How to increase engagement and retention with Millennial and Gen Z Employees (Advice for Gen X Leaders)

December 29, 2022

The latest perspectives and ideas from Sherlock Super Coach ™: The growth vehicle for human potential

According to the Workplace Statistics 2022, The number of millennials in the workforce is 56 million. This generation represents 35% of the total US labor force. Currently, they are the largest working generation.

Gen Z, people born between 1997 to 2012, will make up a third of the workforce by the end of the decade, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. And the 13% who are already in the workplace are making waves and breaking tradition.

Because employers have spent time and money determining the best ways to recruit, engage, and retain Millennials and now Gen Z workers, we want to help you understand how these individual personalities and decision-making vary, traits they share that could help you as a Gen X leader, people born between 1965-1980, to hire and retain them to work effectively in your business.

Millennials Value Values

The one trait that stands out most clearly is millennials’ desire to live their personal values in as many areas of their lives as possible, as deeply as possible.

Gen Z Value Salary and Career Advancement (and more financially motivated than Millennials)

While Millennials value work-life balance, according to Forbes, “Gen Z values salary and career advancement. Generation Z tends to be more financially motivated than Millennials.” In addition, Gen Z employees value money but they are also more risk-averse. Unlike Millennials, they are more focused on training and education as necessary to advance in their careers.

What can you do if you are a Gen X leader working with younger employees?

It might not occur to Gen X (born 1965-1980, so they would be 42 to 57 in 2022) to bring their own personal values or preferences to work. The saying back then was “religion and politics don’t belong at the office.”

Having kept their values and opinions to themselves, Gen X often interpret Millennials and Gen Z’s refusal to shut up and just do the work as entitlement.

Whether or not this judgment is fair or accurate doesn’t matter.

Millennials and some of the Gen Z are here, so any observations or conclusions about how they approach work only make sense if these ideas help you work better together.

Before we get into the details of how to attract and retain millennials and Gen Z for your business, let’s take a moment to define management. If you agree with this definition, you may find the rest of this article helpful.

Management is the work you, the manager, do to create an environment where the people who work for you:

  • Fulfill the role they’ve been assigned, to the best of their ability, with minimal intervention by you, the leader.
  • Benefit themselves personally and financially, through ongoing learning and development.

What’s the easiest and best way to retain and engage millennials and Gen Z?

If your goal is to maximize an employee’s contribution to your business, the most efficient way to do this is to find the intersection of how they view the world (what they want to do) and what the business needs (what you want them to do).

  • Accepting and deeply committing to how they view the world is what negotiation expert Chris Voss calls “tactical empathy”.
  • Empathy is different from sympathy. Sympathy is closer to pity. Viewed in its best light, sympathy is sharing another person’s feelings.
  • Empathy is deep understanding. You don’t have to agree with the person you empathize with. You don’t even have to like them. That’s why tactical empathy is so useful to hostage negotiators.

Three Do’s and Three Don’ts for Gen X leaders working with millennials and Gen Z

Do look for ways for Millennials and Gen Z to exercise autonomy in their work.

If given a choice, Millennials and Gen Z employees will often gravitate towards jobs that align with their personal goals and beliefs.

If, however, they are under significant financial pressure, for example from student loans, they make have chosen to work for you out of necessity. If that’s the case, there’s still a lot of room to maneuver.

Could you and your team brainstorm ways that increase employee freedom but don’t cost the company anything? The details will depend on your business, but they might include:

  • flexible work hours
  • choosing to work alone or in groups
  • freedom to choose tools
  • the order in which work is done
Do share sincere, positive feedback.

Gen X might be more transactional. Gen Z might be more cynical. But millennials tend to appreciate the feeling of being valued for their individual efforts, whether inside or outside of the work environment. Millennials hate feeling like they’re a worker drone, or a cog in the machine. A few kind words may make the difference here.

Do involve employees in solving important problems faced by the business.

If a millennial or a Gen-Z employee comes to you and says something like “I think the company should do X” you probably won’t be able to grant their wish. Everybody has ideas, and much of each day working in a business is spent implementing decisions made earlier.

However, you can create an environment where managers proactively reach out to employees and involve them in solving valuable problems.

Here are a few techniques for doing this effectively, as explained by innovation expert Stephen Shapiro.

  1. Make sure you’re solving important problems. A perfect solution to a low-value problem isn’t worth much.
  2. How you frame the questions you ask is of prime importance. This topic is vast, but we can state a few foundational principles here.
    1. Ask questions at the right level of abstraction. Too-broad questions lead to too many possible answers. Too much work to track down each one. Many answers are likely to be impractical to implement.
    2. Rather than asking “should we?” (a binary question which doesn’t inform much), instead ask “how can we?”. This positive frame leads to more practical results.
    3. If all else fails, try the opposite. Ask “what would a terrible solution to this problem be?” then consider doing the opposite.

The idea here is not to go directly from problem to solution. The idea is to get unstuck, to escape a mental rut.

Your goal is to create a corporate environment where employees’ ideas truly do matter to the business. This may not be as satisfying to an individual as having their own idea implemented, but it may feel like a big step in the right direction.

Don’t abruptly dismiss millennials requests for what they perceive to be fairness out-of-hand.

From a Gen X perspective, a quick “No, I’m not going to do that” might seem like a form or respect. You heard them. The answer is no. I assume you can take it. Let’s move on.

Here’s where taking the time to consider millennials and Gen-Z as individuals (which of course you would do without reading this article) comes into play. Use your judgment to notice which of your employees might benefit from some level of consideration of their request.

To someone who has been told all their pre-workplace lives that their opinion matters and that they can change the world, a terse “no” might sting, and leave a lasting impression.

This is a good time to make a quick note about the difference between millennials and Gen Z in this regard. As a generality, Gen Z’s also want to change the world, and plan to do so. They just don’t expect to be able to do so at work

Don’t tell your that your organization is mission-based if it’s not.

If your organization is not founded around a social cause, don’t say it is. Instead, focus on how you do what you do, and how that serves individuals or the greater good.

Don’t wait until annual performance reviews to give feedback or identify areas that need improvement.

Stress and anxiety are everywhere these days, and millennials and Gen Z carry at least their fair share.

One way to reduce the stress induced by a less-than-positive review is to break down skills gaps (in hard or soft skills) into smaller chunks, giving the employee more time to adapt.

Question and reflection for you:

As a Gen X organizational leader, what other ways could you adapt how you relate to millennials and Gen Z to make work more engaging and more successful?

Let’s Connect!

If you are interested in exploring how your organization can better support and retain your millennial and Gen Z employees, please get in touch with us.