May 25, 2023
How to onboard Gen Z employees, and why it's one of the most important things to get right.
We’ve talked to countless extremely smart, capable People Leaders who are baffled by the influx of Gen Z into the workforce: what do they really want? Why do they switch jobs so much? How do we make them feel included? The bafflement, we can assure you, goes both ways.
As with any major generational change, Gen Z has a slightly different set of values. Combined with a whole new set of norms (most of our Gen Z peers have never worked a day in a traditional, completely in-person setting), it’s only to be expected that expectations will be different.
More than other working generations, Gen Z are both completely used to and traumatized by existing online. For all our digital nativism, we’ve also fallen into perilous disconnect and isolation. All of us went through a long stint of total, unnatural isolation during the prime of our youths, whether the last few years in college or the first few in the workforce.
But it turns out that we’re just people. Like everyone, we need to fulfill our basic needs, like food, water, and social connection. And like most workers today, we want to work at a place that values us for who we are—a place we feel we belong.
Gen Z turnover is high. There isn’t a good way around it. Part of it is just being early in our careers and trying to find a good fit. The other part is that the meaning of work is a much bigger question than just compensation and benefits.
Work is where many of us find our meaning, our community, our purpose. It’s where we learn and grow and eventually self-actualize. Companies invest in us with compensation and learning. We invest in them with a third of our lives. It makes sense that we’re picky about it.
What exactly are we picky about? We’ll start with the hierarchy of needs. Compensation is important but in most cases a binary: we either feel that we have enough or we don’t. Community is huge: if we don’t feel connected, there’s very little else holding us to the organization. Growth potential is the biggest factor: if we feel like we’ve learned all we can within a company, then there’s nothing left for it to give.
All three can be boiled down to a simple set of questions:
Trying to retain us forever is only going to end in disappointment. Instead, a good goal is to take the pain out of regular turnover while reducing premature turnover. And the most important place to do this is easily during the onboarding process. It’s where precedent is set, impressions are formed, and introductions are made.
Understanding the role of onboarding:
POV: after talking to our peers, here’s approximately what it’s like to be a Gen Z new hire at a distributed company:
Step 1: Excitement: you got an offer, you’ve worked for this, and even though you’re a little uncertain, you couldn’t be more excited.
Step 2: Anxiety: on the flipside, you’re totally nervous. You’re not sure that you belong—in fact, you’re completely confident a mistake has been made.
Step 3: Confusion: between paperwork, new tasks, and putting faces to names to roles, you don’t know where to go or who to ask for help. And you’re not quite sure that you’re doing anything right.
Step 4: Impostor syndrome: you feel like a fraud—like you don’t deserve to be here and someone’s going to find out that you don’t know how to do anything right.
Step 5: Accomplishment: Over time, you gradually get the hang of it. You start to feel like you know what you’re doing, and your impostor syndrome is slowly turning into confidence.
As a new hire manager, HR partner, or team manager, a couple small things can go a long way while onboarding Gen Z. Ultimately, it comes down to humanity and authentic connection. See for yourself!
Remember, onboarding is where the employee experience begins. If you do it well, you’ll get new hires up to speed faster, foster connection, and reduce premature turnover. But more than that, you’ll bolster the sense of community all across your entire organization—not just for new hires.