Over the past decade, we’ve heard a lot about how companies must adapt to the needs of Millennials. Well...I hate to break it to you, but it’s time we move on and investigate the new influx of individuals who’re going to be joining us at the (virtual) office.
The workplace is now officially welcoming these new kids on the block: Gen Zs. Now...who are they exactly?
Some of the most famous Generation Zs you might recognize include Billie Eilish, Greta Thunberg, and Zendaya. Gen Zs are identified as those born in the mid-1990s and later, and are often misunderstood as “Millennials intensified”.
It’s not surprising that they’re naturally super tech-savvy, and have developed to be socially informed and purpose-driven.
I asked multigenerational workplace strategist, Clair Kim, about her thoughts on this topic. She’s passionate about helping tech organizations retain their top emerging talent and elevate these companies as an employer of choice. Check out this interview for juicy insights:
Hi Clair! Tell me a bit about yourself; how did you become an engagement strategist focused on Gen Zs?
My entrepreneurial journey began by accident five years ago.My team and I have worked with various companies in areas related to marketing, HR, and operations. When I started to think of one specific discipline to tie these all together while continuing to help grow and scale amazing workplaces... that's when we realized that focusing on Millennials and Gen Zs was the way to go.
What are the common misconceptions you’ve come across around Gen Zs, and what’s the truth about them?
There aren't too many labels around Gen Zs only because all the bad stereotypes towards Millennials are carried over and get grouped into the wider "these young people". But something very particular about Generation Z I'm seeing is "looking for trouble".
The truth? They’re just extremely outspoken. You can tell by how often Gen Zs discuss social issues on their personal social media platforms. They have very strong social values, particularly around diversity and inclusion. If they don't like what their organization is doing, they're not afraid to publicly voice out on their social media. But if your organization is doing well, they'll make sure to give praise while going to your competitors and holding them accountable to do better.
What do Gen Zs typically want in the workplace?
Gen Zs grew up with customizable smartphones and sophisticated technology; hence they take note of and care deeply about design (user interface), experiences, and functionality in all aspects of life. In particular, how they’re treated in the workplace and the tools they work with. They typically want a more personalizedemployee experience and to collaborate (have a say) in their own talent development plans.
How do Gen Zs want to communicate at work?
As mentioned, Gen Zs are a VERY vocal crowd. Using breakout rooms and putting them into small groups make it easier and more comfortable for them to voice their thoughts and observations. They want an employer that encourages regular two-way communication; one that constantly asks for feedback and invites them to contribute regularly. You can use anonymous avenues, like Ask Me Anythings (AMAs) and crowd polling for suggestions to avoid putting them in the hot seat. Always reiterate availability for a conversation!
A big, easy win is to leverage social media as a company! Gen Zs love using informal channels to share their opinions and proudly let people know they’re part of something bigger than themselves.
How should leaders engage Gen Z employees at work, especially in a remote setting?
Gen Zs treasure human interaction. Even if they’re the youngest working generation, companies aren’t supposed to be babysitters! Consider them as a collaborative partner and remember, we’re all humans at the end of the day. And humans need connection.
Being open is crucial. Don’t penalize opinions—psychological safety is a huge factor for Gen Zs! Gen Zs all have platforms to voice their opinion, and they’re heavily invested in social justice, so embrace that on the organizational level and communicate those values. They’re passionate about being in alignment with their employer, so ask them what they care about and give them a larger platform to support specific causes.
Always engage, collaborate, and encourage candid relationships. Assigning new employees a support group or cohort can make it easier to assimilate into the workplace culture remotely. Or ask them to create their ideal job description (and share that with you) so you can work on a trajectory path collaboratively.
How do I maintain a healthy cross-generational workplace?
The key to a harmonious workplace where different generations can thrive is to identify strategic objectives at the macro and micro level:
What has worked well for the organization in the past?
How do we adjust for the future? What are the shifting priorities and how do we integrate evolving values?
As your employee demographic changes, note that Gen Zs and Millennials now make up to 60% of the current workforce, indicating a need to consider gradual shifts in employee policies to offer flexibility and appealing perks.
Also, bear in mind specific limitations. For example, the agriculture and military industry can’t possibly enjoy remote work, so supplement other benefits that can entice and motivate Gen Zs. Remember that even across generations, we have common ground to unify us all: most employees genuinely want their organizations to succeed!
What’s one of your favorite Gen Z-empowering companies? And what in particular do you admire about them?
There are LOTS! But an organization that nails this isBen & Jerry's, because they've been clearly delivering on their mission statements through their policies—and it really showed with the #BLM movement. With Gen Zs being the most racially and ethnically diverse generation (Millennials being next), they truly care about racial justice. So how Ben & Jerry’s spoke out about the issues, and their actions afterward as an organization... that converted a LOT of Gen Zs as well as Millennials to their side while empowering them (their employees) to speak out about it as well. Seriously, check out their tweets and memes.
Thank you so much for your valuable insights! Any further tips or things to watch out for?
Thanks for having me! Organizations should offer resources and train their leaders to be authentic, transparent, and honest. Keep conversations happening with frequent check-ins and touchpoints! It’s been a difficult time to unify Gen Zs especially in the middle of a pandemic, but the workplace has so much potential to serve as a familiar place of belonging and connection.
Clair helped highlight what leaders need to focus on: unifying employees and achieving organizational goals, rather than micromanaging during challenging situations. As we uncover more about building trust with Gen Zs and continue to learn, don’t forget that employee engagement looks different to everyone. So ask questions, loads of them!
Clair is the principal consultant for Allennials at Work, a consulting firm that specializes in helping medium-large enterprises attract, retain, and engage with top early-mid career talents. Her proprietary frameworks have helped companies decrease operating expenses by 40% while increasing revenue by up to 1000%. In the process, her insights have been featured in the Today Show, Forbes, Entrepreneur, and more. Learn more at allennialsatwork.com.