Generation Z Is Changing How Work Gets Done

Kathy Gurchiek By Kathy Gurchiek June 21, 2017
Generation Z Is Changing How Work Gets Done

NEW ORLEANS--Klein Tools, a family-run manufacturer of hand tools for electricians, needs to think about where it's going, said Aimee Carey, its HR information systems and compensation analyst.

"That's who will start entering the workforce," she said of members of the generation born between 1994 and 2010 who entered the workforce for the first time in 2016. This generation is expected to make up almost one-fourth of the U.S. workforce by 2020, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

Her plan: arm herself with information to propel a conversation with managers on the importance of providing a collaborative environment, workplace flexibility, and more-frequent and more-substantive feedback to the company's 1,000 employees, whose workforce employs multiple generations.

"We're trying to be creative and provide what we think employees want tomorrow instead of giving them what they want today," she said. The company has headquarters in Lincolnshire, Ill., and its Advanced Manufacturing Technology Center in Mansfield, Texas.


Forget the annual review. Generation Z employees want highly engaged managers and regular feedback, according to a 2016 study from multinational HR consulting company Randstad. Even though they grew up with technology and use it to get things done or share an experience with friends, they "crave" in-person communication for feedback and to collaborate with co-workers, advised session presenter Jim Link, CHRO at Randstad.

Through the study, Gen Z and Millennials Collide@Work, researchers found that:

  • 28 percent of both Generation Z and Millennial employees prefer feedback from their manager after every project, assignment or task.
  • 26 percent prefer weekly feedback. 
  • 20 percent prefer daily feedback. 
  • 1 percent want to wait until the annual performance review to hear how they're doing. 
They especially are interested in managers who listen to their opinions, value their ideas and mentor them, the study reported. "If you haven't adjusted your feedback process, you need to do it," Link said. "They get everything else in their life in real time."

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When employees receive regular feedback, the company benefits as well, the study found. For example, at top-performing companies, 29 percent of Generation Z and Millennial employees said they receive feedback from their manager after every project, assignment or task, compared to 11 percent of those at underperforming companies. And 22 percent of those at top-performing companies said they receive daily feedback, compared to 16 percent at underperforming companies.


Employees no longer are recognized for what they know but instead for how they share that knowledge—with their team, the company and beyond, Link noted. "When these folks get things done … it's a collaborative venture" using digital devices to crowdsource or to access an online community, he said. However, only 12 percent of executives understand how their employees work together in networks, according to the Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends 2016 report

Leaders will need to adjust their expectations of what the organization needs to do to facilitate collaboration, including rethinking workplace design with a more open concept featuring shared workspaces and alternative seating arrangements. In Randstad's recently revamped Amsterdam headquarters, for example, there are no landline phones—a recognition of the communication tools people use, and don't use, to work.

Effective collaboration, Link said, also will include knowledge-sharing tools, IT systems that support those tools, training in their use, and management and leadership principles that support collaboration.

"As we start employing this workforce we're going to have to look at how we communicate with employees and increase flexibility in the way they work," Klein's Carey said.  That will require using technology to collaborate in how employees work, where appropriate, she added.   

Technology = Communication

"If you're not online, you do not exist," Link warned employers looking to recruit members of the younger generations. "If you don't have a YouTube channel as a company, you're done," and that's also true for Snapchat, he added. "That's how these folks are talking to each other," and these are the tools organizations need to use to approach potential job candidates, customers and clients if they want to grow their businesses.

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Generation Z and Millennial employees working at top-performing companies also are more likely to want their employer to incorporate new technologies, such as wearables and augmented reality. Augmented reality allows workers to approach tasks in new and different ways, Link explained.

At Boeing, for example, researchers developed an alternative method for employees on the factory floor to access expensive diagrams and marking devices by creating a head-mounted apparatus that would display—through high-tech eyewear—specific schematics of a plane they were working on and project those schematics onto multipurpose, reusable boards.

"Any organization seeking to recruit, engage and retain these generations will be hard-pressed if they aren't incorporating emerging social and digital technologies into the workplace," the Randstad study found. But it's not as easy as simply providing access to these tools. These generations also struggle with the distractions of such technologies: 84 percent said technology tools may distract them from getting their work done.

It's a fine balance—especially, Link noted, for a generation that thanks to technology has never known a world where a person could not have a conversation with anyone, anywhere and anytime.   

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