Engage Gen Z at Work: Everything You Need to Know

Every generation is unique, but Gen Z is considered one of the most influential when it comes to shaping the way we earn a living. What could this mean for the future of business?

Rachel Ayotte — July 25, 2023

The newest workforce knows what they want in a job—and they won’t stop until they get it. 

Generation Z, also known as Gen Z—or those born between the mid-to-late 1990s and early 2000s—is an emerging, powerful workforce. While every generation has been unique, Gen Z is considered one of the most influential when it comes to shaping the way we earn a living. One of the most obvious ways in which they differ from past generations is their laser-sharp expectations of what they want and what they don’t want in a job, and their refusal to settle. 

For older generations like Generation X (1965-1980) and Baby Boomers (1946-1964), it can be hard to understand exactly what these expectations are and how a modern company might try to attract, engage, and retain Gen Z employees. Their digital nativeness, passion for social change, and their commitment to value-driven work make standard methods of fostering employee motivation—like offering gift cards and pizza parties—all but ineffective. 

To understand how anyone can empower, support (and successfully employ) the next generation of professionals, let’s first answer a few essential questions about this new, untraditional set of young professionals.


Who is Gen Z, really? 

Unlike their predecessors, in the United States, Gen Z is one of the most racially and ethnically diverse generations thus far. And, they happen to be incredibly progressive: They’re known for being concerned about issues such as climate change, social justice, equality, and human rights, and they actively engage in social and environmental activism.

Aside from their commitment to progress and their diverse makeup, one of the most unexpected characteristics of Gen Z is their pragmatic attitude. As discussed in the Blink, Youth Nation, Gen Z’s early exposure to economic, social, and political uncertainty has shaped the very foundation of their upbringing. This exposure has made them more practical and less focused on typical status symbols or traditional markers of success such as phone upgrades and fancy clothes with status-inducing logos.


Why is Gen Z so important to the workplace?

Given how disruptive Gen Z might seem, it can be enticing for older generations to wonder: Is Gen Z hard to work with? And if they are, why bother? Why not focus on attracting and retaining the ever-talked-about Millennials in the workplace?


Technology is in Their Blood

Though Gen Z’s threat to the status quo can be a bit intimidating, their headstrong attitude is essential for the success of business. Not only are they factually the emerging workforce (by 2025, Gen Z will account for about one-third of the workforce), but they’re also some of the most savvy employees around. 

Because most Gen Zers are digital natives—they’ve grown up with technology—they are typically quick to adopt new tools and platforms, and are adept at navigating the digital landscape. Their technological fluency also translates to an openness to progression and a willingness to adapt. For organizations looking for longevity, these kinds of skills and mentality might just be the answer.


Personal Growth is More Than a Buzzword

Gen Zers are also known for their entrepreneurial spirit. They seek meaningful work, opportunities for personal growth, and a sense of purpose. With that motivated attitude comes creative problem-solving and the ability to think outside of the box. For employers that want self-motivated, passionate, and innovative staff, Gen Z is an ideal pool of applicants to choose from.


Reshaping of the Workforce (whether we like it or not)

Above all, workplaces that are divided by generational differences simply won’t survive in the years to come.

Research cited in the Blink, The Gen Z Effect by Thomas Koulopoulus and Dan Keldsen shows that innovative thinking within companies is often hindered by generational differences—namely, the tension that exists between old and new. 

However, technological adeptness, demand for remote work, and the focus on value over status (all spearheaded by Gen Z) have the ability to foster social learning to bridge the generational gap to create more sustainable organizations.


So, what does Gen Z expect of a company?

Ethical Leadership and Value-driven Work

Gen Z tends to seek organizations that lead with value-driven purpose and goals in mind, rather than organizations that aren’t socially conscious. Recent research shows that nearly two in five Gen Zers report rejecting a job or assignment because it did not align with their values. 

To create value-driven work, involve your employees in the value-creation process. Ask them to partake in roundtable discussions, surveys, and brainstorming sessions to determine what your company’s values should be, and how they’ll be implemented.

Likewise, employers should treat their employees like co-owners (bear with us here). By creating an environment in which every employee, no matter their seniority, feels like they’re essential to the success of your organization, the more motivated and dedicated employees will be. For Gen Z—a generation that is interested in making a difference and being entrepreneurial—co-ownership is essential. Full stop.


Mentorship and Interpersonal Connection

Because Gen Z is so interested in personal development, mentorship and interpersonal connection are some of their top priorities. When considering a new job, Gen Z tends to consider what opportunities are available to learn from their managers or coworkers in order to climb the ranks and develop more skills.

Instead of hosting in-person or virtual happy hours (which tend to only add to Zoom fatigue),  develop a structured mentorship program that pairs senior employees with new hires. Set expectations of both mentors and mentees, require regular check-ins, create benchmarks, and offer various methods of connection (video chats, Slack, or even plain old audio-only calls).  


Flexible Work 

Remote work has become a buzzword in the workforce, but its appeal is here to stay. Having experienced the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic and watching remote work become the norm as they took off in the workforce, Gen Z is incredibly interested in flexible work options outside of the regular 9-5 schedule. 

That means hybrid and work from anywhere options and more paid vacation time. Plus, flexible methods of communicating: Slack, audio-only calls, Teams messaging, and more.


Inclusion and Accessibility 

It should come as no surprise at this point in this article that Gen Z is all about social consciousness. They care greatly about comprehensive DEI initiatives and inclusion in the workplace.

While race, ethnicity, and gender-specific programming are key, it doesn’t stop there. Gen Z also prioritizes areas like mental health benefits (a prevalent issue among this age demographic), neurodivergence assistance, and both physical and mental disability considerations for things like workplace equipment, set-up, and operations. 


Four ways to tailor your workplace for Gen Z 

Understanding Gen Z and their impact is the first step to attracting, supporting, and empowering, these professionals. In order to future-proof your organization, it’s crucial to introduce a few new ideas to the workplace. Best of all, these tips will benefit the entire workforce, creating longevity for the entire organization.


1. Embrace Vulnerability and The Power of Connection

As we discovered, Gen Z is interested in mentorship and interpersonal connection. In order to satisfy this expectation, long-standing employees need to lead with honest communication in order to foster real, lasting relationship-building. Things like performance reviews and feedback, for example, should be shame-free and constructive. 

Creating a culture of openness in which employees feel comfortable sharing their feelings, as opposed to a culture based on shame, can build trust and true connection. Workplace leaders should practice sharing their own vulnerabilities during check-ins, team meetings, or other communications in order to encourage others to do the same.

Daring Greatly explores how embracing one’s vulnerability and imperfection is necessary for achieving real engagement and social connection. Through teaching on embracing our vulnerability, Brené Brown provides guidance for a better private and professional life.


2. Bring Humanity to Work

Despite how digitally savvy Gen Z is, keeping them engaged and happy as employees requires human-focused support. Celebrating personal milestones like birthdays or the birth of a baby, for example, fosters a sense of community and trust.

Beyond birthday cards and congratulations, workplaces should consider offering on-site childcare or childcare coverage, in-office mothers’ rooms for nursing, paid bereavement leave, free healthy food and snacks, and flexible work policies to accommodate personal obligations like doctor appointments and caregiving responsibilities.

Making Work Human is a roadmap to building the workplace of the future based on positive human values. Drawing on a vast amount of data and deep analytics, the pioneers of social recognition company Workhuman explain how a work culture of gratitude makes people happier and healthier while boosting productivity and performance.


3. Offer Established Career Trajectories

Faced with rising interest rates and inflation, Gen Z employees are looking for fair salaries that can support them through the economic downturns they’ve seen and continuing education loans that make an impact.

In order to appeal to Gen Z, establish clear career trajectories with achievable milestones and transparent salary increases. The more transparent you can be with your Gen Z employee’s promotion scheduling and their chance at upcoming opportunities, the better.  


4. Create an Inclusive Environment

It’s not enough to acknowledge multicultural holidays or traditions in the workplace. To keep Gen Z happy, employers have to adopt employee belonging committees, bring in minority coaches and professionals for training, remove gendered language from company communications, and make clear efforts to account for and avoid unconscious or implicit bias in hiring practices or promotion considerations. 

Don’t just think about race and gender—organizations should also consider instituting mental health days and additional health and wellness benefits in order to support a diverse workforce. 

Offering free or subsidized gym memberships or equipment, paying for meals during work or overtime hours, offering comprehensive access to mental health support, and allowing employees to expense specific health and wellness purchases like supplements or vitamins are just a few ways of fostering positive employee mental health.

Embracing the Future

Generation Z is poised to shape the future of the workplace whether we’re ready or not. By understanding and empowering Gen Z employees, organizations can tap into their potential and foster a vibrant, inclusive, and progressive work environment—and create a sustainable, successful business. 


Rachel Ayotte, the author of this article, is a creative and savvy Boston-based freelance writer with a background in traditional journalism, book publishing, SEO marketing, copywriting, and UX writing. When she’s not writing or editing (or reading!), you can find her baking chocolate chip cookies, running, or needle-felting.

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