Generation Z is entering the workforce in droves. Unlike millennial employees who experienced the Great Recession, Gen Z job seekers have their own set of expectations for what the workplace should look like. They know their worth, are ready to negotiate, and are more willing to learn new skills than any prior generation.

So how do these generational differences impact managers? Here’s what supervisors and human resources teams need to know about managing Generation Z employees in the workplace:

How is Gen Z defined?

According to most sources, Generation Z includes anyone born between 1997 and 2012

How Gen Z’s upbringing impacts their views on work

Understanding how Gen Zers were raised can help HR teams, hiring managers and other employees prepare to work with and unlock the full potential of what Pew Research Center has coined “the most diverse and best educated generation.” 

Active parenting is the norm

It starts with their parents. As Gen Xers started having families, they were determined to be involved, present and informed, and address the never-ending barrage of childhood dangers uncovered by the media. “Helicopter parenting” emerged, resulting in new levels of planning and supervision for everything from diet and exercise to playdates, education, extracurricular activities and down time.  

Information is everywhere

Like their millennial counterparts, Zers are digital natives. “Googling” replaced “research.” Social influencers, YouTube and other streaming services took precedence over mainstream television. From finding easy answers to any question to learning new skills through self-study, knowledge has always been just a click away for Gen Z.  

Globalization and social consciousness expand

While their parents learned to master social media on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, Gen Z moved onto other platforms (i.e., Instagram, SnapChat and TikTok). Gen Zers learned to connect, socialize and even play games with children across the street or across the globe, 24/7.

In schools, a focus on STEM and the Common Core promoted science, math and higher level thinking. Social mores – like being good citizens, taking care of the environment and being inclusive – extended from corporate cultures to classrooms. Everything from mental health and sexual orientation to race and politics became open for discussion. 

Teens work less

Fast forward to the present. With adults assuming many jobs once populated by teens (think newspaper delivery, retail workers and babysitting), fewer Gen Zers work in their teens. In fact, for most, their first real job comes after college, even though 1 in 5 begin the job hunt freshman year and only 10% wait until after graduation to look for work.

Generation Z’s workplace expectations

Now that we know a bit about Generation Z’s background, let’s take a look at what’s important to them at work. When it comes time to attract and retain employees for entry-level positions, focus on Gen Z’s biggest priorities to win top talent:

  1. Salary: Gen Zers are practical, well-aware of the current job market, and know their worth. They will negotiate for higher pay before they accept an offer.
  2. Work-life balance: Like millennials, they seek work-life balance through flexible work schedules and remote work opportunities. They value office cultures where it’s okay not be connected 24/7, and where personal time is protected, respected and encouraged. 

What are the most important factors when considering whether or not to accept a job?

  1. Job duties: Gen Zers aren’t waiting to volunteer at their favorite non-profit to do something meaningful. They desire mission-driven job responsibilities and duties where they can make a difference every day. 

Key Characteristics of Gen Z At-a-Glance

  • They are diverse, well-educated and digital natives.
  • They value face-to-face communication and interpersonal relationships.
  • They have high ethical standards and value a diverse workforce.
  • They want to do meaningful work, solve problems and make a difference.
  • They want to learn, and seek constant feedback.
  • While they aren’t looking to become VP in a year, they are interested in job mobility.
  • Fair pay and traditional benefits are important, but they also have their eye on the future with a desire for comprehensive parental leave.  

Tips to engage Generation Z in the workplace

Recent research suggests that while generational differences do exist, some shared values stand the test of time. All employees want leaders they can trust, to be treated fairly and with respect, to learn, grow and make a difference, to receive feedback and guidance, to be appreciated and recognized, and to be healthy and financially secure.

What varies is how each generation defines and executes these shared values. When it comes to Gen Z, here’s what you need to know about maximizing employee engagement:


Every generation wants it, but while one generation was content with an annual review and later generations sought more periodic updates, Gen Zers require continuous, ongoing coaching and feedback. We’re talking daily.

Fairness and respect

While diversity and inclusion in the workplace isn’t a new concept, Gen Zers are the first generation to identify personality as the most important type of workplace diversity. Their all-encompassing definition of diversity demands respect for the entire individual, from innate traits like sexual orientation and race to acquired traits like personality, education, socio-economic background and more. 


Gen Zers expect their employers to say what they mean and mean what they say. For example, an employer can claim to value diversity and inclusion, but if there’s no proof in the pudding, Gen Z job seekers will move on to another opportunity.

And while they’re tech-savvy, Gen Z employees still value face-to-face communication. In fact, it’s one of the most important factors when they’re building relationships with recruiters.

Best practices for managing Generation Z employees

You’ve studied up on Gen Z workplace preferences, headed to campus to recruit them, and extended an offer. Now you’re faced with how to manage, engage, motivate and retain Gen Zers by creating an exceptional employee experience.

Some areas of focus for human resources may include:

Onboarding and orientation

While investing in recruitment marketing and offering hiring resources online is a good way to prepare new hires, it’s not enough to ensure they’re fully acclimated into your company culture the minute they walk in the door. Be prepared with a new hire onboarding checklist, and plan plenty of social engagement opportunities. 


Gen Zers prefer email, text and social media for day-to-day communication, and use a multitude of channels to absorb a lot of content quickly. Is it time to expand the channels you use to reach employees? Do you use Slack, email, and professional social networks, or do you still expect employees to pick up the phone and call each other? 


Gen Zers are the very definition of lifelong learners, which is good because employers are already identifying opportunities to develop their soft skills. Gen Zers find motivation in training and professional development programs, and seek opportunities for future advancement within the organization. 


While they resist being micromanaged, Gen Zers seek continuous coaching and feedback, as well as internal mobility. Time to dust off that “promotion-from-within” policy and put the systems and processes in place to support internal mobility or risk losing talent to other employers. 

Diversity and inclusion

Does your definition of diversity need updating? How about training for managers and colleagues? Incorporate continuing education and unconscious bias training into your company’s curriculum, and review your diversity recruiting strategy to make sure it’s up to par with Gen Z’s expectations.

Pay and benefits

Especially with pay equity in the headlines, don’t assume this generation of workers will just sit back and take the salary they’re offered. They know their worth and are ready to fight for it. Know which employee benefits are most attractive to Gen Z, balancing your rewards package with a mix of traditional perks (medical and financial), student loan assistance, wellness benefits, and attractive maternity/paternity policies. 


In recent years, experts have shifted away from “work-life balance” in favor of a term that more accurately reflects the modern work experience: “work-life integration.” 

Generation Z understands that in today’s connected world, work doesn’t necessarily stop the minute you walk out the door at 5PM. Instead, they’re looking for workplace flexibility that allows them to take time off as they need it, take advantage of remote work opportunities, and enjoy a culture of “unplugging” when needed. Ask company leaders to walk the talk when it comes to integrating work and life.

Manager training

After decades of focusing primarily on productivity and profits, are managers equipped to incorporate more “people-focused” practices into their management styles or do they need guidance? Consider investing in modern manager training, especially for hiring managers seeking entry-level talent.

Of course, all of these should be guided by workforce planning and future of work strategies. Knowing that Gen Z is not planning on staying with an employer beyond a few years, it will be interesting to see whether companies focus their strategies on retention, adapting to a shorter-tenure workforce, or both. 

One thing’s for sure: HR staff needs bandwidth to address the increasing demands that will come with engaging Generation Z. Set your organization up for success with operations that free up staff to focus on more strategic, value-added activities.

What managers need to know about working with Generation Z

At one time, managers were responsible for managing people – it was all they did. Over time, manager responsibilities shifted to profits and operations, fitting in the “people” side of business where they could. As the pendulum swings back to a focus on people once again, employers need to consider the skills and training managers need to support their direct reports. 

Have no doubt about it – this is bigger than a one-and-done training session. While senior leaders may understand and agree with the concept of being a “people-first” organization, changing the way people operate on a day-to-day basis takes concerted effort and dedicated time.

Here’s what all managers should know about working with Generation Z: 

  • Know your employees. Invest time in face-to-face communication, and understand what Gen Z employees want at work. 
  • Be accessible. Help your new hire build relationships within your team and across your organization. (Remember, your Gen Zer may have accepted the job, in part, because of their relationship with their recruiter. Upon hire, someone must step into the role of being the Gen Zer’s “go-to person.”)
  • Be a coach. Provide ongoing feedback, recognize contributions and accomplishments, and be a professional development resource. 
  • Encourage authenticity. Be prepared to manage the whole person, including their mental well-being.  
  • Focus on mission. Gen Z employees don’t want to clock in and clock out. They want their work to be meaningful, and they choose opportunities where they can make an impact.
  • Offer growth opportunities. Focus on professional development, and show Gen Z employees how they can grow within your organization. Address skills gaps with continuing education.

By knowing what motivates Generation Z employees, human resources teams can better manage and retain this young generation of talent.