Sep 01, 2014

Engaging and Managing Gen Z Workers

Last month we wrote about the demographics and motivations of the newest generation of workers entering the market - Generation Z. Generation Z refers to those people born after 1990, of whom the oldest have already graduated from high school and college.

The 15-to-24-year-old members of Gen Z represent almost 7 percent of the American workforce for a total of 11 million workers. Experts project that this number will reach 20 million by 2015, 25 million by 2017, and 30 million by 2019.

This new generation grew up with technology and connectivity, and recruiting, engaging, and managing these workers will require employers to shift their management strategies.

The upcoming arrival of Generation Z to the workforce, as almost 30 million Baby Boomers retire, will represent the greatest generation shift the workplace has seen. Human Resources professionals will need to gain a greater understanding of these individuals’ backgrounds and approach to work, in order to successfully engage these workers.

Managing Generation Z

We discussed five main trends that have shaped Generation Z members in our article “Who is Generation Z?” last month. Following on the same note, there are some key areas for employers to focus on in order to effectively manage Gen-Z’ers in the workforce.

1) Social Media

Over the last two decades, communication has changed dramatically. Gen Z workers have never known a world in which they could not be in conversation with anyone anywhere at any time.

Managing Generation Z requires becoming an expert in the tools of social media. Experts predict that by 2019, forms of social networking for collaboration on projects and recognition will be standard practice.

Employers should use command-driven social media in which managers can control who is in a group and what is discussed, to engage workers for training and onboarding. HR departments can use internal blogs, newsfeed, e-recognition, and socially networked performance management to align workers toward the same goals.

2) Human Connections

Many members of Generation Z were raised with a highly engaged parenting, teaching, and counseling approach. While this generation is less likely to resist authority, they will perform most effectively for individuals when engaged in intensive working relationships.

3) Skills Gap

Bruce Tulgan, founder of RainmakerThinking, says that his research shows that while Gen-Zers are very tech-savvy, they lack other important skills. Tulgan says, “We’ve heard from many clients that [this group of workers] lack[s] interpersonal communication skills and, from a broader standpoint, the ability to think critically. Many of them lack problem-solving skills, and this is due in part to an increased level of ‘helicopter parenting’ of this generation. They have not demonstrated an ability to look at a situation, put it in context, analyze it and make a decision.”

A June 2013 survey by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) corroborates this analysis, finding that 50 percent of HR professionals believe that 2013 college graduates lack professionalism and work ethic, while 29 percent said recent grads lack problem-solving and critical-thinking skills.

In order to combat this skills gap, employers should provide continuing re-education in non-technical skills, and build a workplace culture of highly defined behavioral norms.

4) Structured Job Descriptions

Providing detailed explanation of job roles with structured job descriptions and strict definitions of responsibilities will enable Gen Z workers to take on work and succeed faster and more effectively. Gen Z is very adept at paying attention and working productively at more than one thing at a time, so encouraging multi-tasking is essential in engaging these young workers.

Generation Z workers tend to be highly responsive to clearly defined exchanges of time and tasks for directly adjusted rewards. The most effective way to drive performance is for managers to explicitly negotiate performance and reward on an ongoing basis in an open exchange.

5) Flexibility

Generation Z workers value their time for family and personal needs. Employers who respect work-life balance by allowing for workplace flexibility will gain more loyalty from Gen-Z workers.

“The grown-ups are leaving, and there will be a new, young workforce to take their place.” ~Bruce Tulgan, Founder of RainmakerThinking Inc.