Startups and the Gen Z Worker: A Match Made in Tech Heaven

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The latest phenomenon in the world of business big and small is that workers are quitting in droves, in a movement that has come to be known as “The Great Resignation.” Driven in large part by the realization that most jobs can be achieved working from anywhere, as has been enabled by the Covid-19 pandemic, workers are quitting their current jobs for positions that offer lifestyle benefits ranging from job flexibility to increased salaries. In fact, according to a recent study by Bankrate, 55% of Americans expect to search for a new job within the next 12 months.

Like the pandemic itself, The Great Resignation is causing companies that have adhered to a traditional work model to re-think their approach to work. Rather than relying on organizational structures that prioritize in person teams and are centered around a single headquarters with satellite offices dictated by geographic needs such as proximity to current customer bases or expansion plans, nearly every industry has been challenged with creating the same impact and efficiency relying on a virtual workforce and a more hands-off approach to management. It has become a given that team members across all levels of an organization will be self-motivated and trusted to do the jobs they’ve been hired to do.

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Nowhere has this autonomy been more impactful than with younger workers — Gen Zers (those between ages 18-24) and Millennials (aged 25-40). Gen Z are the first ever digital natives born into a world of peak digital innovation that places information at their fingertips. This has fostered an unprecedented level of empowerment when it comes to acting on ideas and building businesses. So, it’s not surprising that this generation now seeks workplace environments where original thought and new ideas are valued.

In the book, Gen Z @ Work: How the Next Generation is Transforming the Workplace, father and son authors David and Jonah Stillman describe how this access to technology has created a DIY generation of intrepid entrepreneurs who can literally have a business up and running, from the idea stage to launch with a website and social media accounts within 24 hours.

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This convergence of generational characteristics and shifting market dynamics accelerated by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic which upended the traditional corporate workplace model puts startups in a strong position to vie for Gen Z talent. Here are some key considerations for startups looking to attract this conscientious cohort.

Leave the ego at the door

Gen Z expects their thoughts and contributions to be considered and respected. As a leader, this can be contradictory to traditional leadership models that are based on a top-down managerial approach with the most experienced leaders directing the more junior team members. Today’s successful leaders are those who actively and consistently seek input across all levels of the organization. This is critical for businesses in general and is especially key in a fast-paced startup environment. By integrating practices such as allowing key meetings to be run by younger team members rather than the most senior and sharing critical issues across the organization to allow younger staffers the opportunity to imprint on possible solutions you’ll be in a strong position to offer a setting where younger team members can learn, contribute, and thrive. The key is to be an engaged and empowering member of the team rather than a director.

Foster an environment that celebrates trying

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Make it known that your organization encourages everyone to have the fortitude to question the status quo and try new approaches. The ideal environment in a startup is one where leaders don’t agonize over inevitable missteps. Instead, it’s encouraging to celebrate that team members are willing to try new things in their effort to achieve excellence. The startup environment thrives when we accept that failure is a part of the journey. After all, startups are generally making inroads in uncharted territory. A recent study by Harvard Business Review found that employees experience higher job satisfaction when they feel free to play and experiment within their roles. So, it’s best if teams try, learn fast and move on.

Communicate your “why”

After surveying over 20,000 workers, researchers behind the Harvard Business Review study concluded that the “why” behind the work directly correlates to how well employees work. With Gen Z, this is especially important because it demonstrates that leaders respect their inherent desire for information. Additionally, companies that prioritize values that align with issues Gen Zers care about such as sustainability, racial equality, and mental health  will benefit from higher engagement from members of this group. Most of all, a startup that makes the end goal or the “why” behind these actions clear will create an empowered team resilient enough to take on the next challenge.

Share and receive feedback

Feedback is a gift and, because they have grown up in a world where technology has been a catalyst for fast and sweeping transformation in the way we live, younger employees are generally more open to change than generations before them. Also, because technology has given them unparalleled access to information, they are accustomed to being able to educate themselves at the click of a button. This dynamic creates a rich environment for constructive feedback. By staying open to feedback and sharing it without judgment or threat of ongoing resentment, startup leaders will foster a culture of mutual respect in the workplace.

There is certainly no silver bullet solution for startups to attract and retain exceptional Gen Z team members who offer an ability to learn quickly, adjust to change, and can provide an insightful world view. But by creating a culture of mutual respect where all experience and ideas are valid, team members are encouraged to try without fear of judgment, and all are open to learning and changing course, when necessary, startup leaders can put themselves in contention to add the best, most resilient talent available to their workforces. In the current environment, fostering this inherently synergistic relationship between the Gen Z cohort and startup companies and brands can lead to great success and help shape the future of entrepreneurship.

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