Working With Gen Z: What Motivates Young Professionals

We asked executives what they think of young employees, and we asked young professionals what they expect from their workplace. The results are very telling!

Working With Gen Z: What Motivates Young Professionals

As an employer, working with Gen Z can be tricky—so tricky, in fact, that collaborating with the next generation has been compared to managing people who speak a different language

What makes it so hard? A big part of it comes down to the perception more seasoned workers have regarding their younger counterparts. “They think they’re better than you, smarter than you, more capable than you, and they’ll tell you to your face,” says Akpan Ukeme, Head of HR at SGK Global Shipping Services. “They think they know everything about the digital world, and that they can teach me.”

Other complaints about the Gen Z work ethic include notions that they’re entitled, easily offended, poor communicators and dishonest.

But is that really the case? And if it is, how can executives learn to work well with Gen Z instead of deriding their skills and dismissing their talents?

In order to get a clearer picture of the relationship between young professionals and employers, we conducted a series of LinkedIn polls about how executives view Gen Z and how Gen Z view their role in the working world. Keep reading to learn how to better manage your Gen Z workforce and improve work ethic, retention and results of your newest talent. 

What executives think of working with Gen Z

In order to understand Gen Z, it’s important to first understand what employers are having the most trouble with. Is it their values? Their communication style? Their sociocultural quirks?

Frame of Mind Coaching™ polled a range of executives and revealed the following: 

What’s your greatest challenge when working with young adults?

Different values — 25%

Different work ethic — 75%

Different communication style — 0%

Different taste in pop culture — 0%

What’s different about the younger generation’s work ethic?

They have more energy — 0%

They work from home — 20%

They work best when rewarded — 40%

They work less hard — 40%

How do you reward and inspire young employees?

Positive feedback — 38%

Raises and promotions — 13%

More responsibilities — 0%

Growth opportunities — 50%

Senior leaders are most concerned about Gen Z’s work ethic. The perception is that Gen Z doesn’t work hard enough, and that they only work at a high level if they’re properly rewarded. 

But rather than lamenting the fact that Gen Z won’t get the job done without proper compensation, executives should consider ways to work with their new talent, instead of against them.

By lambasting Gen Z workers for not being motivated enough, you’ll lose out on the many benefits of working with young professionals: a quick and immediate grasp of new technologies, the injection of innovative ideas into your business practices, greater adaptability to change and more. 

As Adam Garfield, Marketing Director of Haribo, puts it: “Compared to other generations, I find Gen Z to be highly innovative and adaptable. They are not afraid to challenge the status quo and bring new ideas to the table. They also value authenticity and transparency and expect companies to be socially responsible and ethical.”

What young professionals think of their employers

Telling the story of Gen Z and their attitudes toward work only makes sense if you ask Gen Z what they think of their working environment and employers, too. To that end, The Journal That Talks Back™ polled Gen Z workers and asked what they wished employers would offer more of. The results are as follows: 

As a young professional, what would you like employers to provide more of?

Positive feedback — 12%

Raises and promotions — 44%

More responsibilities — 4%

Growth opportunities — 40%

Which growth opportunity do you wish employers would offer?

In-house training — 17%

In-house coaching — 17%

Outside courses — 25%

Outside coaching  — 42%

From these results, it’s clear that raises and promotions are a great retention tool for any employee (who doesn’t like a pay bump?). It’s equally clear, however, that growth opportunities can be just as valuable to Gen Z as an annual bonus. And their preferred type of growth opportunity? Coaching from an outside organization. 

In that case, what should executives do to ensure Gen Z has all the tools they need to grow and develop within a company instead of leaving for another employer?

Growth opportunities for young professionals

1. Start with open communication

How well do you know your Gen Z workforce? If you haven’t put the time in to get to know your new workers, they’re likely to feel disconnected, disjointed and disillusioned from your company mission.

By getting to know your employees and having open discussions with them about their goals and the opportunities that interest them, you’ll gain better insights into their unique needs. In turn, you’ll be able to create a customized career plan that engages and motivates your Gen Z workers to not only stay at your company, but thrive within it. 

2. Make career paths visible

Not only should you be asking Gen Z workers about what they want out of their career at your organization, but you should also make career pathing visible to them. This means showcasing the “next steps” toward a promotion, and what’s required to reach those steps.

It also means including other, less obvious steps toward advancement and fulfillment. Maybe you’ve got a creative writer working in the PR department who would be much happier with an entry-level position on the marketing development team. Or maybe you’ve got a graphic designer who is talented with video equipment and wants to learn more about cutting footage for advertisements.

These “sidestepping” moves are great ways to ensure your workers get the experience and opportunities they want while also helping them find positions they’re truly passionate about. Making your company a “choose your own adventure story” when it comes to career pathing will resonate with Gen Z workers who want a transparent, open and welcoming company culture. 

3. Offer development opportunities 

Development is key for two reasons:

1. Workers want to shore up their skills and feel proud of their growing institutional knowledge

2. Your organization will fare better when you invest in improving your talent’s talents 

So, how do you ensure Gen Z workers have development opportunities at their fingertips? If your young professional colleagues are interested in specific talents that can’t be cultivated within the office, you might consider putting aside funds to help them pursue a new certification. Or, you could cover the cost of continuing education in their field—that might involve intraorganizational training, outside schooling or another form of learning. 

Sending Gen Z workers out in the field to conferences, seminars and other sessions is another great way to give them a chance to further develop their skills. Not only do conferences and field training sessions provide hard skill development, but they also encourage the growth of soft skills such as interpersonal communication, client relations and more—something many executives say Gen Z workers need to improve at. 

4. Promote coaching and mentorship

The most personal way to help Gen Z workers gain ground involves mentorship and coaching. A mentor can assist struggling young professionals with all sorts of challenges while simultaneously improving their abilities to brainstorm, innovate and make inroads with fellow workers. Setting up dedicated weekly meetings with in-office mentors can help Gen Z employees track their progress while continuing to improve in their field. 

On the other hand, coaching is an incredibly valuable tool for improving young professionals’ work ethic, capabilities and skills. Coaching from a third-party source can give Gen Z workers a place to talk about their work struggles without feeling pressured by their organization. 

Not only that, but a coach can help Gen Z employees tackle non-professional life issues that are directly impacting their work. From issues with home life to problems with money, relationships and more, a great coach can zero in on what's holding your workers back and unlock their ability to overcome those challenges.  

5. Reward good work and improvement 

It’s not enough to simply promote employees—Gen Z wants to be recognized in the workplace, too! Celebrating the accomplishments of your new talent reinforces good work ethic and good behavior. These celebrations might look different for different workers (recognizing a theme here? When it comes to Gen Z, personalized is better than standardized). 

For some talent, an Employee of the Month certificate goes a long way toward recognizing their achievements. For others, small monetary incentives or gifts are key (consider gift cards to local coffee shops, restaurants or other venues). These relatively low-cost rewards have huge benefits that can bolster confidence among your Gen Z workforce quickly and efficiently. 

6. Support their mental health

The last and arguably most effective way to support the next generation of workers involves supporting Gen Z professionals with their mental health. Gen Z is dealing with depression, anxiety and other mental health disorders at an unprecedented rate—and stepping in to help will not go unnoticed among your workforce. 

The best way to assist Gen Z workers with mental health—as well as concerns about their professional capabilities and more—involves offering resources for therapy, counseling and other methods. 

Our preferred method? Two-way journaling with a certified coach. The Journal That Talks Back™ is an all-in-one resource for young professionals who need help with their career pathing, mental health, relationships, finances and more. What’s more, the site and service are custom-tailored to Gen Z workers: coaches deal specifically with challenges facing younger generations, with an emphasis on helping them develop the soft skills needed to thrive in a modern workplace. From interpersonal communication to etiquette to work ethic and more, coaches cover topics that young professionals need to succeed in their current positions. 

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