The ABCs (and an S) of Managing Gen Z

By Robert Half on August 7, 2015 at 3:06pm

Now that financial executives — and managers in all fields — have had time to adjust to the work strengths, styles and values of Generation Y, they must prepare for another group: Generation Z, the second wave of the millennial cohort.

This emerging group (born between 1990 and 1999) will represent 20 percent of the workforce in just five years.

To identify Gen Z’s prevailing career values and objectives, Robert Half and Enactus surveyed more than 770 U.S. and Canadian college and university student-members between the ages of 18 and 25. The goals of the survey were to find out how these individuals — who, through their involvement with Enactus, have already demonstrated an early focus on careers — are preparing for the workplace, and how other generations can prepare to work alongside and manage these up-and-coming professionals.

Based on this research, here are the ABCs — plus an S — of what managers need to know to attract and retain these workers.

A: Advancement

This is a group willing to put in the effort — 77 percent anticipate working harder than the generations before them — but expect to be rewarded for it. Respondents most commonly said they want to be managing employees within five years of graduating from college. They also place the greatest priority on finding a company that can help them grow.

These staff members seek regular feedback and training, and managers must deliver both. Conduct thorough career path discussions that go beyond simply talking about what could happen. Map out their professional growth potential and specify the steps they can take along the way to reach it.

“From the day you start recruiting them, you should be looking at retention,” says Paul McDonald, senior executive director of Robert Half. “These professionals appreciate stability, but they also want to make their marks, and if they feel like they have hit a roadblock on the learning curve, they’re going to look around for something better.”

B: Boss

When profiling their ideal managers, survey respondents most commonly said they look for a supervisor who is honest and can serve as a mentor. Providing feedback on their performance is a start, but also help them navigate the unfamiliar office politics they’ll face as they begin their careers. In addition, take a sincere interest in their well-being and make work-life balance attainable.

Don’t think they’re the only ones who can learn from the relationship, either. Conversely, consider engaging a Gen Z worker in a reverse-mentoring arrangement, where you can tap into your colleague’s unique perspective and expertise.

C: Collaboration

Generation Z may wear the “digital natives” label, but the majority prefer to communicate more personally for work. Instead of texts, instant messages or social media, 74 percent of respondents reported they would rather communicate with their colleagues face-to-face.

They also enjoy working on teams. When assessing work environments, 81 percent of respondents said they most like collaborating with a group, especially smaller ones, in an office setting. A clear takeaway is to provide them the time and space to partner with their colleagues to develop recommendations and drive innovation.

It’s not all sunshine and rainbows, however. Gen Z is confident about working with their millennial counterparts but concerned about meshing well with other generations.

Just 27 percent expect smooth working relationships with their baby boomer colleagues. Members of Generation Z think different work ethics, values and expectations will be the greatest challenge of a multigenerational workplace and worry baby boomers won’t take them seriously.

Allay their fears by continuing to foster a supportive work environment. Set up team-building activities outside of the office, where employees of all generations can build rapport with each other and see how their colleagues tackle challenges.

S: Salary

Salary ranks as a top priority for Gen Z as well, trailing only growth opportunities. Companies that fail to offer attractive compensation packages risk missing out on top job candidates.

“They’ve grown up in economically turbulent times,” notes McDonald, “and many of their characteristics and motivations reflect that.”

If your organization does not have the resources to pay top dollar, not all is lost. Thirty percent of those surveyed by Robert Half and Enactus said they would take a pay cut of 10 percent to 20 percent to work for a company whose mission they cared about.

Whether your compensation levels top the market or not, you’ll need to sell your company’s values and strengths, the position, and opportunities for advancement to attract top performers. Even if Gen Z staff like the salary, if your organization doesn’t help them meet their objectives, they’ll find one that does.

Get the Robert Half Salary Guide for your area of specialization.

Managing a multigenerational team

Managing a team with diverse experiences is a fact of today’s workplace — and it isn’t going away. Employers won’t be able to resist change brought by emerging workforce groups. On the other hand, embracing their differences and adopting their strengths provide organizations a chance to tap a deeper talent pool and appeal to a broader base of customers.

“Gen Z employees bring unique values, expectations and perspectives to their jobs,” says McDonald. “Companies with a solid understanding of this generation’s values and preferences will be well prepared to create work environments that attract a new generation of employees and maximize their potential.”

For a comprehensive overview of the Robert Half and Enactus survey findings, download Get Ready for Generation Z.

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