Many younger generation workers are moving through the ranks and becoming first-time managers. How can companies prepare millennial and Generation Z employees to succeed as leaders? 

We teamed up with Culture Amp to host a panel discussion on this topic, Coaching Millennials and Gen Z as Leaders of Tomorrow. Culture Amp’s Senior People Scientist Sahra Kaboli-Nejad moderated a lively conversation between Stacey Nordwall, People Program Lead at Culture Amp, and Elizabeth Pierce, an L&D leader with over 20 years of experience at companies like Eventbrite, Uber, and Oracle. 

We’ll share some highlights from the discussion here, or you can watch the entire webinar on-demand by clicking below.

The millennial and Generation Z workforce: A quick overview

At the beginning of the panel discussion, Sahra explained that the idea of a “generation” emerged from marketing research as a way of describing the tendencies of age-based segments. Categorizing people by generation can be useful for understanding the attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors they have when they enter the job market, but keep in mind that these are generalizations and are likely to only form part of your employees’ identities.

According to Robert Half, in 2020, 80% of the workforce will be post-boomer and more than 20% will be Generation Z. Millennials were born roughly between 1981–1995 and Generation Z is the subsequent generation, including those born until 2010. 

PwC’s Millennials at Work report finds that development and work/life balance are more important to millennials than financial rewards. This aligns with research about Generation Z employees, too: In a recent survey by LaSalle Network, members of Generation Z rated “opportunities to grow” as their number one priority. To learn more about Generation Z’s specific learning needs and expectations, see How Generation Z Prefers to Learn at Work.

Preparing millennials and Generation Z employees for the future

Stacey described some of the rapid changes in the workforce in recent years. With the ability (and increased need) to work remotely, many more teams are distributed. Even small companies may have employees around the globe and employees must rely on technology for communicating and collaborating. While younger generations tend to feel comfortable with technology, they may need extra support with learning how to create boundaries, especially in an always-on working from home environment. 

Provide guidelines for using technology effectively

Don’t assume that because younger generations are familiar with technology that they’ll know the conventions and expectations at your company, warns Elizabeth. Be sure to provide training or guidelines so these employees know which tools and channels to use, which times they’re expected to be available, and who they can reach out to if they still have questions.

Make communication a priority

Stacey suggests companies can support younger generations working remotely by creating regular touchpoints for coaching and one-on-one conversations. Consider how you’ll create balance between providing social connections and promoting employee well-being in other ways.

Encourage managers to lead career development conversations

Another major trend is that company tenure is shrinking. People don’t expect to stay at the same place for 10 or 20 years. This means that employers and managers need to think about how to prepare employees for future roles, whether it’s with skills training or broader discussions. Culture Amp promotes both self-directed and guided career development. Culture Amp managers are encouraged to ask their direct reports, “If this isn’t your dream job, what is? And how can we help you get there?”

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Elizabeth has seen organizations succeed when they take an agile approach to goal-setting, organizing work into sprints and keeping track of progress on a regular basis. While the agile methodology is already common in engineering teams, Elizabeth says all teams can benefit from this approach and having agile coaches can help with the transition to sprints, short-term goal-setting, and all the other aspects of agile. 

Since employee tenure is decreasing, the agile approach also gives employees the ability to focus on goals they’re more likely to achieve during their time with a company. And Elizabeth finds that employees tend to be more engaged when they feel like they’re involved in planning their own future and contributing to the company’s growth.

Key leadership competencies for millennials and Generation Z employees

Growth mindset

First and foremost, Elizabeth believes in the importance of a growth mindset. If employees aren’t willing to learn or don’t believe they have the ability to improve, it will be difficult to convince them otherwise. Similarly, having self-awareness and emotional intelligence can really benefit employees, so Elizabeth recommends encouraging employees to reflect on their strengths or use external assessments like the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator.

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Giving and receiving feedback

Stacey believes that learning how to give and receive feedback is one of the most important competencies for all employees, but especially for millennials and Generation Z who may not have been coached in these topics before. When people haven’t learned how to give and receive feedback well, these conversations can be awkward, but “when it becomes routine, it feels more natural,” says Stacey.

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Storytelling is another key skill for millennial and Generation Z employees to develop. Stacey finds that effective leaders can help people connect to a company’s mission and purpose, and storytelling allows them to accomplish this.

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Given the trend toward shorter employee tenures, is it still worth investing in millennial and Generation Z employees and developing their leadership skills? Both Elizabeth and Stacey answered with a resounding yes. Elizabeth discussed the role that alumni can have on building your employer brand and making key referrals. Stacey mentioned the concept of Employee Lifetime Value and how providing learning opportunities can both extend employee tenure and increase engagement and productivity.

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