How to Engage Gen Z in the Workplace? [SHRM Keynote]

How to Engage Gen Z in the Workplace? That's why I discussed at a SHRM keynote, highlighting key strategies: job crafting, coaching, and personalization.
Daan van Rossum
Daan van Rossum
Founder & CEO, FlexOS
I founded FlexOS because I believe in a happier future of work. I write and host "Future Work," I'm a 2024 LinkedIn Top Voice, and was featured in the NYT, HBR, Economist, CNBC, Insider, and FastCo.
November 23, 2022
min read

Last week, I had the privilege to speak at the SHRM and AmCham "Future of Talent" event.

As the organizers shared, "in an unstable society driven by VUCA, the stories brought on by constant change combined with the growth of Gen Z team members has yet to fully play out. Companies face many difficulties with many new challenges never faced before, business is no longer as simple as it was in the past."

Following an impressive keynote from Jason Kan at Virtual Internships who presented about Remote Company Culture as a Product, I was asked to speak specifically about developing Gen Z talent.

I did that with a presentation titled "Every 3 Months a New Job: Developing Gen Z Talent." I'm happy to share it with our community here, as a lot has been said about the challenges of keeping Gen Z retained in their jobs.

Why this focus on engaging Gen Z in the workplace?

Sometimes we are overly focused on generational differences, especially with Gen Z.

However, I still clearly remember when we partnered with Decision Lab 3 years ago for our first "Gen Z and the workplace" study. At that time, this topic wasn't yet discussed widely. Many asked why I cared about such a niche concept at all.

My reason at that time still holds today. When designing offices and employee experiences, you need to understand who you're doing it for. With Gen Z often already representing 20-40% of organizations, it's critical to know them deeply.

The percentage of Gen Z's in the audience's organizations.

So we started listening through a quantitative study and then focus groups. The insights were illuminating. For example, Gen Z chooses a new job primarily to learn new skills and knowledge. They prefer to communicate via messaging apps rather than face-to-face. And most importantly, they want to come to an office that's comfortable and safe.

The need for personalization

Another key insight into Gen Z in the workplace is that they grew up with personalization. Their TikTok For You page is unlike anyone else's; if they need to hitch a ride, Grab already knows where they want to go, and open up any food delivery app around lunch time and it will guess perfectly what you want to eat.

If their entire world is so personalized, then why is the workplace still one-size-fits-all?

Enter the personalized career journey, purpose-built for the modern employee! Under the motto "Make Every Job a Dream Job," we introduced this approach two years ago at Dreamplex. I've since taken it forward to FlexOS.

Our "Dream Journey" is one where your job constantly evolves, just like yourself.

The core of the idea breaks down in a few steps

It starts with the onboarding day:

  • Clearly understand the company mission and values
  • Do a core values exercise in onboarding to know what your values are and how they link to the company's

Then, shortly after, there's an official kick-off of the first two months:

  • Write five goals for your first two months.
  • Align those with your manager and mutually sign off on them.
  • Use the first two months to put those goals into the context of how the business runs and how you see yourself within that.

After those first two months, there's an evaluation & goal setting:

  • In the final week before the two months end, sit with your manager and go through your goals. Did you hit every goal?
  • What was hard, and what was easy? What did you learn during this process? About the company, about yourself, about the job?
  • Fill out your Personal Development Plan – which speaks to your goals for the next 3-6-12 months and long term. Here, we work backward: if we understand our longest-term goal, we can also map out the steps leading up to it.

Checking in, evaluating, and adjustments (continuously):

  • Sit down every three months with your manager and go through your goals. How did you do on your goals this quarter? Did you set out the right goals? How do we evolve your plans based on the learnings you've gained over the past three months?

This way, not only does the employee take ownership of their journey, but they also become very purpose-driven. Understanding and living your purpose is essential, especially when life and work inevitably kick your ass.

Having a great pre-boarding, onboarding, and continuously evolving a team member's job may seem like a lot of work for busy managers and Human Resources teams.

But as the fantastic Flip-Flops and People Ops podcast episode about onboarding reminded me, it is manageable with a bit of process and practice.

Moreover, the incremental retention and job satisfaction will be worth it.How to deliver a new job every three months.

Tools for an ever-changing job.

Having set the stage, I shared with the audience three beneficial tools for delivering a constantly changing job.

Three tools for an ever-changing jobs that increases stickiness.

The first one, coaching, is fundamental to making constant change possible.

The second one, Job Crafting, is a great technique to evolve jobs constantly.

The third one, data & personalization, helps deliver changing jobs even more frequently than each quarter.

As I've shared here in detail about data and personalization to improve the employee experience, and coaching is a topic that deserves another newsletter, I'll focus today on Job Crafting.

Job Crafting: Making Any Job a Dream Job

In a great FastCompany article about Happiness at Work, author David Zax covered the now-famous study into job satisfaction by Yale professor Amy Wrzesniewski.

"Wrzesniewski spent a lot of time interviewing hospital workers. Not doctors, not nurses, not even administrative assistants, but the lowest on the totem pole: the people who cleaned out the patients' rooms each day. This was a classic "dirty job," she thought as she began her research, and surely all of the people she interviewed would only have bad things to say about it."

What she learned is that there were two evident groups in the hospital she did her research at. One group told her that, indeed, they had the unpleasant job of cleaning dirty rooms and floors in a place where people rather not spend too much time.

Another group however, reported differently. They described how they did the cleaning, but looked at is a way to care for patients and their families. They may be scrubbing floors, but as one janitor shared, they also "rearranged paintings in the room of a patient suffering from a coma."

Same job description. Completely different experience.

As the authors report:

"What these workers were doing, Wrzesniewski came to realize, was quietly creating the work that they wanted to do out of the work that they had been assigned–work they found meaningful and worthwhile. Wrzesniewski and her colleagues call this practice "job crafting," and they think it could be the key to happiness in all sorts of jobs."

Such a powerful idea. And it's something we can all learn from to make our every day at work more meaningful.

How to get started with Job Crafting

To summarize, Job Crafting means to "customize a job by actively changing the tasks, and interactions with others at work, and perception."

One of the leading thinkers on the topic of Job Crafting is Rob Baker, author of "Personalization at Work: How HR Can Use Job Crafting to Drive Performance, Engagement and Wellbeing" and Chief Positive Deviant of Tailored Thinking.

Rob explains: "We customize all aspects of our lives - our cars, our clothes, our coffees - yet one area of our lives we don't proactively personalize is our work." Gen Z, always looking for new ways to grow and develop themselves as people and professionals, would very much agree.

According to Rob, there are five ways to job-craft:

  • Task Crafting - tangibly changing aspects of how we undertake our work including designing, adding or removing tasks
  • Relationship Crafting - shaping how we relate and engage with others, including building and adapting our relationship with co-workers
  • Purpose Crafting - reframing how we think about our work in general including the value and significance it brings to us personally and others
  • Skill Crafting - developing, refining and focusing on new skills
  • Wellbeing Crafting - boosting our physical and mental health through the work we do
Tailored Thinking's Model for Job Crafting

We use this to guide our quarterly 'job redesign' sessions. It's a simple exercise in which we ask employees to come prepared with all their key tasks written on post-its.

Using the post-its of all ways employees spend their time, we can look at what work they'd like to do more of, less of, or keep doing. It's also an opportunity to bring in new tasks.

By continuously removing tasks that no longer feel right and using that to broaden other scopes or bring in new kinds of work, employees can stay in their role but still constantly have a sense of newness in their job.

A new job every three months, indeed.

I hope Job Crafting can be a helpful tool to keep your (Gen Z) employees engaged better and retained longer. But don't miss the opportunity to apply it to yourself either – Job Crafting is one of the tools I still practice frequently. Life is too short to spend time in a role that no longer fits your needs or desires!

A big thank you to SHRM, AmCham, Blanchard, Hogan, and especially Mary Tarnowka, Dan Bass, and Vanessa Ventura for the invitation to speak!

Thanks for making it through my presentation!

Have a great, ever-changing week.


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Future Work

A weekly column and podcast on the remote, hybrid, and AI-driven future of work. By FlexOS founder Daan van Rossum.