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What Generation Z Wants from Leaders

By Julianne Spataro 

gen z worker talking to her leaderYou may not have realized that Generation Z has entered the workplace. Well, here I am. I’m one of the 74 million members of Gen Z living in the United States. Members of Gen Z were born between 1996 and 2010 and represent nearly 25 percent of the population. By 2020, we will make up one-fifth of the work force.

For the first time ever, there are five generations in the workforce at the same time. This has made it increasingly important to differentiate and understand each generation’s desires in the workplace. Leaders hoping to attract and retain Gen Z employees can learn how we’re different from previous generations in the five considerations I’ve outlined below.

Frequent feedback

Receiving feedback from supervisors isn’t a new idea. It’s a concept that transcends generations. Though, Gen Z differs in both how and how often we prefer to receive feedback.

Although Gen Z is a highly digitalized group, we understand the importance of face-to-face communication. Seventy-two percent of Gen Z prefers face-to-face communication at work. This may come as a shock to some, but as a Gen Zer myself, I certainly relate to this research. Despite knowing how to use the latest technology, I find the most authentic conversations occur offline.

To better connect to their younger Gen Z reports, leaders can try delivering feedback in-person instead of using other digital channels, such as email or chat. 

Gen Z also wants to hear from their leaders on a regular basis. Sixty percent of Gen Zers want multiple check-ins from their manager during the week, and of those, 40 percent want the interactions with their boss to be daily or even several times a day.

Leaders can set daily, weekly, or bi-weekly check-ins with their younger reports to deliver feedback. These short interactions will offer employees the chance to address concerns and seek advice. Interactions as short as 15 minutes can make employees feel more connected to their organization and its leadership.

Innovative projects

While Gen Z workers want more frequent feedback from their managers, they’re also yearning for opportunities to showcase their entrepreneurial spirit. As I was researching this trait of my generation, I began to see myself aligning more with the millions of individuals born into this cohort.

I now view my fascination with Guy Raz’s “How I Built This” podcast and my decision to pursue an entrepreneurship minor as a product of my generation. If you would have asked me in high school the most common and dreaded question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?,” I would have offered you the various “typical” professions as my initial response, but I would have quickly followed up by telling you that I also want to own my own company someday.

Seventy-two percent of Gen Z high school students aspire to start a business, and the same findings show 61 percent would rather be an entrepreneur than an employee when they graduate college.

Despite these statistics and my own personal declaration, I’m here to tell leaders they don’t have to worry about losing their next generation of employees. This is because Gen Z is also known for being risk-averse and pragmatic with a strong focus on financial stability, which leads many members of my generation to forego starting their own businesses in favor of taking on more steady professions.

For this reason, leaders managing members of Gen Z should provide their teams with opportunities to express their creativity and entrepreneurial spirit through innovative projects. Whether it’s empowering them to create thought leadership, design new technologies, or implement technological changes, giving Gen Z a creative outlet at work will satisfy their entrepreneurial tendencies and help produce innovative ideas in your workplace.

Skill development

Gen Zers aren’t only innovators—they’re also learning-focused. Because Gen Z is the most highly educated generation with the highest percentages of individuals pursing college and a significantly lower high school dropout rate compared to previous generations, its members have created a culture of continuous growth and learning. And that interest in growth and learning extends beyond graduation from post-secondary school. Gen Z wants its leaders in the workplace to provide lifelong training and development programs to update and advance their everchanging skills.

Employers and leaders that offer educational opportunities will stand out to the job-seeking members of Gen Z. When training this new generation, leaders should remember to use their digital resources, especially considering nearly 60 percent of Gen Z sees YouTube as their preferred way to learn.

YouTube’s convenience and ease of access makes it a great source of information for learning how to boil an egg, but I wouldn’t rely on it to develop my professional skillset. This statistic does show us, though, that Gen Z prefers to learn using digital assets. Leaders should implement high-tech methods in their training programs. Instructional videos, digital gaming, and virtual reality are sure to resonate.

Competitive structure

Millennials may have been the generation of open floor plans and the “we’re all in this together” mentality, but Gen Z works differently because they consider themselves to be highly individualized workers.

Despite the benefits of collaboration, I know working with my friends or classmates in the library decreased my productivity. If I wanted an assignment done efficiently, I had to do it by myself within my own space. And I’m not alone in this thinking, as the research shows 69 percent of Gen Z prefers their own workspace.

Leaders who want to see higher engagement and productivity from their Gen Z employees should offer ways to get away from the crowded office. If your company operates within an open floor plan, provide areas where employees can take turns using a shared office space or offer an in-office and work-from-home balance.

Additionally, leaders can increase incentives and productivity by creating a competitive work structure within their departments or teams. Gen Z is motivated by experiential rewards and badges, similar to those used within competitive gaming. The idea of accomplishments accrued by a select few is more meaningful to Gen Z. While many industries and departments function with the importance of a team atmosphere, leaders can still find ways to motivate Gen Z within a competitive structure.

High-tech environments

While members of Gen Z value a competitive structure in the workplace, they also value a high-tech working environment—after all, members of Gen Z are true digital natives. I was in computer class as early as first grade being taught the Microsoft suite. I learned how to type in middle school using orange typing covers that hid the letters on the keys (other members of Gen Z will recall this experience).

The first iPhone launched in 2007, when older members of my generation were in elementary and middle school. I didn’t have that first iPhone, but I received the iPhone 3G, the second generation of the iPhone, in 2009 when I was 12. I grew up with the Internet in my hand. There’s always been an app for everything, and anything has been searchable with Google.

Now, on average, Gen Z will multi-task across five screens. Gen Z has stronger virtual communication skills and online collaboration skills compared to previous generations. Leaders can use this generation’s digital skillset to their advantage if they surround their Gen Z employees with high-tech environments.

Leaders can provide laptops, tablets, and smartphones to employees and surround the workspace with digital monitors and virtual reality. Gen Z is also comfortable with digital programs that can enhance workflow. Leaders can utilize this generation’s skills in platforms to improve workplace communication, such as Vidyard and Slack, as well as with cloud systems including Google Drive, Microsoft’s OneDrive, and DropBox.

Your next generation of workers is here

I recommend when your organization hires members of Gen Z, you get to know them personally. They may align with most attributes of their generation, but there will be some variation from person-to-person.

Leaders will also find Gen Z employees are loyal and ready to commit to working hard for the organization. But you can best help the next generation of employees if you understand what they want from you as their leader. (On behalf of my generation, I can say we’ll try to keep the memes out of the workplace, and we won’t reminisce about the good old days of Vine too much.) Gen Z is here and ready to enter the workplace, and it’s time for leaders to welcome their next generations of workers.

For more on generations in the workplace, listen to the Generation Frustration episode of the Leadership 480SM podcast, and don’t forget to subscribe wherever you listen to podcasts!

Julianne Spataro is an intern for DDI’s Marketing team. When she’s not working, she’s baking up her favorite recipes and adding cities to her travel bucket list as she's on the road to see all 50 states. She loves finding local cafes and restaurants that showcase the charm of each city she visits.

Posted: 14 Aug, 2019,
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