Recent surveys show that Millennials (age 24-35) and the new Generation Z (age 18-23) care more about career development than perks or pay. But career pathing isn’t the solution, here’s how to truly develop them.

Our Workplace Boredom Study found that Millennials are the most bored and disengaged demographic at work. When asked why? They said they lacked opportunities to learn something new. Meanwhile, a whole new demographic, Generation Z, is graduating each year and becoming part of the workforce. How are they different from Millennials and what matters to them?

I sat down with Aaron Levy, CEO and Founder of Raise the Bar Consulting, to discuss how companies can do a better job of attracting, growing, and retaining their Millennial and Generation Z employees. Levy has over 7 years of experience in the employee engagement space and has coached over 4,500 business leaders. Here’s his advice on how to create a workplace that will enable Millennials and Generation Z to thrive.

Millennials and Generation Z care about growth

According to Levy, Millennials view career development as more than just money and title. It’s not just about promotions, but taking on new projects or learning new skills. In a 2016 Gallup Report on “What Millennials Want from Work and Life,” 87% of Millennials said professional development was important to their job. This is the same for Generation Z, according to a recent survey by LaSalle Network, they also rate “opportunities to grow” as their number one priority.

Both generations value larger meaning and purpose in their work. The same CareerBuilder and Harris Poll survey discovered that 80% of Generation Z desire a job that offers “the ability to make a positive impact on people’s lives.”

The only difference between the two generations is that Generation Z grew up during one of the worst recessions in US history since the 1920s, so job security is more important to them. A survey by CareerBuilder and Harris Poll found that only 16% of Generation Z wanted to make frequent job moves, roughly similar to the 15% of all current full-time employees who feel the same way. This contrasts with Millennials known for their constant job-hopping.

In the Deloitte Millennial Survey and Gallup Journal “2016 How Millennials Want to Work Live,” millennials are the generation that turns over 3x as much as other generations. 1 out of 5 millennials will turn over. Yet 9 out of 10 millennials rate professional career development as important. This desire for career development represents a golden opportunity to develop and retain millennials.

Levy explains the three important anchors that keep Millennials: (1) they are inspired by the company’s purpose and mission, (2) they feel connected to their boss, their company, and culture, and (3) they feel their company cares about their personal development.

Don’t just give lip service to career development

As Generation Z join the workforce and Millennials are growing more committed to their companies, it’s time for companies to stop giving lip service to career development and begin implementing programs that really make a difference.

Levy recommends the following for creating a culture that nurtures and develops your Millennial and Generation Z employees.

1. Be wary of career pathing

Contrary to popular belief, creating a set plan or “career path” that envisions how an employee grows at your company can also backfire. First of all, no company can guarantee their staffing needs in the near future. As a result, it’s dangerous to promise something to a person if you can’t follow through. Changes occur in organizations and it’s best to avoid promising a new position that you might later have to retract. By creating rigid career paths for each employee, “you might go from doing something nice to creating a problem,” says Levy. The other issue is that your Millennial or Generation Z employee also may change their mind and desire to go in a different direction, so flexibility is equally important.

2. Train your managers to be coaches

Instead of career pathing, Levy recommends training your managers to be good coaches. According to an Interact and Harris Poll survey, 69% of managers are uncomfortable communicating with their direct reports. Over a third (37%) of managers struggle with giving direct feedback about employee performance, particularly if the employee might respond negatively. Moreover, a Gallup study found that employees who are supervised by a highly engaged manager are 59% more likely to be engaged. Companies need to train leaders to be better equipped to communicate, mentor, inspire, and authentically care about their employees. Consider training managers with online courses like the Advanced Management Training Program or the Essentials of Feedback and Performance Management on Udemy for Business.

3. Have “stay” interviews

Rather than wait for employees to leave and conduct exit interviews, managers should conduct regular “stay interviews” instead, suggests Levy. They should take the time to go to coffee and truly learn about their employees’ desires for growth. Managers should ask: “What do you want in your career, what do you want to learn, and how can I help you achieve this?” If managers truly listen to their employees needs, people will immediately feel their managers care. The cost to do this is virtually nothing. You don’t need to set up a whole program, just block out 30 minutes on your calendar.

4. Live feedback should be natural

Millennials started the movement for more regular feedback as opposed to the annual performance review. However, Generation Z employees are even more used to receiving real-time social media updates and share the same need for instant gratification and communication in the workplace. According to a study by Future Workplace, 25% of Generation Z desire regular feedback while only 3% want annual performance reviews.

Levy paints the analogy of a quarterback delivering real-time feedback to his teammates during a football game. The football team doesn’t wait until six months later. Instead, the team gives feedback in the moment because that’s what it takes to win the game. The same is true in the workplace. We should give “live” feedback in the moment to help people grow. Don’t wait to give valuable information via email, talk to them instead. When you withhold feedback, you are doing your employees a disservice and blocking them from growing. It’s also important to make sure your feedback is actionable. Rather than saying “you’re not good at X,” you should rephrase this to “in order to reach this outcome, these are the two areas to work on and here’s how.” L&D can train managers to give feedback more effectively with the Essentials of Feedback and Performance Management course on Udemy for Business.

5. Personalization in learning and development

Even more than Millennials, Generation Z are used to a personalized experience from playlists to newsfeeds, according to a study by EY (formerly Ernst & Young). This personalization is increasingly expected as Generation Z navigate learning and development within companies. They want a learning tool that is personalized to their interests—a platform that serves up customized learning pathways to help them acquire the skills to achieve their goal or solve a problem in the moment of need. In addition as more Millennials become managers, groom them with the skills they’ll need for success. (See Millennial Managers: 7 Skills for the Next Generation of Leaders).

Watch out Millennials, here comes Gen Z

Finally, just as companies feel they’ve gotten a handle on Millennials, Generation Z graduates are rapidly flooding the workplace. The second Gen Z cohort joined the workforce this summer in 2017. Many of the programs that companies have created to target their Millennial workforce will also work for Generation Z, but with some important nuances.

Page Last Updated: February 2020

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