November 09, 2018

How to build a great work environment for young people

Understanding your employees’ unique motivations, needs, and career aspirations is a first step to keeping them engaged. Here are key tips for employers to keep their Millennial and Gen Z workers happy, productive, and apt to stick around.

Team Ceridian

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Employers want to be in touch with the needs of their workforce and, with young workers now an influential part of the organizational landscape, it’s important to understand what motivates this cohort in order to meet those needs.

Millennials – those born between 1981 and 1996 – are now the largest generation in the U.S. workforce, making up 35%. Last year, 56 million of them were either working or looking for work and, by 2025,  they will comprise three-quarters of the global workforce. Gen Z, born after 1997, are just starting their careers but already make up 5% of the labor force.

What is a great work environment and why is it important?

Creating a great place to work for all age groups – including Gen X and Baby Boomers, who together still form the largest block of the labor force – means providing a healthy environment where people feel inspired and motivated, contributing to long-term stability and success for themselves and the company.

Everyone wants better pay, opportunity, fairness and recognition. Employers who offer a great work environment, tend to perform better and see greater productivity, as well as lower turnover and absenteeism.

There is no single strategy for having an engaged workforce, but gaining an understanding of your employees’ unique motivations, needs and career aspirations is the first step. What drives Millennials and Gen Z in particular, and how are they different from one another?

While they have a lot in common – such as being comfortable with technology – Millennials and Gen Z grew up differently and approach work differently. Gen Z grew up during the Great Recession of 2008, whereas Millennials grew up in better economic times. For that reason, Millennials tend to be more motivated by purpose than a paycheck, while Gen Z is more driven by financial security.

Millennials are more collaborative, while Gen Z is more independent and competitive. Millennials are in a different life stage, with many having families of their own and being more established in their careers, whereas Gen Z is just finishing school and entering the workforce.

Six ways to create a great place to work for Millennials and Gen Z

  1. Consider the work environment. Team-oriented Millennials tend to thrive in open, collaborative spaces (think of the open-office models of Silicon Valley) where everyone works together for a common goal. A Gen Zer is more apt to want to work independently, in an office or cubicle space of their own. Gen Z experts David and Jonah Stillman found that 35% of Gen Z “would rather share socks than an office space.”
  2. Adopt ongoing communication. The annual performance review alone is unlikely to satisfy either of these cohorts, as both want continuous feedback and mentoring. Both Millennials and Gen Z value face-to-face communication and feedback, although Gen Z is more likely to prefer it rather than the Millennial who is content with more email and text messaging. As children of Gen Xers rather than the self-esteem focused Baby Boomers, Gen Z is less motivated by praise than by conversations of how they can get ahead. The important thing is timeliness – they grew up in a world of social media, where reaction is swift.
  3. Rethink rewards. Job security and salary are more important for Gen Z, so promises of future raises for high performance can be key to retention. But that doesn’t mean they are all about a paycheck. Discounts for such things as cellphones or fitness memberships are appreciated by both generations. Millennials value their impact on society so consider allowing them to be part of social responsibility initiatives.
  4. Tailor learning and development. Gen Z are less apt to go for higher degrees that put them in debt – offering online courses or in-house training that keeps their skills current is a good idea. Gen Z is the first generation that grew up never not knowing YouTube so think about switching up traditional learning formats and offering, for example, instructional videos. But don’t discount human interaction – many Gen Zers are apprehensive about their soft social skills, so peer-to-peer learning or manager coaching can help develop those. Diverse experiences are important too, so consider job rotations. Millennials place a high value on learning, with 87% of them saying development is very important to them. Ideally, managers would collaborate with Millennials on their development goals.
  5. Offer flexibility. Time is important to everyone – and employees being able to work when and where it’s convenient for them is key. That includes Millennials who might have child-care responsibilities, or Gen Z workers who have side projects and will appreciate work-from-home days or flex time. Additionally, consider offering leave for volunteering. Condensed work weeks, job sharing, or flexible vacations are other options. 
  6. Have clear values. These generations have a strong moral compass and want to feel connected to the companies for which they work, so it’s important to communicate your corporate values from the time employees are onboarded, and continue this messaging throughout their careers. It’s important for them to understand how their work contributes to overall business success, as well as how they can achieve their professional and personal goals. Gen Z is the most diverse in terms of race and LGBTQ views, but both generations value diversity and inclusion. Millennials and especially Gen Z value openness and transparency.

As Cam Marston writes in Fast Company: “Loyalty from younger employees, once earned, is long-lasting. The adjustments you make to accommodate the changing attitudes of today’s youth will be returned to you tenfold with decreased turnover, improved morale, and measurable business results.”

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