Gen Z in the Workplace: Tips for Learning and Development Professionals

Gen Z workers have different career perspectives and priorities than previous generation. Here's what learning and development professionals need to know.

With the oldest members of Generation Z turning 26 this year, employers have discovered that these workers bring valuable digital skills and new expectations to the workplace.

Raised with ubiquitous online technology and shaped by the experience of coming of age during a global pandemic, Gen Z workers have different career perspectives and priorities than previous generations.

The Importance of Belonging

According to Steve Ockerbloom, a team development professional who’s been delivering leadership and professional development workshops to global Fortune 500 companies for nearly two decades, “Gen Z workers are just going through what every new generation does when entering the workforce: finding their footing and figuring out how they fit in.”

But there are also distinct characteristics to this cohort, says Ockerbloom. “While Gen Z workers value equality, diversity, and inclusion at work, I’ve noticed they also value belonging.”

An affinity for a place or situation or belonging requires a workplace to go the extra mile. “Belonging is a feeling that your background, experiences, knowledge, and capabilities are truly valued and being incorporated into the workplace,” adds Ockerbloom. “It’s not just someone telling you that your opinions matter. It’s feeling like that’s true.”

Ockerbloom cautions employers to recognize the difference between inclusion and belonging.

“Inclusion is feeling accepted and invited to contribute. But inclusion isn’t necessarily enough, which is something that managers and coworkers in older generations need to understand.”

Gen Z is the first generation to have 24/7 access to the internet, connected devices, and social media since birth. Gen Z grew up with technology at their fingertips; they’re used to having back-and-forth interactions and having their voice heard by pretty much anybody. As a result, Gen Z also expects that sort of access in the business world.

“They want access to higher-ups, their boss, and access to share their ideas. If not, they’re much more likely to move on to a different job.”

The Priority of Purpose

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median tenure of employees 25-35 years old is just 2.8 years. Gen Z workers are much like young Millennials in their openness to switching employers or even career paths if they aren’t finding what they value.

According to a report from SkillSurvey, nearly half of Gen Zers plan to own their own business and use social media and peer-to-peer networks to invent new opportunities.

And in terms of recruitment, Gen Zers aren’t as likely as Millennials to take the first job offered. “They’ve been known to ‘ghost’ recruiters and even employers. Gen Z expects to have an impact. Organizations that can articulate a higher purpose will have an edge when recruiting and retaining talent,” adds Ockerbloom.

Gen Z values making a connection between the work they’re doing and how that work helps others. Employers who need to hire entry-level talent to fulfill task-oriented roles may find it challenging to promote a role as a purpose-driven position.

“Learning and development professionals will need to help Gen Z employees connect the dots to show how their tasks benefit others. The companies that don’t do this are more likely to have high turnover as checking a bunch of boxes doesn’t feel like purpose-driven work,” adds Ockerbloom.

The Focus on Relationships

From a leadership standpoint, Boomer, Gen X, and even older Millennial managers didn’t grow up like Gen Zers. They generally don’t have the same professional expectations as these younger workers, but they need to understand them.

“I was talking with a person in Special Forces recently, adds Ockerbloom. “He was describing leading soldiers on military missions, many of whom were Gen Zers. He said that people don’t follow rank—they follow the individual. Rank can make people compliant and get them to do the minimum required, but it can’t make people want to follow. Leaders must understand that positional power doesn’t necessarily equate to personal power.”

Gen Z employees want leaders to use their positional power lightly and focus more on establishing their influence by building relationships early on. In addition, many organizations are becoming flatter.

Adds Ockerbloom, “Boomers and Gen X workers believe if they get the job done, they’ll have good relationships with the people around them. They’ll have an effective team. Gen Z believes that if you have good relationships with the people around you, then you’ll be able to get the job done better.”

Both groups focus on the task and the relationships, but in different order. Because of this, leaders may want to consider establishing relationships through one-on-one meetings with their Gen Z workers as quickly as possible.

The Role of Team Building

Team building and professional development programs can help organizational leaders manage talented young Gen Z employees more effectively, from welcoming them to the enterprise and developing their skills to retaining them over the longer term. Team building also demonstrates that their worth is more than the immediate value of their daily efforts and that the company is willing to invest in improving their skills and work life over the long term. It can help employees facilitate connections, integrate work with life, and ensure a sense of equality with their coworkers.

Adds Ockerbloom, “Unifying teams by creating a common sense of purpose, tackling complicated challenges together using communication, competition, collaboration, and problem-solving builds a strong culture of purpose and commitment. If employers want to establish committed relationships with their Gen Z workers, team building can be a great way to do it.”

Roy Charette
Roy Charette is managing partner of Best Corporate Events, North America's largest in-person team-building and virtual event company. For more information about building employee engagement and retention, visit