How to motivate and inspire Gen Z at work

May 24, 2022 | Development, How-to

New research shows how the pandemic has shifted how we can best motivate and inspire Gen Z at work, explains Justine James at talentsmoothie.

Our report Generation Z What They Want from Work 2022 shares the opinions of Gen Zs pre and post-pandemic.

In our first blog we covered How to attract Gen Z during the Great Resignation. Here we move the narrative on to look at how best to motivate and inspire Gen Z, which will have a positive impact on retention.

Three-year itch

One of our research findings was that 70% of Gen Zs plan to stay three years or less with the same employer.

The ‘three-year itch’ is not a new phenomenon. In 2008 we found that 73% of Gen Ys also intended to stay three years or less with their employer (Gen Y What They Want from Work talentsmoothie 2008).

Indeed, many of our clients tell us it can be a struggle to retain people at three to four years into their careers. To best understand how to mitigate the risk of this attrition for Gen Z, you need to know what employee experience will motivate and inspire them.

How can you motive and inspire Gen Z at work?

Pre-pandemic, Gen Zs top five preferences were:

  1. Doing work that they love
  2. Having access to development/learning opportunities
  3. Working for a great manager
  4. Having a clearly defined career path
  5. Autonomy to make decisions

 Post-pandemic, in addition to these five, Gen Zs now value increased flexibility on where and when they work. This is true for all the other generations too. Flexibility is no longer a nice to have but a ‘must’ for many.

It’s important to realise, however, that Gen Zs really value face-to-face interactions and want to spend time in the office with colleagues.

Pre-pandemic, 68% preferred to be in the office either 50% or 70% of the time. Post-pandemic, that preference has increased to 76%, with a slight shift in preference for this being a 50:50 split.

Their main reasons stated for being in the office make total sense. Gen Zs need to learn, build networks, understand cultural norms and expectations; they learn by watching and listening. Also, logistically, some just don’t have a home environment conducive to long periods of homeworking.

When asked, ‘How do you like to communicate most? 47% still prefer face-to-face. This preference is reflected in the methods that work best for them:

  • Traditional classroom-style learning (19%)
  • Mentoring and coaching (18%)
  • Using online resources (16%)
  • From my boss/teacher (15%)

We suggest Building face-to-face interactions into learning and development strategies for Gen Zs, along with opportunities for them to observe and learn in the workplace.

This is especially important when thinking about how a hybrid model might work for your organisation. One way to counterbalance reduced face-to-face office time for your less experienced, younger workers could be to support them through mentoring or coaching.

Wellbeing and care

A second pandemic-related change is that Gen Z is now looking for greater focus on wellbeing and care for employees. Again, this reflects the more general picture; there has been a seismic shift in the importance of ‘whole health and wellbeing’ following the pandemic.

One respondent said, “I look at reviews from previous/current employees to see if the company cares about staff.”

Employers would benefit from developing great managers who will play an inspiring part in Gen Z’s learning and development experience.

Even though some of the Gen Zs we surveyed aren’t in the workplace yet, they highlighted how important they already perceive a good manager to be. For Gen Z, a good manager means:

  • Being trusted
  • Being supported to develop their career
  • Support for wellbeing
  • Listening to them and their ideas

Post-pandemic, Gen Zs continue to identify these, but also highlight their desire for different kinds of support and flexibility. In a sense, this feels like they are seeking a more human touch. Into the mix, they added:

  • Cares about wellbeing
  • Flexible – in terms of listening to ideas and also how/where I work
  • Feedback and reassurance

“[My ideal manager] would be flexible around working hours and times, as long as the job gets done. They would need to see me as potential; no matter how much experience I have, I want to learn more. They would support me in my day-to-day job as well as enabling me to grow into a well-rounded person and to grow in knowledge and experience in my chosen career path,” said one respondent.

How, and how well, you deliver on these Gen Z ‘management’ needs reflects the culture of your organisation, and we know Gen Z want to work for an organisation whose values align with theirs.

Start by being clear on the behaviours you want to recruit, develop and measure against. Be explicit about what good practice looks like for managers, then support and guide them to deliver it consistently, to create the environment and culture you aspire to. Then trust your managers and give them the latitude to make individual decisions on how best to support their teams.

Work that I love

Regardless of the pandemic’s impact, Gen Z’s number one workplace motivator remains ‘doing work I love’.

Although, in an ideal world, perhaps everyone would like to find a job they love, we know that for Gen Z this is more crucial. They are less willing than generations before them to continue doing work that is unfulfilling.

Employers should consider how they can ensure that their learning and development strategy can create opportunities for Gen Z to do work they love:

  • Create internal mobility, to give Gen Z talent a different perspective, enhanced skills and networks that might satisfy their desire for something different.
  • Play to their strengths. Understand what roles give them real energy and satisfaction.
  • Support them into roles that are more aligned to their strengths and less to the things that sap their energy.

Overall, make sure that you listen to Gen Z, ask for feedback and action on that feedback. Show you care.

If, however, after active management, at the ‘three-year itch’ point, your Gen Zs do still want to leave – think of it more as a taking time out. Put a strong alumni strategy in place and encourage them back in the future. After all, who can resist the attention of being missed and sought after?

Read more about the talentsmoothie research How to attract Gen Z during the Great Resignation


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