2021 Employee Engagement Strategies for Gen Z

Shalini Ramakrishnan- Director of Product Marketing, Numly, Inc.


Employee engagement is getting harder! As a manager, I have first-hand experienced this in the last few years. It is one of the common consensus across organizations globally, with employees now being more vocal about wanting to see companies invested in their growth and careers. It is indeed becoming tougher for organizations to keep employees engaged and retain their top talent.

63% of organizations are struggling with retention. With more than a third of workers actively looking for jobs, organizations end up spending approximately $2.9 million per day scouring for replacement workers.

In the wake of intensifying talent wars, ‘How to boost employee engagement’ has become an organizational prerogative. But while doing this, companies need to start evaluating why their engagement strategies are failing to work in the first place? Is it because their audience has changed?

It’s a new generation at work

By 2025, Gen Z is expected to represent 1 in 3 workers worldwide.

I often find myself questioning if organizations are aligned to designing employee engagement strategies to meet their needs? How do you decode this mystery?

The first step is to understand that the drivers of employee engagement for current generation workers have changed. What is it that millennials and Gen Z want from the workplace? What can organizations do to engage them and drive retention?

Seeking the answer to this is important because fancy perks, huge offices or lavish end-of-year annual parties are no longer making the cut.

Money is no longer the ultimate motivator

Is money important for the millennials and Gen Z? Sure. But is it ‘the’ deciding factor; the one that tips the ball? NO.

Gen Z workers have different priorities and values. While salary packages are an influencer of their decisions, this demographic is more keen to work with organizations whose purpose reflects authentic actions. Companies need to move away from their shareholder-centric approach and instead focus on creating purpose – purposeful experiences, interactions, and opportunities.

Read: Annual Office Parties are NOT a Replacement for Purpose-Led Engagement 

The purpose of the organization has to clearly resonate with this generation workforce. For that, it has to be the one that stands to benefit all stakeholders of the organization – the employees being the greatest ones.

32,000 French students vowed only to work with environmentally conscious organizations. 1000 employees staged a walkout from one of the most powerful corporations to protest misconduct and lack of transparency. These are real data!

Millennials and Gen Z not only want to work with purpose-driven organizations, but they also want their jobs to have purpose and meaning as well.

Organizations have to examine the needs of this generation from their lens to understand what motivates them.

Employability over employment

There’s no doubt, millennials and Gen Z workers want employment. But they want employability more. Every team meeting or one-on-one I have had with newer generations at work have made me realize that they are looking at meaningful growth opportunities at work. Gen Z employees desire lifelong learning. Opportunities to learn new skills were critical influencers of job selection for them.

A Deloitte survey found that for 44% of Gen Z, on-the-job training is more valuable than what they learned in school.

Robust career training and development initiatives would keep them from leaving their jobs. For this generation, learning and development is the most important benefit when deciding where to work, closely followed by fair pay and opportunities for advancement. We needn’t dig deep to realize that while employment matters to these two generations, employability matters even more.

While this generation might be battling the tropes of negative stereotypes, they have made it abundantly clear that the world of work is overdue for a change and that only those who can enable this change will enjoy their loyalties.

Diversity and inclusion matters 

The mobile-wielding Gen Z is clear about their demands. They will love open layout and free snacks offered by companies but if you want to engage this demographic then you have to focus on workplace diversity.

Gen Z has grown up in a time when diversity is present all around them. Quite naturally, they expect this diversity and the inclusion that they expect in their personal lives to be present in their professional lives as well. 88% of job seekers expect the recruiters or potential employers to ask them about their preferred gender pronouns, and if a recruiter failed to use an applicant’s preferred pronouns, 25% of Gen Z would decline the job offer.

Diversity and inclusion initiatives are not a trend that will do with lip service. With this generation at work, organizations need to take quantifiable measures to create an organizational culture with diversity interwoven in its DNA. For this, it is imperative to carefully examine the critical skills that all employees have and help employees fill the gaps that don’t feed into the right culture.

Opportunities for growth 

Opportunities for growth for Gen Z are not confined only to annual promotions or salary increments. For them, growth opportunities indicate the avenues they get to grow professionally and personally. For example, if organizations are establishing upskilling and reskilling initiatives to reduce the skills gap, they have to complement these by upgrading their critical skills to help them discover more growth opportunities.

Millennials and Gen Z workers are also evaluating the quality of experiences on offer. Old, dated, day-long training programs that do not add value to an employee’s growth path will be rejected. Given that they are technologically-proficient, they want contextual and relevant learning experiences that will help them progress professionally and personally.

Organizations thus have to adopt data-backed, AI-powered coaching platforms that help them drive quality, contextual, relevant, and measurable learning programs with purpose.

Organizations also have to carefully evaluate how they are curating their learning and development experiences. They need to evaluate if they are capably creating an enabling environment that supports continuous learning and value-driven, inclusive opportunities for all. They need to assess if learning and development and training needs are accessible to all or are only for a select few managers and the leadership.

In Conclusion

Quite the ‘woke’ generation, the Gen Zers acting as positive drivers of organizational change. This change has been long since coming and organizations should pay heed if not for anything but to drive organizational agility and resilience.

Building a positive coaching culture and making it an integral part of the organization’s DNA is essential to provide the Gen Z employees all that they are looking for. The answers to their pressing questions, the drive for inclusion and diversity, thirst for growth, learning, personal and professional progress, the struggle to achieve work-life balance, the desire for equal opportunities for women, and other pressing issues can all be addressed and achieved with coaching.

But just like how we cannot serve old wine in a new bottle and call it new, organizations cannot just keep on with their dated training, learning, and coaching initiatives. Only when organizations make coaching relevant, contextual, and accessible can they drive engagement at work and develop a resilient workforce. And by building a resilient workforce, they build a resilient organization…one that can stay future-forward.

Learn how an AI-powered coaching platform can power learning and development initiatives and become an essential tool to drive employee engagement.