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  • July 9, 2024

10 Research-Based Insights to Attract and Retain Gen Z Employees

In our recent ‘Be the Change’ webinar, we hosted Lucy Kemp, an employee experience expert who has investigated how leaders can facilitate effective collaboration between Gen Z employees and their managers to improve retention rates. Drawing insights from her extensive research, including speaking to over 3,000 Gen Z employees and over 100 managers and leaders – Lucy shared her valuable findings with us.

Setting the scene

As we approach 2030, it’s projected that Gen Z will constitute half of the global workforce. This generational shift brings fresh perspectives and skills, but it also highlights a significant challenge: the disconnect between managers and their Gen Z employees. This gap in understanding and communication is becoming a barrier to the success and satisfaction of these young professionals in the workplace.

The impact: high staff turnover, poor retention rates, reduced productivity and organisations struggling to perform and plan effectively for the future.

Here are 10 powerful insights we discovered from Lucy’s talk about how to attract and retain Gen Z in the workplace.

Insight #1: Fair pay is Gen Z’s top priority

Before Lucy started her research both she, and the vast majority of managers she spoke to, believed that Gen Z wanted purpose and social responsibility above all else.

Lucy’s research confirmed that purpose does matter to Gen Z workers. However, it’s several places down their list of priorities. The number one work priority for Gen Z is money.

In fact, faced with a choice between an organisation offering higher pay with mediocre purpose over one that has a clear purpose and less pay, Gen Z will go for higher pay. According to Lucy’s research, money wins out each time.

Key takeaway: To attract and retain Gen Z employees, pay fairly, regardless of social purpose.

Insight #2: Shouting about diversity and inclusion can be counter-productive

Gen Z expects diversity and inclusion to be the norm – but don’t like organisations that shout about it.

According to Lucy, for Gen Z, values and rights should be so intrinsic to an organisation that there is no need to talk about them. They’re not impressed by organisations making performative gestures around diversity and inclusion, such as putting out rainbow flags or placing a badge on their website to mark a particular date. In fact, Gen Z can actually look at this type of promotion as an indication that the organisation has an issue it’s trying to cover up.

Key takeaway: Focus on delivering tangible diversity & inclusion goals, not performative gestures.

Insight #3: Gen Z priorities are similar to their managers

Despite society actively discussing a clash of cultures, digging beneath the surface reveals that the top priorities for Gen Z look remarkably similar to those of older generations.

Alongside pay, Lucy’s research revealed that the top priorities for Gen Z are: a safe space to work (both mentally and physically), to learn and develop on the job, and work-life balance – priorities that closely match those also put forward by their managers.

Key takeaway: Workplace differences are rarely caused by differing priorities.

Insight #4: Commitment and productivity are not based on working hours

For managers who came into the workplace 10 or 20 years ago, in some industries, working long hours was seen as a sign of commitment to your job – and, for many, this mindset still exists.

However, Lucy’s research showed that, for Gen Z, this simply isn’t the case. While Gen Z are happy to work late if needed for a specific project, they don’t think it should be the norm.

This can be challenging for managers who are still steeped in the culture of working long hours, as some can translate this into lack of commitment for the job. Gen Zs don’t equate long working hours with job commitment though – and therefore don’t consider a staff member to be any less committed if they leave work on time.

Key takeaway: Assess commitment on job outcomes not hours put in.

Insight #5: Gen Z expect safe spaces

A key difference between Gen Z and older generations is their openness in talking about challenges and issues.

Gen Z use their voices. They are free and easy about what they talk about in their everyday life. They also carry that approach into the workplace – and they expect managers to create a safe space where they can express themselves.

Key takeaway: Create psychologically safe spaces where all employees can feel included and empowered to speak up.

Insight #6: Managers need support

Gen Z are not afraid to speak out for what they want. They’re more willing to push back on feedback and tackle topics head-on, in ways that older generations typically did not.

This can be challenging for managers brought up in an environment where employees were expected to quietly comply. They need support to understand that Gen Z are simply braver at speaking out.

To help adjust to this new reality, managers need support with giving feedback, having difficult conversations, managing multi-generational teams and internal communications – and they need a safe space too.

Key takeaway: Create safe spaces and support systems to help managers adjust to new ways of working.

Insight #7: Gen Z can be missing out on basic work skills

Much of Gen Z came into the workforce remotely, due to Covid and its after-effects. Having lost the opportunity to learn from colleagues in a traditional office environment, and with no training to replace this, Gen Z can be left without soft skills, such as how to work with stakeholders and managers, receive feedback, structure an email and be proactive in their role.

Additionally, AI’s rapid takeover of entry-level jobs means that Gen Z may be jumping straight into skilled roles, with the expectation that they already know how to interact effectively at work. This mismatch can cause tensions between frustrated managers and unsupported employees who are coming into jobs without being work-ready.

Key takeaway: Include soft skills as a core part of induction training.

Insight #8: Communications, data and technology are key to building trust

Gen Z expects transparency. They want to know what is going on in the company and what is in it for them.

The right technology enables organisations to achieve this. An employee engagement platform like Trickle provides a safe space to put an idea forward, either named or anonymously, empowering leaders to be confident in the data they use to make key decisions around employee experience and policies, and allow staff to see what is happening with ideas and suggestions put forward.

Removing the option for employees to voice their opinions anonymously erodes trust and disrupts a level playing field. This approach benefits only those with the loudest voices, rather than creating an inclusive and equitable employee experience for everyone.

Key takeaway: Use technology to gather, collate and communicate employee feedback.

Insight #9: Gen Z want a personalised, tech-based employee experience

Outside of work, everything from our music playlist to our shopping basket is personalised – and we’ve come to expect that in our everyday life. Lucy highlighted that Gen Z also wants this from their employee experience.

Gen Z have been brought up with technology as the norm, which makes it challenging for them to be told they must come into a physical workplace or that there’s an expectation to print off documents to sign manually.

Using tech to replicate experiences in the workplace makes it more relatable, as these types of experiences are the norm.

Key takeaway: Use tech to make the experience relatable for Gen Z.

Insight #10: Gen Z women still believe you can’t combine career and carer

Lucy’s talk ended on a rather sombre point raised through her research: most women still believe you can’t combine a successful career with caring responsibilities.

As the majority of Gen Z employees surveyed don’t have visibility to women in leadership positions who are successfully combining a fulfilling career with caring responsibilities, they believe they too will have to make a choice between career or caring responsibilities.

Finding viable routes to support women to have both a career and caring responsibilities will help create really engaged, productive, high performing teams – good for the organisation and good for individuals.

Key takeaway: Listen to your female employees, create policies that will help them thrive – and retain senior female talent as mentors.

If you missed the live webinar, you can watch the replay to listen to the full discussion and delve deeper into the insights explored in this article.