Three Doable Ideas to Retain Generation Z Team Members

By Tim Elmore


When I talk to managers who say they lose young team members almost as quickly as they hire them, I am troubled. Corporate managers are asking a recent graduate to join a workforce that seems impersonal, like they’re a cog in the machine. While we know it’s tough for those young team members to make the leap from backpack to briefcase, I’m convinced we can take steps right away that are simple and practically guarantee we will retain good people when they join. Whether you’re an educator, a youth leader or an employer, these steps could be game changers. 


1. Make Their First Day Unforgettable.

The first day on the job should not be a set of bureaucratic activities on a checklist. It should be a peak moment they want to share later with family and friends. Research from Jason Dorsey,  President of The Center for Generational Kinetics, shows that a growing number of both Millennials and Gen Zers make up their mind whether they’ll stay at a company on their first day. Did you catch that? On day one. Their generation has short attention spans and, like other generations, they make choices based on a reaction rather than on reflection. A dull first-day leads to the conclusion that this will be a dull place to work. 


Solution: create moments on their first day or first week


The folks at John Deere, in Asia, chose to do just that. Their HR staff collaborated with their customer experience team and created a plan called their “First Day Experience.” Shortly after an employee accepts a job offer, they get a note from a “John Deere Friend” welcoming them to the community. It shares the best place to park, what the dress norms are, and that Anita will be in the lobby to welcome them when they arrive at 9:00 am. Upon arrival, she points to a flat screen on the wall where the new person’s name is headlined and welcomed. When they arrive at their desk, there are balloons, and a welcome banner, which also notifies employees there is a new “hire” to be greeted throughout the day. Sitting on the desk is a gift. On their computer screen are the words, “Welcome to the most important work you’ll ever do.” A letter from CEO Sam Allen is already in their inbox that closes by saying, “Enjoy the rest of your first day, and I hope you’ll enjoy a long, successful, fulfilling career as part of the John Deere team.” Finally, Anita has also arranged to host the new hire for a lunch to answer questions. 


The result? The new employee feels they belong there.


2. Establish personal connections early.

Whether they’ll admit it to you or not, data shows that Gen Z members want meaningful relationships at work. While they’re more astute at connecting with others on a screen, they desire connections with people in which you both know more about each other than mere professional information. They’ve watched older generations make “deal friends” not “real friends” at work and with clients. It’s all transactional. Gen Zers believe “that’s for Boomers.”


Solution: Initiate coffee meetings to get to know each other personally. 


Too often, we assume a new team member wants their privacy or is an introvert. Perhaps they are. This shouldn’t stop your organization, however, from asking to take them to coffee or a meal just to get to know them better. The new hire doesn’t have to disclose much, and the message is sent: we want to enjoy a relationship with you that is more than transactional. I know several organizations that systematically set up weekly coffee or lunch appointments between new staff and veterans. In our office, we provide free food for our team, with only one rule: you cannot take the food and eat alone. If people want to enjoy a free lunch, they must do so with others, which fosters community. We even encourage them to converse about topics that are not work related. (Note: if people want to work during lunch, they can certainly go out and get food themselves). 


These intentional connections build bridges rather than walls between older and younger teammates. Different generations often embrace a different vocabulary, practice different customs, or embrace different values. Old and young find it harder to connect. It’s work. These personal interactive times nudge everyone to do that work. As a result, people find how much they have in common. It’s difficult to dislike someone up close. 


3. Illustrate how you need them.

This is just good behavioral science. People tend to stay where they feel needed and wanted. Most employers assume they do a good job at this, but most young employees say otherwise. Many leave their current workplaces because they feel they’re replaceable or unnecessary. People stay when supervisors and colleagues remind them of the importance of their work and how much they are needed. One out of every two employees only feel “somewhat valued” and one in ten don’t feel “valued at all,” according to a January 2023 report by Workhuman. In its monthly Human Workplace Index, 46.4% feel a lack of appreciation. Notably, 48.8% of females surveyed said they feel undervalued. This is especially true for Generation Z, who has been used to constant feedback from video games or constant affirmation from parents.


Solution: Place reminders in your calendar to note how young teammates are doing and affirm any progress and production


Many older managers despise this idea, feeling staff should not need constant encouragement to do their job. In a perfect world, that’s correct. But we don’t live in a perfect world. In Generation Z’s current state of anxiety and stress, they often wonder if they “fit” in a new workplace. If we want to keep them, we must tell them they matter. S. Truett Cathy, founder of Chick-fil-A, asked: “Do you know how you can tell someone needs encouragement?” He would pause, then answer his own question: “They’re breathing.” I keep a stack of personal stationary on my desk and write thank you notes consistently to teammates. If I am out and about, I’ll text people when I notice something. As a young employee myself, I worked for John Maxwell. He would write notes specifically telling me he noticed what I did and how much time it had saved him. I still have several of those notes today, forty years later. 


If Generation Z could summarize what would keep them on a job, they’d likely say what any of us would say as young employees: “If you want to keep me, show me how much I mean to you.”


Three Doable Ideas to Retain Generation Z Team Members