Three top tips: keeping Gen Z engaged

Written by
Patricia Hind

15 Apr 2016

15 Apr 2016 • by Patricia Hind

As Gen Z begin to join the workplace, there are indications are that they are ambitious, career minded, entrepreneurial and motivated – at the moment anyway, by engaging work as much as by base line salary. 

How do the generations differ?

These digital natives, able to construct a social media world around themselves that is entirely customised to their wants and needs. That said, they are not a different species from the generations that have gone before them. They still want to be led by honest bosses who communicate with them directly and value their opinions.

There are some factors that will make Gen Z a unique working generation in this post war era. They have grown up through, and can remember the impact of, the market crash and global recession of 2008. They have seen their parents lose jobs and homes, and have witnessed their older Gen Y siblings’ inability to get jobs, even after graduation.  Around the world they have witnessed record levels of unemployment and civil unrest due to inequalities and political unrest.  As if that was not enough, they are aware of the global challenges such as climate change, resource scarcity and urbanization that threaten the ecosystems necessary for a balanced life on earth.

As a result, this generation enters the world of work with a world view that values security, is realistic, rather than optimistic, yet with personal confidence in their ability and determination to succeed.

Understanding how to manage this new generation is critical for businesses to survive in the long term. It’s important to understand that many of the jobs that Gen Z will do in the future do not exist today, so strategies for keeping them engaged and productive need to be based on an understanding of their needs and goals. They need a good and purposeful career plan – that doesn’t tie them in to an employer long term. They need flexibility, quick promotions when they deliver, and no – fault exits when they move on.  They want personal security, not in the sense of a life - long commitment from an employer, but in the sense of a transferable portfolio of skills that they can use as freelance contractors who solve problems with their specific skills. They expect to earn more than their parents, they expect time off to travel, and they expect free digital devices in order to be able to do their jobs properly. And yes – they expect a pension from the word go.

This generation will be working into their 70’s and are acutely aware of the need to take personal responsibility for their finances as they age. There are more changes to come, and certainly in Europe there is no way of knowing what governments will offer pensioners in 50 years’ time.

The secret to keeping this generation engaged is to harness their own individual motivations – one size will certainly not fit all for this self – aware age group. It’s important also to reflect their preference for immediacy, and for multi – tasking through the use of technology. 

Three golden rules

  1. Make sure it is individually tailored and user-based: No longer can the benefits and incentives you offer come simply from the top down, determined by management. Gen Z are used to creating their own contexts, for example the online social networks they love are built and directed by users themselves. Without the users, the network would be an empty space filled with empty forms, tick boxes and applications. Users populate the network with both intent and content – uniquely tailored to themselves. It almost goes without saying that to keep them engaged, the incentive system must be user friendly and intuitive, encouraging activity and participation. It must also be comprehensive and identify all relevant goals – financial, operational and relational – so that people can invest their own effort in a way that meets all their needs.
  2. Make sure it is truly interactive: Another characteristic of the Gen Z group is that they are hugely interdependent and interactive. This means that they create communities whereby reciprocal information is key. Managing their engagement cannot rely solely on monitoring, metric based components but need to include proactive and interactive elements as well. Much of their energy is directed towards community concepts. This means that just like communities or networks around the world they are founded on the common beliefs, values or activities or their members. Fit-for-purpose engagement and performance management systems of the future will incorporate collaborative mechanisms to share performance feedback anywhere, any time; real-time updates of goals and development, and eventually include online social networks with sub-communities of organizational stakeholders with vested interests in creating shared value.  
  3.  Relationships: Unlike engagement systems of the past, future ones will thrive on relationships. The more mentoring and coaching relationships that are included within the network, the more it will speak to the dual needs of less autocratic leadership and more personalized management. Individuals will become established as the center of their personalized, but interactive networks.

The future offers a unique challenge to both HR professionals who will choose new systems and platforms to implement and develop, and for the line managers who must make them work. Gen Z will watch the next decades warily, will put energy into managing their futures and will work well for employers who will support them in doing so.

The shift to excellence in employee engagement for the 21st century will not necessarily be easy. New thinking and skills will be required. Managing unique individuals within complex networks, and understanding the needs of both will require sophisticated technical support and systems. However, the ‘value-add’ will be significant – it will be evidenced in the productivity, efficiency and engagement of this talented generation, and demonstrable to employees, employers and investors alike.