Actionable advice for managing a Gen Z workforce

Here are five ways managers can provide an effective workplace for Gen Z workers.

With employee engagement rates plummeting for the past three years, the importance of the people manager role cannot be overstated. The research is crystal clear on one fact: Managers account for 70 percent of the variance in employee engagement

As digital natives, Gen Z workers have the potential to bring unique skills and valuable perspectives to organizations. Given the importance of a new generation entering the workforce and growing concerns regarding disengagement, the question becomes how organizations can work to better engage this growing generation of employees. 

Managers must understand what drives and motivates Gen Z workers and strive to adjust their management practices accordingly.  Here’s what managers should pay close attention to when managing Gen Z workers and actions they can take to provide the most effective workplace culture and environment for these employees:

Adequate financial compensation and pay transparency

Attracting and retaining talent across all generations is dependent on offering adequate compensation. But with the rise of wage transparency tools such as Glassdoor and Reddit, Gen Z are particularly attuned to the importance of fair and equal pay. In Adobe’s Future Workforce Study, a majority of Gen Z reported that their interest in applying for a job significantly decreases if the company fails to  disclose a salary range within the job posting. Since Gen Z is known to share information about their salaries with each other openly, they expect the same level of transparency from their employers regarding pay.

Actions for managers: 

  • Have open and honest conversations with Gen Z employees about salary and career advancement to establish trust and commitment. Communicate transparently about pay practices, including how pay is determined and how it may be adjusted over time.
  • Work with your HR team to make sure that the pay scales for employees reflect the market value of positions and that they are consistently applied across the organization.
  • Encourage employees to provide feedback and ask questions about pay practices, which can help to identify areas for future improvement.

Transparent and open communication

To establish a stronger relationship and gain the trust of Gen Z, it is essential to adopt a philosophy of open communication. Rather than limiting information transfer to a “need-to-know-only” basis, adopting a more “open-access,” information-sharing policy satisfies Gen Z’s desire for more information and transparency. This recommendation even applies to information that may be difficult or ultimately disadvantageous to the listener, such as news about budget cuts, supply chain challenges or unsatisfactory business performance. Such transparency helps alleviate Gen Z’s anxieties, gives them a sense of control and enables them to process a situation more effectively.

Actions for managers:

  • Create opportunities for the team to share and discuss the organization’s strategy and their role in it. Be honest about business decisions and when possible involve them in the decision-making process.
  • Discuss results, performance and outlook during team meetings. Give employees context for the information being shared, explaining why it’s important and how it impacts their work.
  • Gen Z wants a hyper-communicative leader. Use various communication channels such as email, messaging apps, team meetings or video conferences to ensure all employees have access to the information.
  • Regularly seek feedback from the team about areas that require greater transparency or clarity, such as work expectations and responsibilities.

Prioritizing workplace well-being and mental health

Gen Z experiences the highest rates of depression, followed by anxiety, when compared to other generations, which can affect work performance. Gen Z wants reassurance that their employer truly values their well-being and physical and psychological health. Companies and managers must be sensitive to Gen Z’s deeper concerns regarding toxic workplace cultures. They can be skeptical of certain workplace well-being perks, as they may view them as band-aid solutions to larger problems. These individuals may be hesitant to accept such offerings, as they perceive them as a superficial attempt to camouflage a corporate culture that emphasizes overworking and prioritizing one’s career at the expense of one’s personal life. 

Actions for managers:

  • Check in with your team members to assess their well-being and mental health.
  • Share your feelings, concerns and ways of coping with challenges. 
  • Display empathy and nurture a team culture that esteems openness, vulnerability and mental recuperation time. By treating mental health on par with physical health, you can enhance your team’s overall productivity.
  • Check in with your HR team about all available mental health benefits and practices that support your team’s well-being. Make sure employees know about mental health-related benefits.
  • Give employees time off for mental health days and support mental health-related employee resource groups (ERGs).  

Opportunities for growth and continuous feedback

Adequate compensation and enjoying the work are not enough to retain Gen Z employees. Organizations must also offer ongoing professional growth and development opportunities. Gen Z asks themselves regularly whether they can envision a future at the company and whether there are sufficient opportunities for career advancement. 

Having been raised in the era of social media where rewards and likes are promptly granted, Gen Z employees crave more feedback from their managers than other generations. In fact, according to a survey on the State of Gen Z 40 percent of Gen Z crave daily interactions with their managers and if they do not engage with their managers with this frequency, they often believe they have done something wrong.

Action steps for managers:

  • Provide the opportunity for autonomy in assignments handed to Gen Z employees and be careful not to micromanage them. 
  • Encourage employees’ career progression by arranging frequent development discussions, devising individualized career development plans and openly discussing professional growth prospects. Clarify how each job role contributes to career advancement and how roles and responsibilities will evolve in the future.
  • Provide employees with development opportunities and access to learning resources to enhance their skill sets and to facilitate long-term employability in a constantly evolving work context. Assign challenging projects that correspond to their professional objectives and interests.
  • Double down on coaching by providing more ongoing and specific feedback to your Gen Z team, including detailed examples and actionable steps to improve performance.  Ask probing questions like: What are you learning?  What has been challenging for you? Gen Z may require extra coaching support in areas such as listening, building relationships, working effectively on a team and resolving conflict.

A sense of purpose and personal mission

For Gen Z employees, a strong sense of purpose in their day-to-day work is a powerful motivator. Establishing a meaningful workplace mission and core values is paramount to earning respect and loyalty of Gen Z employees, who emphasize social awareness and expect their employers to make a tangible impact. 

Gen Z employees are wary of organizational statements regarding values and purpose that are not supported by actions or are perceived as disingenuous. They are more likely to engage with organizations that demonstrate a genuine commitment to their stated societal purpose. Organizations that create space for Gen Z to be a solid part of that purpose and execute on a personal mission will attract and retain top talent.

Actions for managers:

  • Help employees understand the impact and importance of their work and allow them to take ownership and make decisions. 
  • Arrange meetings and gatherings to deliberate on the team’s vision and how it contributes to the organization’s objectives. Dedicate time to elaborate on how the organization’s broader purpose benefits society, aiming to overcome the perception that companies prioritize selfish interests over societal welfare and have no aspirations beyond making profits.
  • Initiate a conversation with each team member about their specific contribution to the team and the organization. Help each Gen Z employee to connect the dots and visualize how their work makes a difference. 

A recent GoodHire survey found that 82 percent of employees would quit because of a bad manager. But increasing the retention rates of Gen Z employees is only part of the goal of managing this generation. Managers have a unique opportunity to cultivate the full potential of this capable, committed group of young people —  to do so they must seek to understand their unique characteristics and expectations and adjust their managerial approaches accordingly.