Keeping Gen Z engaged: What the first year on the job should look like

Gen Z first year working remotely

In the age of social media and instant gratification, Gen Z is known to easily lose their focus – and let’s be honest I think with all the distractions at home, we’re all a little off our game. Julie Develin told me in a recent eSymposium session that nowadays the average person loses their attention after about 8 seconds. 8 seconds. A goldfish has the attention span of 9 seconds. Wow. Let that sink in.

I've already talked before about overcoming the unique challenges of remote or restricted onboarding in my last post, as well as my own experiences onboarding at UKG as a member of Gen Z, but let's be real – there's a lot that happens after onboarding is done.

So what should the first year for your Gen Z new hires look like now? Unfortunately there's no exact formula, but here are 4 ways to keep your new hires engaged and make their first year a little more manageable even with the challenges we're currently facing:

1. Establish rules of engagement

Ensuring meaningful contact with leaders and managers is imperative during disrupted times with a remote workforce, so make sure to establish the rules of engagement with your Gen Z new hires. College life and the corporate business world don’t always go hand in hand. Things that you might expect to be obvious might not necessarily be so to Gen Z.

As a quick example, one of the biggest mistakes I used to make was not hitting reply all on an email. In college I was so accustomed to deliberately ignoring that email function so I wouldn’t email my entire class. However, at work I needed this to loop my manager in on my assignments.

It's vital that your direct report knows what is expected of them, especially in this remote work environment. Until now, most Zoomers have never really experienced any kind of remote work. So, what do they need to know about your expectations? Take time to consider this and communicate appropriately to new people on the team. Ask yourself a few questions to uncover what matters most:

  • Do team members need to check in with you every morning and night for a certain period of time or will you let them have complete autonomy?
  • What time are they required to sign in? Or is their schedule flexible as long as they complete their hours and get their work done?
  • Do they get a lunch break or other designated breaks during the day?
  • Are they required to clock in and out using your HR systems? If so, how? Is this something they can do on a mobile device?
  • What tasks should be completed each day, and how do those evolve as they grow in their role and take on more responsibilities?
  • What other boundaries of engagement are you setting up? For example, do you have an open door policy or will you set up office hours?
  • What kinds of clear performance standards can you put in place for the first year of employment that reflect both development and business goals?

Some of these questions may seem a little silly, but they are important to consider and communicate to your direct report. A recent Gen Z graduate might not know that they have to take at least a half hour lunch break based on your state's regulations, or that they're supposed to be the notetaker at the meetings, or a lot of other small tasks you may take for granted unless you make that clear to them. And if these small things build up over the course of a year, it may lead to performance conversations where your Gen Z team members feel unfairly treated, which can snowball into a retention issue.

Communication is key – as it is in most areas of life. It's better to overexplain to your new hire exactly what it is you expect of them, even after onboarding is finished. This could save some mistakes down the road and make things a little easier on your Gen Z employee as they begin to grow in and manage their new role.

2. Keep up with regular check-ins

One of the biggest challenges of going through your first year remotely is the lack of face-to-face communication. You can’t just pop by someone’s desk with a quick question; it requires 4 email drafts, 7 IMs and about 20 minutes of deciding who the best person is to contact (okay not really, but sometimes that’s what it feels like – I know that's true for me at least). Knowing how to proceed with a first job at home with no one around to help is somewhat terrifying.

Consider daily check-ins with your new hire through their first year to help alleviate some of this anxiety, or start daily and move to weekly as they get more comfortable. During these check-ins they can ask all the questions they need to and catch up on how they’re doing onboarding or working on different tasks. These few moments also provide some much-needed social interaction. It doesn't have to be a long discussion – even 15 minutes or less per day can make a huge difference since Gen Z thrives off regular quick feedback.

3. Prioritize work-life balance

Just because your Gen Z employees' new corner offices are the corners of their bedrooms doesn’t mean that they need to be doing work 24/7. Mental health isn’t usually talked about in the workplace, but now the line between home and work life is blurred. This muddled line can have detrimental effects on employees’ mental health – especially new hires when they are adjusting to life post-grad. That is why it’s necessary to remind your direct reports that the job is not the end all be all.

If your employees see you responding to an email at 9 o’clock at night, they might feel inclined to do the same. That’s why you should remind your employees – and maybe yourself – to set some boundaries, and create time for hobbies, friends, and family.

We know from the Workforce Institute at UKG's research that nearly a third of Gen Zers believe they're the hardest working generation, but they also demand flexibility to do that work. Make sure if possible that you allow some wiggle room with when they start or end their days, and remember like I just said that they're likely to work overtime if they see you doing it. This goes back to our earlier boundaries conversation, too – make sure you also set the right ones in this area to avoid burnout.

4. Provide opportunities for remote socialization

Although technology has created ways for us all to stay more connected, it can still be awkward meeting new people and establishing relationships over a video call. One of Gen Z’s biggest fears is how to make friends at work. When you can’t go grab a cup of coffee together or have team lunch how are you supposed to make meaningful connections? That’s why it is so important for managers to provide opportunities for remote social interaction.

Remote happy hours and virtual team lunches are great ways for your new hire to continually learn more about team members by doing more than just talking shop. Establishing meaningful connections in the workplace is something that is extremely important to Gen Zers. They want to feel like they’re a part of something bigger than themselves.

Try to think of new and creative ways to get everyone on your team engaged, not just Gen Z. Maybe you have a group message of just work memes, or some sort of daily question you come up with to get everyone talking. These can create a sense of camaraderie on the team, helping people feel like they’re getting some social interaction instead of feeling isolated from their coworkers.

Conclusion: For Gen Z, onboarding is just the tip of the iceberg

Speaking from my own experience, starting a new job isn’t easy, and knowing what's needed to keep that job in your first year is even harder. Living in the midst of a pandemic can make keeping good team members – especially those new to the workforce like Gen Z – a challenge. Use these tips to keep the experience at your organization engaging even after their onboarding process is complete. If you've got other questions about remote work, Gen Z, or anything else related to getting through the last leg of 2020, check out our Managing Through Times of Uncertainty resource page for more tips.