What Motivates Generation Z in the Workplace?

The first wave of Gen Z is entering the workforce and they’re already leaving an indelible mark—an indelible digital mark. Understanding what motivates Generation Z is critical to your employee engagement strategy as they become part of your multigenerational workforce.

Born after 1995, Gen Z is the first truly all digital generation, earning the group two monikers—iGen and digital natives.

Hardwired for the tech-driven future, they are rarely without their device of choice—their smartphone. According to The State of Gen Z 2018, a study by the Center for Generational Kinetics, 95 percent of Gen Z (currently 13 to 22 years old) has a smartphone. For them, texting, posting and swiping are as natural as breathing. In fact, more than half of Gen Z is on their phone at least five hours a day, and 26 percent use their phone more than 10 hours a day.

What is surprising are some of the ways Gen Z is putting their phones to work for them.

Gen Z conducts their job search from their phone

Job boards and recruiting pages are the go-to search tools for Millennials and Gen X, but Gen Z job seekers often begin their search with a grass roots approach. A Generational Kinetics’ study confirms that Gen Z has a penchant for gathering information and opinions from a wide range of sources before making decisions. And that includes reaching out to their circle for informal intel on a potential employer and workplace before applying. Roughly 60 percent are likely to ask friends of family about job openings, and 57 percent are likely to ask someone they know who already works at the company. Along with gathering digital word-of-mouth from their connections, 36 percent of Gen Z are likely to check out a company’s Instagram, but even more—about 40 percent—say they would use YouTube to determine if they want to work for a company.

“Gen Z is looking for a glimpse of your people, workplace, culture, community service involvement and more,” says Inspirus Senior Vice President of Customer Experience, Theresa Harkins-Schulz “Gen Z is excited to learn about an organization’s mission, values, social responsibility and see if there is a positive atmosphere where new employees can grow and thrive professionally.”

Gen Z still wants face time

Despite being completely immersed in digital media, this mobile-first generation is old school in one significant way—face-to-face communication. On the job, according to Forbes writer Ashley Stahl, 90 percent of Gen Z report they want some form of human element woven into their work and team interactions. Nearly 39 percent prefer in-person communication—eclipsing email (16%), instant messaging (10%) and social media (7%). Face-to-face communication is especially desired with their supervisors.

There’s been a lot of discussion about Gen Z’s interest towards in-person interactions, and many experts have weighed in with their theories—along with Gen Z members themselves. Some theorize that Gen Z’s preference for in-person workplace communication is sparked by a self-awareness that their love for everything digital has stifled their face-to-face communication skills, so they are intentional in their efforts to develop them now.

Along with face-to-face communication, Gen Z wants to receive feedback more often than other workforce generations. Generational Kinetics reports that two-thirds of Gen Z say they need feedback from their supervisor at least every few weeks in order to stay at their job. And one in five say they need daily feedback to stay with an employer. However, face-toface interactions can be fairly short.

“A two-minute conversation every week can provide more benefit than an hour meeting every month,” notes Denise Villa, PhD, chief executive officer of the Center for Generational Kinetics.

Gen Z wants to feel the love

Of course, it’s vital that this interaction includes recognition. And for good reason. A 2019 national study sponsored by the payroll technology firm DaVinci Payments revealed that Millennial and Generation Z employees are more likely to feel dissatisfied with their jobs and will seek a better work experience. A dramatic 78 percent of Gen Z reported they plan to leave their job within two years. A significant part of their dissatisfaction is linked to recognition—or more specifically, lack of recognition. Findings revealed:

  • 79% said that an increase in recognition rewards would make them more loyal to their employer.
  • 76% believe they are "seldom to never" eligible for employee rewards.
  • 75% said they would use a substantial employee performance reward for everyday or emergency needs.
  • 50% percent feel that management does not recognize strong job performance.

“We know that recognition has the power to make people of every workforce generation feel valued while nurturing a sense of belonging, says Harkins-Schulz. Unlike Generation X and Baby Boomers, Gen Z has no qualms about changing jobs. In many cases, they witnessed the havoc and toll the economic and employment downturns took on their parents. They do not feel blind loyalty to employers or that they have to be “stuck” in an unfulfilling job.”

Gen Z is optimistic about the future

The fastest-growing generation for entry-level employees is optimistic about their work future. At its 22nd Annual International Leadership Conference, Ernst and Young surveyed Gen Z attendees and found that 65 percent are confident they will be better off financially and in terms of work happiness than their parents. Their confidence means they aren’t afraid to boldly venture beyond their comfort zone. Twenty-four percent revealed they are excited and honored when assigned new challenges.

The modern workforce is evolving, and Gen Z will play an integral part in this transformation. As organizations look for ways to interest the next generation of job candidates, focusing on digital technologies will be a given, but also understanding that Gen Z craves in-person interaction and feedback will be necessary in hiring and retaining talent for the long term. For more ideas, check out 3 Ways Companies Can Get Ready for Generation Z.

“This open-minded, resilient and optimistic outlook is a boon for employers—if it is fostered and harnessed, adds Harkins-Schulz. Tailor your recognition in ways that will resonate with your Gen Z employees. Tap into their interests. If you have an individual who is a biking enthusiast, a gift certificate to a bike shop or a personalized water bottle are individualized rather than generic acknowledgements that let your people know you actually know something about them.”

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