, rather than just managing a series of one-on-one relationships.

“It’s important to give [Gen Z] a sense of confidence and progress early on, and that they're working with someone, not just for someone.”

And employers should be mindful that is this generation is coming to their first office job, it can be “enormously challenging and overwhelming” trying to work out a new environment, said Plimmer.

“Learning the tacit knowledge of how workplaces operate is really important and anything you can do to help newcomers understand the subtle ins and outs will be helpful.”

To assist Gen Zs in this adjustment, it’s useful to set clear goals about what's expected. “This should be not just about task goals, but about the importance of getting on and building relationships,” he said.

Flexible working and new starters

In a world where flexible and hybrid work has become the norm, the environment can be more challenging for new starters, especially Gen Zs coming straight from education, he said.

“Empty offices can leave young people high and dry without the chance to build relationships and connections. This also restricts mentorship opportunities.

“In this case, I think the important thing is to spend more time, not less, building a relationship with that person. With remote working, there needs to be more time put into the Zoom calls for instance to create a sense of belonging and build relationships. Remote work doesn't get you off the hook for doing that - it actually makes those things more important.”

When asked whether Gen Z are more reticent to speak up or be in a public forum, Plimmer’s response is that possibly that could be the case for some of those who’ve been distance learning and may not have been in group settings as much, but he refutes this is the case for the majority.

“What I’ve found is that students that turn up to lectures are very articulate, committed, focused - and fantastic.”

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