JUST WHEN managers feel they have gotten the hang of inspiring and leading subordinates, the rules change. Generational research alerts us to significant shifts in employee expectations. We are now dealing with Generation Z. What was good yesterday may not be optimal tomorrow.


How can one improve the success rate at reaching Generation Z in a motivating way? Estimates indicate this group numbers more than 25% of the total population of the U.S. While still relatively new to the workplace, at approximately age 22 and younger, they will be a generation that will require employers to do things differently in order to meet their motivational needs.

For businesses to succeed at motivating their employees they must attune themselves to differing styles of communication, among several other critical variables. Long gone are the days where everyone at a certain leading computer maker wore dark suits and white shirts, always, and television and print media served as the prominent sources of news and entertainment.

Even more digitally-connected than Generation Xers or millennials, Generation Zers are estimated by some to, on average, use their smartphones over 15 hours per week, and the Center for Generational Kinetics estimates that usage is five hours or more per day for over 50% of this group. Gen Zers use their smartphones more than any other type of device, but they also employ iPads, tablets, laptops, desktop computers and TVs, and social media is an integral part of their daily lives. The Pew Research Center has defined Generation Z as those born after 1996 and as the most ethnically and racially diverse generation in our nation’s history. So how do these facts help us better understand this population of up and comers?

Adjusting to Gen Zers will be a challenge for many employers and educational institutions, yet it will be important to adapt in order to engage what will become a very large part of our society as they mature and advance in their careers. Have a plan that supports the individual’s growth. Technology will certainly play a big part in motivating this tech-savvy generation, as will the ability to satisfy their basic psychological needs for autonomy, competence, and relatedness based on their particular lifestyle preferences.

For starters, we all want to have a say in how we go about and influence our work, our schooling and our environment. Generation Zers are no different, but thought will have to be given as to how to best receive their input and act on it, in a timely manner, in order to satisfy their need for autonomy. Self-monitoring their work for improvement opportunities is preferable to today’s norm of formal performance evaluations, which typically occur well after the events discussed. Allow appropriate influence in setting goals. Use respectful, assertive, not aggressive, speech. Offer flexibility regarding work-life balance. Autonomy satisfaction approaches will differ based on the environment, but it is reasonable to say that keeping a sharp eye on technological solutions will be also be key.

In the area of competence, Gen Zers are accustomed to swift and ongoing communications and answers to their questions. Their digital world moves quickly, and slow-moving, non-communicative situational experiences are very likely to frustrate their expectations in a work or educational environment. Build in optimal challenges to their current abilities and knowledge. Provide a context of consequence, a purpose for why their work makes a difference. Strong mentoring relationships may help them to better succeed in not just trying to be catalysts for change, but also in better assimilating into the flow that exists, and learning ways to thrive in it. Be sure that expectations are clear and progress is measurable.

Preparing managers, and others in authority roles, to gain insights into the world of Gen Zers will help satisfy their need for relatedness or connectedness. Build a culture of shared recognition and rewards. Provide opportunities for members of one team to occasionally be assigned to another work unit to permit exposure to new learnings and relationships. Arrange for the company’s participation in community improvement projects. Use the company’s social media outlets to build a sense of community. Since they already have a propensity to connect digitally, these media can be employed, but it will also be important to have in-person interactions. Like generations before them, they need to know they are valued and their contributions matter. One-on-one meetings allow for that.

Motivation transcends whether someone is a millennial or a post-millennial. How we go about meeting the specific psychological needs we all have can ignite intrinsic (or self) motivation, which is characterized by enjoyment and endurance. The manner by which we approach efforts to stimulate motivation requires imagination, intuition and knowledge of varying life experiences.

Dr. Paul P. Baard is an organizational psychologist, specializing in motivation, with Fordham University; a former senior line executive in the television industry; and the lead author of a book on leadership and motivation. He and Veronica Baard, a former managing director responsible for HR at a major international investment banking firm, head up Baard Consulting LLC, a firm in the greater Boston area, focusing on motivation, conflict reduction, and team building. Questions are welcomed at pbaard@baardconsulting.com.

Saturday, January 18, 2020