Distribution Director Towergate Health & Protection
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Employee engagement: how to get the most from generation Z

Generation Z workers are different to millennials and their priorities and values need to be properly understood by employers. Here are some top tips for engaging and retaining the newest generation of workers.

4th Nov 2019
Distribution Director Towergate Health & Protection
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young people using smartphones
iStock/ViewApart

As generation Z enter the workforce hot on the heels of millennials, they bring with them fresh skills and innovative ideas. This generation has new expectations and ways of working, and this puts employers in the uniquely challenging position of adapting to an unknown and ambitious group of workers who are quite unlike their older millennial siblings.

The most common assumption made is that generation Z is just like millennials, but they have their own set of values, shaped by living through an economic downturn.

Generation Z (those born after 1996) now outnumber millennials and represent a significant portion of the workforce, so it’s important that businesses take time to consider how to attract and retain them, or they risk alienating this rising generation of talent.

Almost half of employees who quit their job in 2018 left their role because it wasn’t what they thought it would be. Among generation Z employees this figure is even higher, with three-quarters (73%) leaving a role because it didn’t meet their expectations.

This is a clear warning for businesses that generation Z are prone to switching jobs if they’re unhappy.

What you didn’t know about generation Z

The most common assumption made is that generation Z is just like millennials, but they have their own set of values, shaped by living through an economic downturn. Managers can avoid these workers becoming totally disengaged, however, by following a few simple guidelines.

Don’t assume anything

Many businesses assume generation Z employees are just like their tech savvy co-workers, millennials, but they are actually very different. Uniquely, generation Z employees have been connected to the digital world since birth, and growing up, their lives have been entwined with technology, social media and smartphones - they are the true digital natives. Entering a workplace where there is a lack of digital communication or information will feel completely alien to this group.

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Don’t guess what they value

Generation Z tend to place much greater importance on diversity and the environment than millennials, and businesses that get this wrong will jeopardise them switching off entirely.

Members of generation Z do not identify themselves in clearly defined categories, but rather have a much more fluid sense of themselves, which makes them the most diverse generation to date.

Target financial initiatives to them

Generation Z are a financially savvy bunch who are more likely to save than spend their wages and are risk-averse and cautious when it comes to decision making, having grown up in the shadows of a recession. They’re entrepreneurial but pragmatic, they want security and they’re willing to work for it and so will respond well to financial initiatives.

Offer health and wellbeing initiatives

Despite being widely understood to be a healthy cohort, drinking and smoking less than previous generations, behind the scenes generation Z face real and concerning health challenges.

They are half as likely to meet the recommended levels of physical activity as millennials. Lack of exercise (explained to some extent by their love for social media and related isolation) and poor diet (in part, blamed on hidden high sugars in modern day food and drink) is a lethal combination that is negatively affecting the short and long-term health of this generation.

To help tackle the ongoing obesity crisis, employers can support a healthy-living agenda by educating staff about diet, nutrition and lifestyle.  

Be creative

While a one-size-fits-all approach mustn’t be taken when it comes to looking at age demographics in the workplace, understanding the context in which an employee has grown up can provide valuable insights into what drives and motivates them. That can mean the difference between employee benefits really being valued by employees, and therefore being of value to the company, or not.

Understanding characteristics is one thing, but to truly engage generation Z, employers need to go even further. One approach HR professionals can take is to use generic information about the differences between the generations as a rough guide for looking after the workforce, but then take the information a step further by developing and analysing a profile of their own unique workforce, and look at how to support them holistically.

Generation Z are ambitious, they want to work for a company they believe in, and within a culture that offers career growth.

For example, when offering employee health and wellbeing benefits to appeal to generation Z, businesses have to avoid a standard ‘one size’ approach for everyone (like a company-wide free gym membership offer), and instead develop something that individuals can tailor, such as offering personalised DNA testing – looking at an individual’s genetics in relation to nutrition, fitness, wellness, stress and sleep so they can see for themselves where they need to make improvements.

Offering tailored support for health and wellbeing can be a great way to show generation Z that they’re recognised as individuals.  

Businesses can also adapt communications and wellbeing initiatives within the range of generation Z’s needs. Generation Z are at a time in their lives where they are beginning to have financial obligations (such as leaving home and taking responsibility for rental costs and household bills) so financial protection benefits, such as income protection and life assurance can be of great value.

Meeting generation Z’s expectations

Today, in an age-diverse workplace there has been lots of discussion, assumptions and myths about how best to handle and communicate with each of the generations in turn.

Generation Z are ambitious, they want to work for a company they believe in, and within a culture that offers career growth. Leaders in the workplace need to be flexible, adapting their approach to deliver support and motivation in a way that resonates with this group.

As generation Z enters the workforce, they are looking for an environment that is dynamic, social and helps support their physical, financial and mental health and wellbeing.

Failure to properly manage generation Z can have a detrimental effect on a business’s ability to recruit and keep hold of the next generation of talented people.

Generation Z is as much about individuals as any other generation, so businesses must avoid falling for generalised advice and assumptions about what this generation need, but instead get to know them as part of the wider workforce.

Interested in this topic? Read Authenticity is the only way to engage with the smartphone generation.

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