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What You May Be Getting Wrong About New Gen Z Employees Understanding the psyche of Gen Zers could enable us to recruit and onboard them more effectively.

By Tim Elmore Edited by Dan Bova

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.


Have you heard of the game Nomyx?

It's an online game you can play at any time with anyone. But, it's a bit different than any game you may have played in your past. Let me explain.

  • Nomyx is a game where you can change the rules while you play it.
  • In fact, changing the rules is the goal of the game.
  • Players can submit new rules or modify existing ones.
  • You win the game when five of your rules are accepted.

In many ways, this may be how life will feel as the newest generation of employees graces the halls of our workplaces. Now, Generation Z, is moving from backpacks to briefcases, and they bring a new vantage point and approach to their future careers.

Related: Generation Z: Are We Ready for the New Workforce?

In July, my organization, Growing Leaders, enlisted Harris Poll to survey more than 2,200 adults from various generations across the U.S. One stat stood out: 70 percent of adults say kids today will not be ready for adult life (i.e. life after grade school).

In short, we believe Gen Z will not be prepared for a job, at least the ones we have available for them now.

I believe we just may be unprepared for the new ways recent grads will approach the workplace. After all, they grew up in a different era than the millennials. While Gen Y grew up in an expanding economy during the '90s, Gen Z has never experienced a thriving economy. They are marked by a 21st-century culture of terrorism, recession, racial and political divides, corporate scandals, unemployment and global uncertainty.

So, let's examine some shifts Gen Z is making and learn about their generation. Understanding their psyche could enable us to recruit and onboard them more effectively.

1. Mainstream training is morphing into micro-learning.

Idea: Break down your onboarding time into short vignettes.

In 2000, adolescent attention spans were 12 seconds. Today, they are 6-8 seconds. Today's young adults have been distracted much of their lives. Herbert Simon said, "A wealth of information creates a poverty of attention." What if you offered short vignettes for your onboarding process? These can be done in 15-20 minutes each, then take a break. Gen Z is able to digest content better this way and will retain it longer. Give them one big idea: a point for their head and a picture for their heart.

Related: The Top 10 Employers Gen Zers Dream of Working For

2. Explanations are morphing into experiences.

Idea: Stop merely talking and create an experience.

Verbal instruction -- the proverbial talking head -- is so yesterday. I've found using the EPIC Model, which was pioneered by Dr. Leonard Sweet, is more effective: Experiential, Participatory, Image-rich and Connected. Offer an experience, and let them participate in where it goes. Furnish an image that represents the principle you want them to learn and let them connect with each other in conversation to apply it. Gen Z isn't looking for a "sage on the stage" with a lecture, but a "guide on the side" with an experience.

3. Downloading is morphing into uploading and gamified learning.

Idea: Give them an opportunity to create during the onboarding process.

Millennials grew up watching Youtube as consumers. Gen Z wants to create or curate that content. A growing body of research tells us that gaming is their favorite pastime when they're bored. So, what if you gamified your onboarding process? Once again, the training is not passive on their part, but active. Let them create. Let them collaborate. While millennials worried about GPA, Gen Z may prefer on-the-job training.

Related: Bashing the Stereotypes: What You Need to Know About Gen Z

3. The corporate ladder is morphing into the corporate lily pad.

Idea: Chop tasks down that they must work on -- and let them hop.

We've entered the gig economy and many Gen Z professionals prefer taking on a short-term project over thinking about a long-term position. Many hop from one "lily pad" to another, so they won't get bored. What if your onboarding challenged them to think in "projects" not "positions." Break down a role into smaller bite-sized bits they can wrap their arms around. This allows you to watch them before signing on for more -- like dating before marriage. Ease them in to longer term roles.

4. Didactic messages are morphing into iconic messages.

Idea: Anchor your big ideas with images, metaphors or visuals on a screen.

Our data reveals that the younger the candidate, the more at home she is on a screen and the more she says she learns from a screen. What if you leveraged an onboarding model that includes learning online and spoke her native tongue by anchoring your ideas with icons or images? Futurists tell us "images are the language of the 21st century." Our brains think in pictures; we remember them longer and they're worth a thousand words.

Related: 4 Ways Gen Z Will Change Company Culture

5. The need for managers has morphed into a need for mentors.

Idea: Offer developmental relationships in the onboarding process.

Those willing to go deep and genuinely coach Gen Z will earn their loyalty and retain them. The key is to manage by objective -- and to mentor more than manage. Mentor for both soft skills and business skills. Why is this significant? As a population, Gen Z is keenly interested in leadership, more so than the previous three generations. In a global study, Universum surveyed 18,000 members of Gen X, Y and Z, and discovered Gen Zers want to be "people leaders who serve the world around them." Our research reveals they want to do something that's "very important" and "almost impossible." Sounds like great people to have on board.

Related Video: What Do Millennial and Gen Z Employees Want in the Workplace?

Tim Elmore

President of Growing Leaders

Tim Elmore is passionate about understanding the emerging generation and helping them to become leaders in their schools, their communities and their careers. He educates adults to help them understand the challenges and experiences today's generation face and connect with them in a way that resonates.

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