How to Lead and Retain A Generation That Feels Wildly Underpaid

A new generation is entering the workforce and they bring high expectations with them. Gen Zers, those born between 1995 and 2010, are overestimating how much they will make after college by more than $10,000, according to a 2019 Clever report. The longer they’re in the workforce, the higher those expectations go. By mid-career, approximately […]

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A new generation is entering the workforce and they bring high expectations with them. Gen Zers, those born between 1995 and 2010, are overestimating how much they will make after college by more than $10,000, according to a 2019 Clever report. The longer they’re in the workforce, the higher those expectations go. By mid-career, approximately ten years post-college, they’re overestimating their pay by $15,000. 

These unrealistic salary expectations make it more challenging for leaders to meet Gen Z’s needs from the start of employment. Making it more likely that Gen Zers will feel underappreciated, less engaged, and could leave companies at a higher rate. 

Of course, salary isn’t the only important workplace factor to Gen Z employees. These youthful employees are even more purpose-driven than millennials. Beyond that, they are looking to make a future for themselves by growing in the workplace. 

Today’s leaders must understand how to meet Gen Z’s workplace needs and keep them engaged, especially when they can’t meet candidates’ high salary expectations. Here are three ways you can lead and retain Gen Z employees to help them achieve satisfaction in the workplace:

Assess their strengths

Gen Zers are enrolling in college to increase their earning potential, according to the previously mentioned Clever report. Unfortunately, 43 percent of Gen Z students surveyed by Dell Technologies don’t believe their education prepared them well for their future careers. 

Consider what this misalignment does to this generation’s morale and confidence. Disillusions about salary potential combined with the belief that their expensive education didn’t prepare them for the real world culminates with both frustration and fear.

Frustration and fear lead to panic. Employees then feel the need to constantly job search as they look for a role where they’re guaranteed to succeed. Of course, as a leader, you know success grows from an employee’s core strengths being nurtured and put to use to achieve success. 

To calm Gen Zers fears of being underprepared, assess their strengths, then show them the correlation between the strengths they possess and what the company needs. 

Once they’ve gained the confidence that they have the innate strengths you’re looking for, take them to the next level. Map out personalized paths to success that show them how they can reach their salary goals faster. 

Put them on a lifelong learning path

Gen Zers may seem money-hungry, but they’re not looking for a handout. These youthful workers understand the modern workforce’s need for new skills — and they’re willing to put in the work to earn them. 

Actually, 76 percent of Gen Z professionals feel that the skills essential in today’s workforce are different from the skills necessary in past generations, according to a LinkedIn report. Those who are looking to improve their skills say they’re doing it to improve at their job (62 percent), make more money (59 percent) and get promoted (46 percent). 

These tech-born natives have watched the AI revolution change the way people work. They understand their current role may not exist in the same form 20 years from now. With this foresight, they’re taking a proactive approach by becoming lifelong learners. Their ongoing and voluntary pursuit of knowledge is helping them stay abreast of changing workforce trends. 

Leaders must facilitate Gen Zs quest for knowledge. Employees looking for opportunities to discover the future are valuable assets. Empower them to take control of their future through ongoing learning opportunities. 

Start this process by hosting discussions with your team during weekly meetings. Promote learning and skill development opportunities as ways for Gen Zers to upskill, so they improve at their job, make more money, and get promoted. 

For example, if their current goal is to reach a managerial position, discuss how their current experience aligns with the role. Then, explain how partaking in specific learning and development opportunities will fill in experience and skill gaps. This provides tangible and realistic learning goals to work towards as they plan for growth. 

Provide time and resources to give back

If you thought millennials were purpose-driven, wait until you see the power of Gen Z. Nearly half (47 percent) said they want to make a positive impact on their society and community in a Deloitte report

However, they don’t want to make positive societal changes on their own. Gen Z employees want to see that their companies are also dedicated to giving back. One way you can do this is by allocating additional PTO for employees to volunteer during work hours — provide guilt-free time and resources to use towards their efforts. 

Buffer, for example, offers PTO for employees to volunteer. They have the opportunity to take one or two half-days per quarter to volunteer or serve in any capacity they’d like. Their PTO also allows for both travel and reflection time before employees are expected to jump back into work. 

Seeing your organization’s commitment to giving back keeps Gen Zers engaged. Ultimately, their engagement increases their desire to stay on board and to continue working to make a difference both internally and externally.

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