Generational differences are a common topic in the workplace. How do you motivate and engage Gen Z? If you are anything like me, then you barely know which generation you fall into. So let’s define Generation Z and then discuss the best-fit management and engagement practices.

Generation Z – born between 1995 and 2013 – grew up with the Internet, social media, and Apple technologies, which is why they are also known as “iGen.” They have also been through a lot of tragedies. They were born and raised during the worst terroristic attack on U.S. soil, 9/11. They have seen more school shootings than any other generation. They are also the most culturally, racially, and ethnically diverse generation of all time. They have witnessed the 1st black President of the United States being sworn in twice. And they also experienced first-hand the effects of the biggest global recession since the 1920s.

It wasn’t until I researched the term that I learned about Generation Z, and I must admit, I didn’t quite realize all of the things they’ve been exposed too over the past 15 years or so.

This iGen, or Gen Z, is the most tech-educated, socially aware, and pampered generation so far. But although they’ve been pampered, they have also been exposed to more violence via the media than other generations. They are also more accepting and tolerant of other demographics than the previous generations. Most of them are in still in high school or college now, but they are preparing to enter the workforce in major numbers really soon.

Now, putting on my HR Consultant hat, I understand different things motivate different people, so if you were to ask me how I would motivate this generation, here’s my perspective on it.

Virtual Collaboration

Keeping in mind that these are the kids who’ve been using tablets on long road trips, cellphones at the dinner table, and video games that allow them to play with and against others from all over the world, all their lives. They love to collaborate and be connected, whether in a virtual or a real-life environment. They understand boundaries; however, they view them differently. iGen believes that anything is possible and that technology can make it a reality. So I would be sure to gamify my processes, allowing for collaboration and partnership within and outside of the office environment. Technology, social media, and freedom are principles I would use to recruit, retain, coach, and motivate them.

Pampered and Paid

Gen Z is used to having things – they are not necessarily rich, but they are used to being comfortable. I’d be sure to compensate them according to their worth, but also to spoil them when possible with amenities such as free smartphones and tablets, gas cards, a wardrobe allowance, student loan reimbursements, company trips, paid vacations, and company community outreach events using social media to share and connect with the world. This would give them the opportunity to show off their great workplace to their friends and family.

Unorthodox and Successful

This generation will dare to be different. They want to leave a mark on the world. They have been through a lot in a short time, so they really want to do things very differently. We have to allow them to think outside the box, color outside the lines, have fun, and let themselves fail. Gen Z’ers will have worked for more start-up companies and held unconditional titles like “Monkeys” instead of “Managers” (à la Zappos!). With that in mind, I would continue to nurture their creativity and allow them to discover what works and doesn’t work for them in the business world.

Sharing is Caring

As I said earlier, iGen has seen a lot of good and bad, and they want to do something bigger than themselves to share with the world, so I believe having charitable and humanitarian initiatives will provide tons of engagement with these employees. Everyone likes to give back in some way, shape, or form, but when you experience the tragedies that this generation has experienced, there is a mentality of “how can I help?”  Using social strategies to fund and support efforts with broad-sweeping effects will make this generation feel more part of something great.

I found several sources to help me think about and develop this article. There was good ole Wikipedia’s “Generation Z,” and USA Today’s “Generation Y: They’ve arrived at work with an attitude,” which made some great comparisons between the generations. Also, “Generation Z: Rebels with a Cause,” from Forbes, and the Social Librarian’s “Generations X, Y and Z”are interesting resources.

See, I’m Gen X, and learning more about the Ys and Zs allowed me to think about the differences in my own generation and previous generations, which was a great exercise to try and forecast future engagement strategies. Only time will tell if I am right – and it looks like we won’t have to wait very long, either.

Chris Fields

Chris Fields is an HR professional and expert resume writer with more than 13 years of experience as a former practitioner and current HR consultant. He is the curator of two websites: CostofWork.com and ResumeCrusade.com , and contributes HR-focused content to many others, including PerformanceICreate.com and SmartRecruiters.com . He has been listed by the Huffington Post as one of the “Top 100 Most Social Human Resources Experts to Follow on Twitter”, one of the “Top 40 under 40” by the HR Blogger Network, one of the “25 Must-Read HR Blogs in 2013”, and also featured on Oprah.com. He is very active with the Society of Human Resource Management, working closely with conference directors, communication chairs, and social media teams from Illinois, Oklahoma, and Tennessee to develop social strategies to engage attendees and enhance their conference experience. Chris earned his master’s degree in Labor and Human Resources from Ohio State University. In 2005, he moved back to his hometown of Memphis, TN, where he has developed a reputation for helping his clients create HR strategies, and individuals master the tough economic challenges of the South.

3 Comments

  • Avatar Melissa Surrey says:

    Every generation is different and is greatly influenced by the surrounding. To understand each generation’s interests, values – it’s necessary to understand the culture and the main events that influenced their world’s perception. Having proper understanding of each generation will help, especially HR managers, use its good sides for the company’s benefit.

  • Avatar Adrian Kooney says:

    There is a generation gap, but it’s not as big as we might think of it. Instead of concentrating on generation differences, it’s worth remembering that we are all human beings, and, thus, have the same emotions of love, pain; we all struggle for better future and try to leave an impact on the world.

  • Avatar Sharon Guess says:

    As a Baby Boomer about to retire and having managed people for more years than I care to admit, I believe Chris hit the nail on the head. Yes, we are all individuals with individual motivations, desires and values; however, each generation is impacted differently by world events, life experiences and the previous generations’ influences on them. I currently manage 3 generations and I guarantee they each have different perspectives on what is valuable to them in the work place. I have found the differences to be invigorating to me and my career as they always keep me on my toes! Great article!

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