By developing trust, improving communications, and promoting team collaboration, HR professionals can help younger workers hone competencies needed to advance their careers.
By Lorraine Ortiz
In the past few years, Gen Z has started to make its presence known in the workforce. By 2025, they are expected to make up at least 27% of the labor market, bringing with them different skill sets, perspectives, and expectations shaped in part by access to global content in the internet era, the pandemic, and the impact of digital technology.
To help develop these young professionals with the skills necessary to thrive, employers must recognize this group’s experiences and adapt their recruitment, training, and development strategies accordingly. Although the pandemic impacted all generations, it was especially challenging for Gen Z, causing many to finish school or start their first jobs remotely. Bearing this in mind, employers can foster a more productive and inclusive work environment that empowers this generation to reach their full potential.
The following areas will be essential for HR professionals to focus on while advancing the next generation of employees into their workplaces.
Communication. Due to a number of factors, Gen Z applicants may not have had the opportunity to fully develop the interpersonal skills needed to flourish in the office. Just as a company might train employees on new technologies, Gen Z employees may need more training on communication skills in two key areas.
This first is setting aside time to focus. Thanks to digital technology, immediate communication and interaction has become more seamless for remote workers. However, it does not always ensure one’s full attention. Between email, social media, texts, and any number of apps, the modern worker is bombarded with notifications and pings that draws their attention away from tasks at hand. Constant multi-tasking is not productive or sustainable in the long-term. Supporting an environment where certain behaviors call for uninterrupted time that would require closing Slack, email, or muting notifications while working with a team, highly sensitive project, or while in a meeting benefits all participants, but especially those who are inexperienced.
Active listening is also critical. Everyone can improve their listening skills to hear what someone has said versus listening to respond. Digital natives, however, have grown up in a tech-driven transactional world, and active listening requires practice to slow down the exchange and build upon information shared in conversation versus an immediate response to swipe the message closed.
Hosting lunch-and-learns with communication experts can illustrate the importance of active listening. Tactics such as engaging in meaningful conversation, making eye contact, learning how to ask intuitive follow-up questions, and other skills can help improve interpersonal communication, a stronger connection to colleagues, and overall better work outcomes.
Social media’s influence on this generation and their social connections cannot be underestimated. Creating an environment that helps foster stronger emotional intelligence and support can strengthen connectivity between coworkers and the organization. Communicating solely online can leave one with feelings of isolation. Internal teams should introduce tactics to foster empathy, dialogue, and create open forums for expression. Encourage managers to deliver continuous feedback regarding performance: the good, the opportunities, and the “needs improvement.” This helps create a culture of open, candid communication and bi-directional feedback, all of which can be of significant benefit to professional development and employee retention. This is an area, interestingly, that Gen Z should be more comfortable than with previous generations. This is because Gen Z has become more comfortable with receiving immediate and constant feedback.
By 2025, Gen Z workers are expected to make up at least 27% of the labor market.
Team development and collaboration. Team development is crucial in bringing Gen Z into a productive workforce. HR professionals can work with managers to identify areas of growth and establish cohorts for continuing education to encourage cross-team connections and peer learning.
The diversity of backgrounds, experiences, perspectives, and talents makes organizations stronger. And this especially holds true for Gen Z employees: 93% state that a company’s impact on society influences their employment decision. This generation is more attuned to social commentary, so creating an open environment that acknowledges diversity and sees inclusion as a way to work, is more likely to help them feel connected to their team and company.
Building a culture of collaboration will help bolster behavioral competencies needed in the workforce. As students, they have had to work on group projects, so focus on how to translate that skill into the workplace. Organizations should create task forces or one-off projects that promote collaborative work that nurtures relationship building for younger employees. Moreover, offering rewards or incentives—like companywide shout-outs to the broader group or meaningful individual incentives for successful collaboration can keep employees more engaged.
Building trust. Building trust is critical regardless of the employee’s age, but may be even more important with this generation of workers. With the increasing emergence of hybrid, remote, and flex work, having less face-to-face time requires more deliberate tactics. Leaders and employees must work together to develop a balance of trust. Employees must strive to meet deadlines, and communicate issues that might impact their workflow. In return, leaders should avoid micro-managing, which can diminish trust, and instead focus on supporting teams through coaching and providing meaningful, actionable feedback.
Transparency is more essential than ever before. Employees changing jobs or entering the workforce are heavily focused on knowing as much about the company and position before accepting a job offer. This includes salary expectations, team structures, career paths, and promotion opportunities. They are not looking for the protection or coddling that some employers think younger employees want. Gen Z workers want to know whether their roles will be valued and will help them grow, and how they will fit into the company’s broader strategic goals. HR should be the quarterback in establishing a culture of transparency to build trust among Gen Z employees and workplace opportunities that translate to retention and productivity wins.
As always, these three skill sets should act more as focal guideposts than hard-and-fast rules, since every employee has individual strengths and areas for improvement. By creating opportunities that develop trust, improve communications, and promote team collaboration, HR professionals will help Gen Z develop robust behavioral competencies to round out the advanced technical skills they are already bringing to the workplace.
Lorraine Ortiz is chief people officer at First Internet Bank.