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Just when you think you’ve figured out the generational differences in your team, a new generation exits the classroom and into the workplace. For the first time in history, there are five generations in the workplace. They are traditionalists (born 1925 to 1945), baby boomers (born 1946 to 1964), Generation X (born 1965 to 1980), millennials (born 1981 to 2000) and Generation Z (born 2001 to 2020. And trust me, navigating these differences is no easy feat. I found this out the hard way.
When I first started my own business, I lived out the old adage, “If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it.” I figured the same recruiting and retention practices that had worked for my own generation would easily translate to Gen Z. But I was wrong. Very wrong.
In fact, I had to relearn everything before I could create a business that attracted top-level Generation Z applicants. But it was well worth the effort. So, how did I do it?
Here are a few things that helped me in my own journey:
1. Rethink your office space
The “always on” mentality really started to take hold as the internet revolutionized how we communicate and interact. The first generation of employees expected to be “on” 24/7 were millennials. The workplace was no longer separate from your life — in many ways, it became your life.
Generation Z recognized this. They saw the mental health struggles and burnout that came with being “always on” from the generation before them. This is why when they left the classroom and entered the boardroom, they valued, above all else, a work-life balance. They want flexibility. They want privacy. They want boundaries.
That’s why, when I first started my company, I made sure to cut the cereal bar out of the budget and offer employees the ability to work from anywhere and at any time. How do I do this?
Well, I meet with my team once a week via Zoom and we cover our weekly, quarterly and annual goals. Then, I’m able to break them down into manageable projects that can be done from anywhere. Once they’re done with the task that week, they can either take the rest of the week off or use that time to work ahead on the next week’s project.
Now, I realize that this format doesn’t work for all types of businesses. But, if you have the capability of being entirely remote, giving your team the freedom to work from anywhere will go a long way in attracting top-level Generation Z applicants.
2. Let them lead the conversation
One of the worst mistakes that I did early on was trying to lead with answers instead of questions. Well, let’s just say that didn’t go over too well. In fact, it completely flopped. And for good reason.
You see, I was terrified of looking like a fool in front of my team. So, I didn’t give them a chance to catch me off guard. I lead with confidence, masked my fear and hoped that I could get through the day without falling flat on my face. However, my facade came at a high price. I almost lost the respect of my employees in the process.
My team was frustrated because they felt like I was trying to control the conversation instead of letting them have a voice. They were done with the top-down management style and desperately wanted a leader who would listen to their needs.
I knew I needed to change — and fast. This is why I started hosting weekly one-on-one conversations via Zoom.
During these conversations, I asked my team about their work-style preferences, what motivates them, and how I could better support them. I even asked about how they like to socialize and what their favorite type of team-building activity is. And you know what? These conversations completely changed the way I ran my business –– for the better.
My Gen Z employees are now some of my most valued team members because they feel heard and appreciated. Because once they knew that I was willing to listen, they were willing to open up and share their ideas — which has led to some pretty amazing results for my business.
3. Focus on their development, not placement
The great Mark Twain once said, “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” Now, I’m sure Twain wasn’t thinking about Generation Z when he made this statement, but it couldn’t be more relevant for today’s young workers. And I’ll tell you why.
I learned the hard way that if you want to retain Generation Z workers, you need to focus on their development, not placement. For instance, when I brought on my first intern, I eagerly looked at my needs and then placed her in the department where I thought she would excel the most.
But, after a few weeks, it became clear that she was miserable. She wanted to be doing something completely different — and she’s not the only one.
According to Deloitte, “Most Gen Z professionals prefer a multidisciplinary and global focus to their work, with the expectation that this can create opportunities for mobility and a rich set of experiences.”
For Gen Z, A plus B equals growth. This is why offering them the chance to cross-train is so important.
My intern didn’t want to be boxed in by her past experience or education. She wanted an opportunity to grow. And, once I gave her that chance, I grew as a leader, too. I stopped focusing on placing my employees in specific roles and started focusing on giving them the freedom to grow within the company.
Working with Generation Z can be a challenge, but I can guarantee you that it’ll be worth it in the end. In my experience, I’ve found you need to offer them these three things:
- The ability to work from anywhere.
- The chance to lead the conversation.
- An opportunity to grow.
If you start with that, you’re well on your way to attracting and retaining top Gen Z talent — and becoming a better leader in the process.