How Gen Z employees will impact the future of engagement

Charles Cornwell | Sep 12, 2019 Charles Cornwell 09/12/19

You’ve read enough articles in recent years to know what millennials want out of a job. But there’s a new demographic in town, and they’re quickly entering the job market. Gen Z, as defined by the Pew Research Center, refers to the pre-teens, teens, and young adults born in 1997 or later. And with 61 million in the United States—the oldest of the group graduating college this year—retail and restaurant workforces are already flooded with Gen Z employees.     

If there’s one thing to know as an employer, it’s that engaged employees drive financial performance and deliver a real bottom-line impact. To reap those benefits, you must know what increases engagement for the newest generation of workers. Based on analysis of employee experience (EX) data across SMG clients, Gen Z’s top drivers are:

  • Autonomy + efficiency
  • Opportunities to learn + grow
  • Clearly defined expectations
  • Recognition

If this list looks familiar, that’s because it’s very similar to what millennials want from a job. However, the weight behind each of these categories varies slightly between the two generations. Millennials, who have been a part of the workforce from a few years to two decades, place more value on autonomy and recognition. And while those are still vital to Gen Z, they care more about career development opportunities and having clear expectations set for them. How can employers provide the next generation of workers with the tools they need to be the best employees?  

Provide direction with career pathing

If you don’t define career trajectories for employees already, now is the time to start. Gen Z takes more ownership of their career than previous generations, and they want to know the clear-cut path to success. Communicate the route for employees to advance to shift leader, supervisor, or manager, and provide detailed requirements for each role. Laying it out for them early in their career can provide a goal to work toward, leading to long-term commitment and less turnover. 

Facilitate open lines of communication

Gen Z, unlike older generations, have been immersed in technology their entire lives. And while half of them are online for more than 10 hours a day, they actually crave in-person social interaction more than the previous generation. In fact, 72% of Gen Z employees prefer a face-to-face conversation in the workplace.


Holding pre-shift huddles is a great way to encourage open communication and transparency. Use huddles to remind employees why their job is important, relay vital information, and allow employees to ask questions or express concerns. These short meetings also provide a great platform to recognize those going above and beyond in the workplace, another Gen Z motivator that leads to increased engagement.

Use training to set expectations + encourage development

The onboarding process should be used to set clear and defined expectations for your employees. By incorporating hands-on, in-person training whenever possible, you introduce open communication early on and give employees the face-to-face interaction they desire. 

You might even consider looping in junior employees during certain management trainings. Not only will cross-training teach them new skills and provide transparency across the team, but it can also facilitate the career development and growth that Gen Z craves.

Attract + retain your Gen Z employees

Born into the world of technology and with instant gratification often at their fingertips, the newest generation of employees might be slightly intimidating to employers. Dig a little deeper into what they want from their jobs, and you’ll see their desires can be met by some simple tweaks to what was needed to please the millennials before them. Striving to keep Gen Z engaged will reduce turnover and retain the young talent that may be the future of your company.

To learn more about the employee experience and what you can do to drive engagement, download our report: Five things we learned from talking to one million employees.

Charles Cornwell | GM, Employee Experience  
Customer Experience Update