Leadership Matters | Fall 2019
5 Ways to Engage Millennial and Gen Z Talent
Here’s a hint: Millennial and Gen Z workers show deeper loyalty to employers who are sensitive and proactive about the issues that are important to them.
Jon Lokhorst, CPA, ACC
Executive Leadership Coach, Lokhorst Consulting
UNEASY. PESSIMISTIC. DISSATISFIED. SKEPTICAL. DISILLUSIONED.
These words from The Deloitte Global Millennial Survey 2019 should give every accounting
and finance leader pause. The morale and engagement of millennials (those born between
1983 and 1994), who will soon make up more than half of the global workforce, and Gen Z
workers (those born after 1994) who are making their way into our entry-level job openings,
stand to impact our organizations in countless ways. And the immediate concern now is
that Deloitte’s new MillZ Mood Monitor, a way to gauge younger workers’ optimism (or
pessimism, as the case may be) toward the economy, social/political climate, personal
finances, the environment, and business, is reflecting a mostly negative sentiment.
With a maximum score of 100 on the MillZ Mood scale, millennials registered a 39 and Gen
Zers a 40. You might be asking, “So what?”
Here’s the most relevant finding for business leaders: 49 percent of those surveyed would
quit their job within the next two years if they had a choice. It is the highest percentage
in the survey’s eight-year history—another increase from 2018 and a big jump from 38
percent in 2017. Dissatisfaction with pay, advancement opportunities, and development
opportunities top the list of reasons for potential near-term exits.
The appeal of the gig economy is another eye-opener. One-half of millennials said they
would consider joining the gig economy through contract or freelance work. More than 60
percent would supplement their current job with a side gig. Uncertainty and risk are the
primary holdbacks, but those perceptions could change if an economic slowdown forces
I regularly meet business leaders whose first inclination is to throw up their hands as if
there’s nothing they can do to please the younger generations in the workplace (that even
includes millennial leaders who are frustrated with their peers). So, let me offer a more
constructive response; here are five ways to engage your millennial and Gen Z talent.
1. PROVIDE INTERESTING EXPERIENCES
Younger generations value experiences over material possessions. In many instances, they
would rather travel and see the world than earn high salaries, own a home, or even start a
family. Recognize the importance of experiences and appeal to this preference when
planning work assignments and workplace social activities.
First, incorporate a variety of projects into workloads that challenge
staff and keep their work fresh. Consider adding paid time off on
either side of out-of-town projects to allow workers to visit the area.
Second, rather than a traditional office holiday or summer party,
plan a gathering at a local attraction or new venue. Escape rooms,
arcades, scenic boat tours, and improv comedy events are popular
activities around Chicago; discover what’s trending among the
rising generations in your workplace.
2. HIGHLIGHT YOUR SOCIAL IMPACT
Accounting firm owners and manufacturing company CFOs might
find it more challenging to articulate their social impact than a
nonprofit executive whose organization is providing clean water in
third world countries. Don’t give up. Identifying and communicating
the positive impact your team or organization is making in the world
is becoming increasingly important to recruiting, retention, and
Engage your team to trace their work to the ultimate customers or
constituents who benefit from it. A coaching client in the property
management business was able to expand her view from building
the wealth of investors to providing clean, affordable housing for
residents in her community. When I was a managing partner in a
CPA firm, a fast-food franchisee helped our staff see their work as
not just helping grow her business but providing jobs where her
stores were located.
3. INVEST IN PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT
Only one in five survey respondents believe they have all the
knowledge and skills to succeed in their future workplaces. That’s
not surprising. What is surprising is the disconnect between leaders’
and workers’ expectations of the responsibility to acquire the
necessary knowledge and skills. More than 50 percent of both
millennial and Gen Z workers feel it’s the responsibility of employers
and educational institutions to prepare them for success. In a
separate Deloitte study, business leaders contend the burden falls
on individuals and schools, not employers.
I suggest overcoming such a disconnect with a structured
professional development plan for each worker. Co-create the
plan by understanding the individual’s desire for growth and
advancement. Incorporate formal training, mentoring, and coaching,
along with stretch assignments. And don’t forget to remind your
team members of how they are growing and developing (they don’t
always realize it themselves).
4. OFFER FINANCIAL COUNSELING
You’ve certainly heard about the student loan crisis in America.
Please don’t assume that millennials and Gen Zers with accounting
degrees are experts in managing their personal finances. They may
be proficient with debits and credits but lack basic budgeting skills.
They may not understand the complexities of loans, insurance,
mortgages, retirement plans and investments, or the importance of
having a will.
Your annual benefits enrollment period is an excellent time to offer
financial counseling, training, or mentoring. Who wouldn’t benefit
from a deeper understanding of the typical health plan’s copay,
deductible, or coinsurance provisions? Or learning how to analyze
a home purchase versus rental decision? Or navigating a 401(k) and
all the investment vehicles available within it. All are great
opportunities to connect younger workers with those who have
experienced these scenarios.
5. ENGAGE IN MEANINGFUL CONVERSATION
Stereotypes and eye-rolls don’t help anyone. Instead, bring younger
workers together with leadership for meaningful conversation.
Practice active listening to understand what matters most to them
and how the organization can address those concerns. Be candid
when expectations and perceptions don’t align and find ways
to bridge the gaps.
You can start by seeking ideas to implement the first four tips in this
article. Host a discussion about the gig economy—some of your
staff may be dipping their toes into that water with a side hustle.
Maybe even explore ways to incorporate some of the benefits of
the gig economy in your workplace (flexible hours and work-life
balance are big ones). And be sure to help younger workers
understand the risk you absorb as the employer.
The good news out of Deloitte’s survey is that millennial and Gen
Z workers show deeper loyalty to employers who are sensitive and
proactive about the issues that are important to them. There’s a
strong correlation between workers who plan to stay and their
organization’s attention to community impact, talent development,
diversity, and inclusion, along with financial performance.
P.S. Other research indicates that Gen Z workers prefer bosses that
are millennials over baby boomers and Gen Xers. What are you
doing to develop these emerging leaders in your organization?