Top Strategies To Attract And Retain Gen Z Professionals


March 25, 2024


180 Engineering

Among the shifts that the global workforce is currently weathering, one of the most profound is the increasing emergence of Gen Z. Born between 1997 and 2012, this generation is decidedly different. Frequently referred to as “digital natives,” Gen Zers have had access to the internet for their entire lives. They are adept with social media and managing swift technological advancements. But beyond technology, Gen Z has had their lives shaped by the spectres of climate change, pandemic lockdowns, social and political unrest, and severe economic uncertainty. They are at the same time idealistic, pragmatic, and prone to mental health struggles.

With the oldest members of this generation turning 27 years old in 2024, professional Gen Zers are already making their mark in the workplace. By 2030, they’re projected to constitute about 30 percent of the workforce.

Like every generation, Gen Z has unique characteristics that affect how they function at work and in the world at large. Their values and their expectations around employment have already disrupted traditional ways of working, as well as the relationships between employers and employees. To attract and retain top talent from this generation, and keep them motivated and engaged, many employers will need to adjust their workplace practices.

Understanding Gen Z

Every generation is unique, requiring shifts in the workplace. Baby boomers (1946-1964) largely adhered to traditional hierarchical structures and rigid work schedules, with clear boundaries between their work and private lives. Gen X (1965-1980), however, highly values autonomy and independence, requiring that employers offer flexible work arrangements. Tech-savvy millennials (1981-1996) prefer workplaces that support teamwork, continuous learning, opportunities for personal growth, and increasingly flexible work arrangements.

Gen Zers are quite different and their emergence into the workforce coincides with pivotal global events. The oldest of this generation were just finishing their post-secondary studies when COVID-19 changed the world forever. In tandem with pandemic lockdowns, considerable social, economic, and political upheaval have significantly disrupted the lives of these young people. As they grapple with defining their place in the world, some very clear characteristics emerged.

They Are Digital Natives

As mentioned earlier, Gen Z is the first generation to have access to the internet, social media, and mobile technology from their earliest years. They are completely comfortable and intuitive with technology, navigating websites, apps, and their social feeds to seek out needed information and to help them make decisions. As a result, they’re often called “digital natives.”

Because technology is so integral to their lives, they have high expectations for tech tools in the workplace. As pointed out in a blog piece by Kimberly Lanier and Johnny Martinez, Gen Zers, “expect workplace technology that is seamless and user-friendly, integrates well with their workflows, and presents no significant barriers, allowing them to do their job efficiently and effectively.”

Tech has shaped the way Gen Z communicates and collaborates, which can differ from traditional workplace expectations. As well, most of this generation is arriving in the workforce with no experience in professional work settings before the pandemic. As a result, they have little understanding of traditional work arrangements and workplace structures. Instead, they are likely more familiar with the tech tools and practices that they saw their caregivers use while working from home.

They Value Diversity And Inclusivity

Statistically, Gen Z is the most diverse generation America has seen. According to the Pew Research Center, 52% of Gen Zers are non-Hispanic white, while 25% are Hispanic, 14% are black, 6% are Asian, and 5% are either another race or two or more races. (Numbers have been rounded up.)

But for Gen Z, the definition of diversity extends past race and ethnicity to include sexual orientation, gender identity, physical ability, age, and religion as well as a diversity of ideas, experiences, and backgrounds. As a result, they are more accepting of difference and they highly value diversity and inclusion. They are arriving in the workplace expecting fair and robust diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) policies.

They Are Identity Nomads

Unlike any previous generation, Gen Z regards identity as fluid, believing that one’s identity can be experimented with and changed. Open to diversity and inclusivity, they resist stereotypes as they absorb and evaluate the vast quantities of information available to them.

While we might be most familiar with the idea of gender fluidity, Gen Z tends to resist identity silos of any kind. For example, although they might identify as belonging to a certain religion, they might have personal beliefs that conflict with that religion’s traditional teachings (e.g. same-sex marriage). As well, they might define family and traditional family roles differently.

Because they are constantly seeking new ways to define themselves, refusing to restrict themselves to binary distinctions, they’ve become known as identity nomads.

They Are Idealistic

Gen Z is growing up amidst global turmoil: war and genocide, climate concerns, economic uncertainty, social justice movements, and pandemic lockdowns. As they grapple with unprecedented levels of discord and uncertainty, they are eager to contribute to positive change. They have big ideas about changing the world and they excel at mobilizing themselves for causes that they believe in.

And, when it comes to supporting positive change, Gen Z wants to feel like they are contributing both personally and professionally. According to John Hopkins University, a Deloitte study shows that 77% of Gen Zers feel that it is critical to work for a company whose values are in alignment with their own. When assessing a company, Gen Z looks past the products or services that that company offers to consider its ethics, practices, and social impact.

They Are Sophisticated About Mental Health

The mental health struggles of Gen Z have been well documented. Statistics seem to indicate that this generation has unprecedented levels of stress, anxiety, and depression. It can’t be denied that this age group is living in a time of great pressure and upheaval. As well, it’s been suggested that the high levels of mental health issues reported by Gen Z may be because the stigma around mental health is breaking down and because this is the first generation with the self-awareness and language to identify those issues.

As Gen Zers openly grapple with their mental health, they will need support and resources – and will be looking to their employers to provide those.

Recruitment And Retention Strategies For Gen Z

As more Gen Zers move into the workplace, employers will need to refine their recruitment and retention strategies to bring the brightest talent of this generation to their companies. Strategies that may have worked well with preceding generations may not be as effective with Gen Z.

Communication And Information Sharing

Gen Z requires a different approach to communications in the workplace. Both your messaging and your communication mediums may need to be adjusted for Gen Z.

First, Gen Z highly values transparency. This generation is used to having access to information at their fingertips at all times. They use that information to navigate the world and make decisions. Truthful and transparent communication in the workplace is a must for Gen Z. If your executives tend to share information on a need-to-know basis only, you may not be able to gain the trust of your Gen Z employees.

An excellent piece at Harvard Business Review recommends considering the following questions when assessing how effective your communications policy is for your Gen Z staff:

    • Are two-way dialogues encouraged across different communication mediums?

Do your teams and individual employees understand how they and their strategies impact the entire organization?

Do you openly discuss results, performance, and future outlook in your meetings?

Do you regularly ask for feedback regarding your transparency and clarity?

As hinted at in the first bullet point above, beyond the message itself, another facet of communication and information sharing is the medium. It might come as some surprise, given the prevalence of technology in their lives, but a large number of Gen Zers prefer speaking face-to-face rather than communicating by text.

Having struggled through pandemic lockdowns and possibly grappling with mental health issues, many Gen Zers crave personal connection and interaction. Team leaders and managers are encouraged to increase the comfort level of their Gen Z employees by:

    • Hosting online meetings, when necessary, via video conferencing;

Fostering frequent in-person gatherings and opportunities for in-person collaboration;

Checking in frequently with Gen Z staff, to provide input and ask for feedback; and

Organizing regular social activities that foster team bonding.

Given the autonomy that earlier generations prefer in the workplace and the traditional way messaging is shared, reassessing your communication styles and methods will become increasingly critical as Gen Z floods the workplace.

Hybrid And Remote Work Arrangments

Given the economic uncertainty this generation has witnessed thus far, job security is a top priority for many. Polls show that Gen Zers are willing to work hard to progress their careers and achieve that security; however, they also want to have a life away from work and a stable work/life balance. To that end, a large majority of Gen Z (73%) prefer flexible work schedules and arrangements that allow them to meet their work commitments even when not at the office.

As much as employers may prefer to have employees work regular hours in the office, large numbers of workers across all generations state a preference for flexible work arrangements. Whether employers offer a combination of remote and on-site work, a four-day work week, or the freedom for workers to set their own hours, it’s likely flexible work arrangements will continue to be critical in attracting and retaining top talent.

Access to Cutting-Edge Technology

It should come as no surprise that Gen Z has high expectations around technology in the workplace. Given their desire for flexible work arrangements, they will expect access to cutting-edge portable tech including laptops, collaboration software, online messaging systems, and cloud storage options.

Further, as pointed out in an excellent piece at Fast Company, artificial intelligence can be increasingly leveraged to automate routine tasks. When used in this way, AI can free up time for, “collaborative, strategic work, [and] automation can help Gen Z become more fully engaged members of the workforce, building relationships, communicating effectively, and leading teams.”

One last point about technology: with their extensive experience using consumer apps, Gen Z will expect a high-quality user experience for apps and programs in the workplace as well. An excellent example is benefits applications. A 2023 study revealed that only half of Gen Z workers reported that their benefits apps were equal in quality and user experience to the consumer apps they’re familiar with. This issue around benefits apps has particular implications for Gen Z, who will also have high expectations around accessing mental health supports in the workplace.

Mental Health And Well-Being Support And Benefits

As discussed above, Gen Zers are grappling with high levels of stress, anxiety, and depression, and they’re quite sophisticated in understanding their mental health needs. Many will perform best with an empathetic employer who understands that mental health must be supported for employees to thrive.

In addition to benefits policies specific to mental health, employers need to create an empathetic company culture that values mental and physical well-being. A piece at Harvard Business Review suggests that employers:

Lead by example and share your emotional state, worries, and coping mechanisms. Empathy goes a long way to create a shared connection and open up avenues of communication and deeper conversation. Then, work to create a team culture that allows for vulnerability, open communication, and makes time for mental recovery. Addressing what impacts the team will improve their overall effectiveness and allow you to manage timelines and priorities around mental wellness just as you would for physical illness.

Your honesty about your own mental health lends itself to the transparency that Gen Zers crave in their personal and professional relationships.

Commitment to DEI

An increased commitment to DEI policies is becoming increasingly critical in the race to recruit and retain top talent. While that trend has been growing in recent years, Gen Z is set to accelerate it. This young generation is a diverse group of people and it’s a group that values and expects inclusion. A terrific piece at Forbes explains:

Gen-Z views diversity, equity and inclusion not as mere corporate buzzwords but as non-negotiable pillars that define the essence of an organization. Their concept of diversity includes gender, race, ethnicity, neurodiversity, people with disabilities and a diversity of ideas, experiences and backgrounds … Equity for this generation means more than just a fair paycheck. It extends to transparent career progression paths, equal opportunities for all employees and unbiased performance assessments.

To build a company culture that fosters inclusivity, the Forbes piece suggests actively cultivating a diverse workforce at all levels of your organization, actively advocating for pay equity and gender parity, and working hard to understand and overcome systemic bias.

Career Progression Through Continuous Learning, Upskilling, And Professional Development 

As discussed earlier, Gen Z is concerned about job security and eager to take steps to ensure the progression of their careers. For Gen Z, opportunities for professional development and internal mobility outweigh salary when it comes to considering job opportunities.

Savvy business leaders understand that the tight job market necessitates a shift in focus from recruitment to retention and that retention can be improved by providing learning opportunities. As stated by Laurie Moot in a piece on LinkedIn, “By promoting a culture of continuous learning, organizations not only engage their current workforce but also position themselves as attractive employers for young talent.”

By 2030, it’s expected that there will be a global talent shortage in excess of 85 million people. At ages 18 to 33 in 2030, Gen Z will be a considerable component of the workforce. Given talent shortages, competition for talented Gen Zers will be incredibly stiff. To successfully recruit and retain this generation, employers will need to create policies and structures that meet their needs and preferences.