Five steps to successfully recruit and retain Gen Z

A group of millennials were discussing their careers with me, describing what they liked and didn’t like about their jobs when the topic of Generation Z came up. “They’re not like us,” one millennial observed. “They want everything on the internet. They are tough and emotionally cold.”

I have written extensively about how millennials are transitioning into adulthood and are preferring the benefits of adults, subsidized healthcare, paid leaves and time off, a 401(K)s with a company match, and flexible work arrangements. There is now a new, very different generation entering the workforce.

Generation Z are individuals born in the late 1990s and early 2000s, and they number nearly 73 million, or about 25 percent of the workforce.[i] They are graduating from college now and are very different from millennials in many ways.

They grew up during the Great Recession and have watched millennials struggle with college debt and have a tough time finding a job during the recession. Gen Z are the first generation that grew up dedicated and addicted to electronic devices, social media, YouTube, and Instagram. They are digitally savvy and want knowledge and solutions from the internet. They rigorously read your company website more than millennials do.

Gen Z is all about financial security and independence, and they are socially awkward. They might text you about something even when they are standing right in front of you. They are willing, according to surveys, to work hard and longer hours than millennials. Gen Z is also the most ethnically diverse generation in US history, with nearly half of them being Hispanic, black, Asian, or of other ethnic backgrounds.[ii] They are fast workers but will expect companies to have all the information they need on an easy-to-navigate company website.

In an article for the Wall Street Journal, Janet Adamy writes of Gen Z, “Its members are more eager to get rich than the past three generations but are less interested in owning their own businesses, according to surveys. As teenagers, many postponed risk-taking rites of passage such as sex, drinking and getting driver’s licenses. Now they are eschewing student debt, having seen prior generations drive it to records, and trying to forge careers that can withstand an economic crisis.”[iii]

Gen Z is literally sober. Data from a Michigan survey and federal statistics, cited in the Wall Street Journal article, show they were less likely to have tried alcohol, gotten their drivers’ licenses, or had sex or gone out regularly without their parents than teens of the previous two or three generations.

They grew up trusting adults, and Gen Z employees want managers who will step in to help them handle uncomfortable situations such as conflicts with coworkers. They also want detailed feedback according to Mr. Tulgan, a management consultant, cited in the Wall Street Journal article. The feedback can cover a wide range of issues from office etiquette, collaborating behaviors, and technical skills.

Gen Z is reporting higher levels of anxiety and depression as teens and young adults than previous generations. About one in eight college freshmen felt depressed frequently in 2016, the highest level since UCLA began tracking it more than three decades ago. Smartphones, according to Janet Adamy, may be partly to blame. Much of Gen Z’s socializing takes place via text messages and social media platforms—a shift that has eroded natural interactions and allowed bullying to play out in front of wider audiences.[iv]

When Mr. Tulgan’s company surveyed thousands of Gen Z members about what mattered most to them at work, they wanted a “safe environment,” he told the Wall Street Journal. He is advising clients to create small work teams, so managers have time to nurture them.

Gen Z is also changing how companies recruit on college campuses. Intuit changed its recruiting practices by moving its job postings to Slack, a messaging platform, so that Gen Z workers who pay less attention to email won’t overlook their jobs. [v]

Here are five steps for recruiting, developing and retaining Generation Z:

  1. Be digitally sophisticated. In addition to your traditional ways of recruiting on college campuses, you will need to move your job postings to messaging platforms such as Slack and consider more gaming as you explain your brand. It is always good to begin recruiting the best college graduates before their senior years. Moreover, you will need to have great digital technology for your company website’s career page, HR systems, and learning systems. They will judge your company as a great place to work by the quality of your digital technology.
  2. Emotionally Safe Environment. Gen Z is highly anxious and will need to be coached on face-to-face socialization. You need to improve your onboarding to explain how work gets done in your company, assign a friendly coach, and make sure your managers are very patient and nurturing with them. Managers will need to reassure their new hires that they will make mistakes and that it is all about learning, respecting each other, improving, and working together.
  3. Diversity and inclusion. Gen Z is highly diverse and all diverse workforces value transparency, and performance and team-based rewards with little politics.
  4. Ongoing development. Like all generations in their twenties, they will expect fast promotions before they are ready. Managers will need to be patient, provide ongoing development and performance feedback and sense of achievement and recognition. Offer new challenging assignments to continue to develop them and keep their interest as you prepare them to be promoted.
  5. Good pay and benefit They have watched millennials struggle with gig work, college debt, and the Great Recession. They want economic independence and good pay and benefits like millennials do now: subsidized healthcare, paid leaves and time off, a retirement savings account with a company match, and flexible work arrangements.

Gen Z is not a chip off of the millennial block. Learn more about how to recruit and retain Gen Z in my upcoming book, Hack Recruiting.

Victor Assad is the CEO of Victor Assad Strategic Human Resources Consulting and is a Managing Partner of InnovationOne. He consults and provides hands-on support to improve recruiting and retention, cultures of innovation, and train agile leaders and teams. Overcome your obstacles to these issues by subscribing to his weekly blogs. Go to to subscribe. Watch for his book, Hack Recruiting, to be published soon.

[i] David Stillman and Jonah Stillman, Gen Z at Work: How the Next Generation Is Transforming the Workplace (New York, NY, Harper Publishing, 2017).

[ii] Janet Adamy, “Gen Z Is Coming to Your Office: Get Ready to Adapt,” Wall Street Journal (September 6, 2019, 10:30 AM ET).

[iii] Ibid.

[iv] Ibid.

[v] Ibid.

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