Employee Engagement

3 Keys to Retain Your Gen Z Workers

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Entrepreneurism is on the rise, with a higher number of Millennials starting and running their own businesses than their parents before them. (Source: BNP Paribas, Global Entrepreneurs Report, 2016) But what of the generation after them — those born after 1997? They may be a bit young for formal work trend studies, but there are already signs they’re just as (if not more) capable of great things.

Gen Zers, Centennials, post-Millennials — whatever you want to call them — are independent, out-of-the-box thinkers. This will translate to talented employees who can affect organizational change and help companies stay competitive in the future. Businesses that start shifting their culture toward Generation Z’s preferences can attract and retain some of this up-and-coming talent.

Why Gen Zers will drive your future growth

Gen Zers are ambitious: Nearly three-quarters of high schoolers expect to start their own business someday. (Source: Millennial Branding and Internships.com, High School Careers, 2014) Seventy percent have jobs best described as self-employed, versus traditional teen jobs prior generations held. (Source: Harvard Business Review, Why Today’s Teens Are More Entrepreneurial than Their Parents, 2015) Gen Zers are selling items on their own eBay store, teaching music lessons, and running their own businesses babysitting or walking dogs.

As a director of many youth camps, I’ve seen Gen Zers’ entrepreneurial spirit firsthand. Many arrive at camp already armed with a knowledge of sales, marketing, and innovation. I recently worked with one 11-year-old camper who’d noticed a particular item was in high demand among campers, so she researched the recipe and made a profit selling “gloop” — or slime. This type of fast, informed response is typical of this generation. Gen Zers are action-oriented, and if they decide to enter the workforce rather than start their own ventures, they’ll expect future employers to be agile, too.

Not only are they entrepreneurial, but they’re also creative problem solvers. Gen Zers are practically born with a screen in their hands; they’re fluent in digital communication, social media, and technology. (Source: NBC, Faces of the Future, 2017) They know how to troubleshoot any problem through a quick Google search or social media poll.

Their tech-savvy nature means they’re wise to the threats of an interconnected world — from data privacy to online activity footprints. In a world where data breaches are a regular occurrence, businesses could stand to adopt some of this generation’s protection-seeking tendencies.

Becoming Gen Z Friendly

As an employer, your focus should be offering an environment that doesn’t stifle or reject this generation’s new norms for workplace interactions. To achieve this, start here:

1. Structure — rather than control — work.

Younger generations are independent. Gen Zers have grown up in a world where everything is customizable; through the click of a button, they can curate their preferences and mold their experiences. This, combined with the entrepreneurial spirit they bring into your organization, can make them a valuable asset — if mentored to their full potential.

Both Millennials and Gen Zers want the flexibility to take time off in an emergency, work from home, and structure work around their lives. Flexibility has replaced healthcare as the No. 1 sought-after benefit, and World Services Group found 28 percent of Gen Zers rank work-life balance as their top career priority. (Source: Future Workplace and Randstad, Gen Z & Millennials Collide @ Work Report, 2016) (Source: World Service Group, Generation Now Survey, 2018)

That doesn’t mean you hand over the keys to the building and walk out. Your job is to provide structure and guidance without dictating how things get done. Focus on coaching toward a quality end result. That’s what we do at our camps. On the surface, we provide freedom and creativity to support the flowing entrepreneurial spirit, but behind the scenes, there’s a real structure in place.

2. Don’t manage — mentor.

Members of Gen Z are achievement-driven and don’t want someone telling them what to do from an ivory tower. That said, they do value stability and support. Rather than issuing marching orders, focus on mentoring. Help them work toward long-term goals through well-defined markers, but don’t take away the opportunity for creativity. Done well, setting goals in advance can turn goal progression into a game, allowing this generation to “level up” and achieve amazing things.

From the moment they walk into your office, help Gen Z employees envision their career progression at your company, even mapping out the road to an engaging employee experience. Don’t leave things up in the air. Recent graduates “rank a supervisor who will mentor and coach as their top priority besides interesting and challenging work.” (Source: Accenture, Gen Z Rising Report, 2017)

3. Stop moving furniture; start making deliberate workspaces.

The “doers” of younger generations need a space to think, create, and do — one that fosters collaboration without making them feel claustrophobic.

We’ve seen this in our camps. We find the most success when we create spaces that bring campers together so they can collaborate but also find a quiet corner to create when they need it. Engaging with people face-to-face is a soft skill that Gen Zers have to practice and learn, but independent work has its place as well.

The same applies in the private sector. When Gen Zers feel engaged and valued, they’re more likely to invest in the company as a whole. Don’t assume that your younger employees always want to be surrounded by co-workers because it’s trendy. In fact, only 8 percent said they like the idea of an open workspace because all that face-to-face interaction is stressful for them, according to research by author David Stillman. (Source: Chicago Tribune, Why employers are reaching out to the next generation of workers: Gen Z, 2017)

Generation Z is remolding and re-engineering the workplace at an astonishing pace. You’d be wise to sit up and pay attention — those who continue with business as usual will find themselves falling behind and missing out on key talent.

To learn even more about how this generation is reshaping the world, see what we have to say on our blog.

Steve Robertson is the CEO of Julian Krinsky Camps & Programs (JKCP), an organization specializing in youth-to-adult programming that turns curiosity into passion and skill. Steve is also a Gen Z and Millennial expert after working with youth at the company and around the globe for more than 20 years. In this role, his primary responsibility is to cultivate a culture that results in memories lasting a lifetime

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