February 15, 2022

Five strategies to build Gen Z’s engagement, confidence, and skills

The newest generation to the workforce is the most likely to pursue a new job in the next year. Futurist Alexandra Levit explores how organizations can better engage and nurture their Gen Z talent.

When I was 22 years old, I was struggling mightily in my first job out of college. Even as a high achieving student, I had no idea how to behave in the business world, and despite valiant efforts, I was not successful.

It was hard enough learning the rules when I was physically surrounded by people willing and able to indoctrinate me, and I can’t help but feel for the Generation Z-ers (born 1996-2012) who are launching their careers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

These young professionals are trying to assess responsibilities and expectations in an environment where everyone is behind a screen, scattered around the world.

Gen Z may be digitally adept, but they’ve been prevented from observing a lot of behavior in person, and as such, can’t absorb the nuances of work as easily. It’s one thing to work remotely when you already know how the business world operates and can use established relationships to figure out any ambiguities.

My suspicion is that failing to understand and address this will affect companies’ ability to keep their Gen Z talent, and these young workers will seek out companies that better support them.

I tested this assumption against a recent global Gen Z workforce study from consumer software firm Adobe. The survey of 3,400 workers indicated that more than half of Gen Z employees intend to pursue a new job in the next year – a higher percentage than any other generation. It also found that Gen Z is the least satisfied generation at work, with only 56% satisfied with work/life balance and 59% with their jobs overall.

The pandemic certainly isn’t the only story here. According to a Western Governors University study released just prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Gen Z was already suffering. At that time, only 45% of Gen Z-ers said their mental health was good or excellent. That’s significantly lower than the next closest generation, millennials. Thirty-seven percent of Gen Z-ers also reported that they received help from a psychologist or mental health expert – more than any other generation.

While it’s not an employer’s responsibility to solve all of Gen Z’s problems, work-related isolation doesn’t help their cause, and well-placed intervention can go a long way in attracting and keeping young talent.

By combining our knowledge about the temperament and preferences of this generation with the high tech/high touch capabilities of human capital management software, you can rally your junior level employees to higher productivity and engagement.

 

Gen Z strategy 1: Enhanced onboarding

Communicate actively with young professional hires between the offer letter and start date. Do not give them time to regret their decision or change their minds, and instead send targeted, friendly messages expressing your enthusiasm that they’re joining the team. The right employee onboarding software can help support organic interactions and introduce new Gen Z hires to your culture, right from their first day.

When they do come aboard, make sure your orientation schedule and materials are customized to the person and the role. For instance, many Gen Z-ers prefer a one-on- one manager chat and team intros to a generic “about the business” program and would rather consume short video clips via a tech-driven employee onboarding software over a massive employee handbook.

Digitize your paperwork and, keeping in mind diversity and inclusion best practices, put together a roster of topics and expectations to cover that are specific to young professionals. This roster may include areas you think are common sense (e.g. the importance of arriving on time to meetings, the appropriate language to use when texting or emailing a client), but these norms might not be universal across cultures, and Gen Z’s experience with them might be limited.

Work with new hires’ managers to set their goals and learning cadence and build in weekly (if not daily) check- ins to assess how Gen Z-ers are feeling.

 

Gen Z strategy 2: Flexible scheduling

Many Gen Z-ers have never had to commute to a building and work in an office for a set number of hours every day. Especially when their safety and convenience are at stake, your Gen Z-ers may balk if an employer mandates staff back to the office without good reason.

Engage in employee listening strategies, from official pulse surveys to informal text chats, and ascertain the type of work arrangement that works best for your staff in various cultures and locations. Then, allow individual employees as much control as possible in determining their hours and environment. A hybrid work model can go a long way toward Gen Z employee retention and engagement.

 

Gen Z strategy 3: In-person mentoring

Tech-savvy as they may be, Gen Z-ers enjoy in-person camaraderie as much as any other generation. And, when you’re new to the world of work, it’s most impactful to develop strong relationships with colleagues and managers.

Pair new Gen Z hires with geographically close mentors and sponsors and use technology to connect people, facilitate regular conversations over lunch or coffee, and arrange the same in-office time. Mentor and mentee engagement should be structured and geared toward dispelling generational stereotypes, with clear, reciprocal benefits in both directions.

You can also build in diversity and inclusion best practices by purposefully exposing Gen Z-ers in marginalized groups to other diverse members of your workforce. If they don’t physically see leaders like them, it can be hard to convince young professionals that they belong.

If your culture follow a remote or hybrid work model, ongoing, in-person contact with assigned mentors and sponsors will go a long way to assimilate Gen Z-ers who might otherwise feel disengaged and demotivated.

 

Gen Z strategy 4: Transferable skill development

Transferable skills are used across a wide range of professions and functions and include interpersonal communication, business acumen, and problem solving.

Because most Gen Z-ers will have several occupations over the course of their careers, their first jobs should offer ample opportunities to master transferable skills.

If your company is working in person, you might consider Gen Z job shadowing and/or short-term, functional rotations across your business. It’s understandably more challenging to master transferable skills in a distributed work environment, but the good news is Gen Z-ers have been using technology to learn independently for most of their lives. So, when it comes to self-driven training, they tend to be more comfortable than other generations.

Many young professionals arrive in the workforce unaccustomed to having both routine and more difficult conversations face-to-face. Learning and development activities for Gen Z-ers should, wherever possible, provide communication and emotional intelligence practice. You can use gamification and virtual reality elements embedded in your human capital management software to place young professionals in real-world scenarios and help them master effective interaction with other employees and organizational stakeholders.

 

Gen Z strategy 5: Mental health support

Since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, workforce futurists have examined the potential for a mental health echo pandemic, or a period following the day-to-day survival mindset of COVID-19 when compounded psychological stress and strain reaches an all-time high.

Given what we already know about Gen Z’s mental health, the notion of an echo pandemic seems especially dangerous for them. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control’s 2020 study on the psychological effects of COVID-19, adults ages 18-24 reported disproportionately worse mental health outcomes, increased substance use, and elevated suicidal ideation.

Anecdotally, we know that over the last 20 months, a lot of organizations have focused on supporting employees psychologically. But per Ceridian’s 2021 Executive Survey, many companies are ready to move on. The research found that only 39% of respondents are reconsidering benefits offerings to better support post-pandemic health and wellness.

Last fall, I wrote a piece for Ceridian that talked about building a “caring-centered culture.” Gen Z-ers especially will benefit from an environment in which wellness best practices are not limited to a standalone EAP (employee assistance program offered by an external provider), but instead are actively communicated by leaders and infused into everyday work life.

In addition to training your leaders to practice empathy and touch base with Gen Z employees often regarding their psychological well-being, you can share strategies with your entire workforce such as mindfulness exercises, gratitude reviews, calendaring wellness activities, effective work/life integration, and continuous social engagement.

Make sure that you have the ability to track Gen Z participation in all your initiatives and ask for feedback often so you can refine your offerings.

Also, recognize that, generally, Gen Z-ers are more likely than older employees to recognize the need – and then seek out – mental health support. You can cater to this preference by including an AI-based benefit selection feature in your human capital management solution to help your Gen Z-ers find and fund the right mental and behavioral health resources for them.

Providing extended psychological support isn’t just the right thing to do – it’s good for business. When your employees are struggling, productivity plummets and absenteeism and turnover increase. With a renewed focus on mental health provisions, you can boost employee retention and engagement amid the pending echo pandemic and its psychological aftershocks.

Today’s young professionals have so much to offer, but right now many are having a difficult time. By making the effort to target and address their unique needs, you will maintain their loyalty and, in doing so, secure the future of your organization.

Alexandra Levit

Alexandra Levit is an author, consultant, speaker, and workplace expert. She has written several career advice books, and was formerly a nationally syndicated career columnist for The Wall Street Journal. Alexandra is currently a partner at organizational development firm PeopleResults.

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