Onboarding Gen Z: How to Connect with the Most Connected Generation

 Onboarding Gen Z: How to Connect with the Most Connected Generation

Gen Z Generations at Work Hiring

Integrate relationship-building, upskilling, and flexibility into your welcome when bringing on new Gen Z employees.

How warm is your workplace welcome?

Great Place To Work research has identified “hiring & welcoming” as a key leadership behavior critical to a successful employee retention strategy. While onboarding is not the only factor, it can set the tone for an employee’s entire tenure with your organization.

This is especially true for Gen Z, a generation that’s both anxious from uncertainty and hopeful for the future.

Employers hiring those born between 1997 and 2012 need to be aware of the unique experiences and expectations of Gen Z in the workplace — and how those factors impact their onboarding experience.

3 ways Gen Z’s upbringing influences the workplace

“Every generation has a unique backdrop of society that it grows up in,” says Dr. Meghan Grace, co-lead of the Institute of Generational Research and Education and a senior consultant with Plaid LLC, an organizational development firm that focuses on learning experiences.

In Gen Z’s case, she says, three factors stand out as defining characteristics: technological advancement, global connection, and high-stress uncertainty.

1. Gen Z has experienced rapid technological change

“When we look at what was going on with Gen Z in that time period, it’s rapid technological innovation, faster than any other period in time,” says Grace. “That is the only real way they’ve known how to connect with the world.”

As such, Gen Z is not just extremely skilled at learning new technology — they expect it.

For example, Gen Z is the generation most likely to have used AI in the workplace. But at the same time, they’re already more worried than other generations about being replaced by someone with better AI skills, according to a February 2024 study by D2L,

Dr. Grace says Gen Z isn’t necessarily afraid of tools like AI, but they are very aware of how new tech will change the way they work — and they want to learn it.

“It’s ‘Can I be nimble? Can I learn skills that are transferable to a variety of different spaces and different industries,’” she says. “It’s not just, ‘I’m gonna be a doctor — I might need to be a doctor who can also manage a TikTok account that educates people on health issues.’”

Gen Z may be incredibly tech-savvy, but they’re also worried about what they don’t yet know. As such, they’re seeking employers that will give them those opportunities for ongoing learning and career development.

2. Gen Z has developed high empathy

While all generations face changing technology, Gen Z’s experience of it has broadened their worldview from a very young, formative age.

It used to be that high school represented your entire social circle, explains Dr. Grace. But with social media, Gen Z has broadened their networks in an unprecedented way.

For example, maybe someone had a niche interest and were the only kid in their school to care about that. But online, they could find a community with peers from different backgrounds.

They’ve also watched world events — from wildfires in Australia to the conflict in Gaza — unfold in real time, narrated through social media by young people just like them.

“Something that’s unique is that they can understand the human experience around the globe much more than previous generations can and feel that empathy,” says Dr. Grace. “They are more aware of what’s going on in the world geopolitically than previous generations.”

As such, Gen Z is seeking workplaces that align with their expanded worldviews and offer them the chance to make a difference.

"Gen Z more aware of what’s going on in the world geopolitically than previous generations."

“They’re hopeful for the opportunity to take on jobs that have meaning, that create impact for other people,” says Dr. Grace. “Gen Z is channeling their activism in their personal lives and want to work for companies with social alignment.”

3. Gen Z has faced global uncertainty

Older Gen Zs were early adolescents when the 2008 U.S. recession hit — meaning at the time when they were dreaming about what they wanted to be when they grew up, they were also overhearing adults worry about layoffs and unemployment.

Then, while the oldest Gen Zs were in college or graduating into the working world, the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Classes and office jobs shifted online, forcing them to miss out on important social development. Many Gen Zs worked frontline jobs in retail or hospitality, where they faced furloughs and safety concerns.

Dr. Grace says this backdrop has left Gen Z with a lot of anxiety — but also a willingness to be nimble out of necessity.

Take our hypothetical medical student, who sees science as a stable career path, but is open to biomedicine and integrating AI or new technology into their work. Dr. Grace says they may then also broadcast their journey through medical school on social media for monetization.

“They are truly financially concerned, stability concerned,” says Dr. Grace. “And so, they’re utilizing everything in their toolbox to make sure they’re not going to be hit with financial uncertainty. They have the ultimate ‘Let’s prepare for the next rainy day’ mindset.”  

While Gen Z has a reputation for job-hopping, it’s not because of short attention spans or disinterest. Rather, they’re switching jobs in search of financial security — higher pay, better benefits, and better growth opportunities.

"They have the ultimate ‘Let’s prepare for the next rainy day’ mindset.”

Employers that offer perks such as health insurance and retirement savings plans will appeal to this generation’s strong desire for stability.

5 tips for successfully onboarding Gen Z employees

Given Gen Z’s unique worldview and experiences, it may not come as a surprise that some of the things Gen Z wants most in an employer are:

  • Relationship-building: The chance to connect with their colleagues as friends and mentors.
  • Skills development: The opportunity to learn and practice new skills that will help them in their career goals.
  • Workplace flexibility: The ability to shape their work life in a way that complements their personal life.

Here’s how to integrate these elements into your onboarding process:

1. Set up a buddy or mentor system

For Gen Z, the nuances of workplace interaction, such as communicating with multiple generations and working alongside new perspectives different from their peer group, was learned from behind a screen.

“I think that’s something they’re very cognizant of, that that’s a gap that they have,” says Dr. Grace.

She recommends pairing up Gen Z employees with a buddy who they meet with regularly. This could be just a friendly face who can answer questions they may be too scared to ask of their direct manager, or it could be a more formalized mentorship with someone who has similar career goals.

2. Offer a thorough training plan

Gen Zs are keen to learn. They are OK with acknowledging what they don’t know and will appreciate getting to try new things hands-on.

“They are sponges for skills,” says Dr. Grace. “They are seeking the ability to stack more things into their toolbox because they don’t know what skill they’re going to need down the road.”

Rather than relying solely on an all-in-one training session, consider bite-sized training and refresher opportunities. This kind of training aligns with the fast-based content delivery that Gen Z has become accustomed to online.

For example, if an employee is working on a new task for the first time, you could set up a 10-minute chat over coffee to walk them through it or send them a Loom video that guides them through it step-by-step.

3. Show what success looks like

Gen Z has grown up with a lot of uncertainty — which is why they want clarity in a new job. That includes knowing what’s expected of them today in the role, as well as what their path to success looks like.

When do reviews happen? Is there a checklist they can follow to achieve a raise or promotion? Setting transparent milestones early on will help to ease Gen Z’s concerns about stability and success.

“I can’t stress enough how much transparent leadership matters to this generation, and they want transparent leadership pre-hiring through onboarding,” says Dr. Grace.

4. Promote purpose

Great Place To Work research has shown that purpose in the workplace is one of the key factors that determines whether an employee will stay or quit.

Employers can win over and retain Gen Z employees with a meaningful company mission. In fact, Gen Zs are three times more likely to remain with an organization if they perceive their work to have “special meaning,” underscoring the significance of genuine commitment over mere lip service.

“Something that should actually start in hiring is talking about how their role and the work that they will do will have a bigger impact,” says Dr. Grace. “Why do we exist and why does this specific role play a part in what we achieve?”

Gen Zs are three times more likely to remain with an organization if they perceive their work to have “special meaning.”

5. Embrace flexibility

Great Place To Work’s research on employee retention strategies has found that employees are three times more likely to stay with an employer when they can choose between remote, hybrid, or onsite work.

While all generations are seeking flexibility these days, “this is a generation that has said it at a much earlier age,” says Dr. Grace. “They’re identifying that work is not their entire identity like previous generations have.”

Good onboarding is a business imperative

Proper onboarding isn’t just a nice to have — it’s essential for an engaged workforce.

“New hires are some of the most expensive to replace because you’re oftentimes replacing many of them multiple times a year,” says Dr. Grace. “The approach to onboarding needs to be incredibly holistic because when employees have barriers — even slight barriers or slight frustrations — those are the things they remember.”

Access our report, Unlocking the Secrets of Employee Retention, to find out how you can predict and prevent turnover in your workplace, including a special section on keeping Gen Z happy at your company.

Claire Hastwell