Generational Engagement – Embracing Gen Y and Gen Z

New Age Workplace Principles Small Businesses Should Heed

Ian Kitchen
MBA Candidate Carlson School of Management – Global Business Strategy & Insights
Sr. Marketing Manager, University of Minnesota
Minneapolis, MN

As a burgeoning start-up, a small business, or even a medium to large business, none can refute the truth that in the next 5-10 years the workplace will be mostly compromised of Gen Y (millennials) and Gen Z’ers (the new wave of those currently aged 20 and younger). This paradigm shift in the workplace has already brought about much rearrangement, restructuring and upheaval of office and workplace standards and cultures of many companies. This has left many managers, managing partners and executives puzzled as to how they should structure their business and ultimately cater to a new, progressive, digitally-native and independent-minded group of new employees. As can be seen, many large corporations have the luxury of large budgets to internally restructure their culture and SOPs to better appeal to those now flooding the job markets—but the question remains, how do all the other businesses achieve this same goal on a more realistic and affordable scale? What can small businesses (SMBs) learn from these new workforce generations and how can the businesses implement new and appealing practices and culture that will entice the young generations to engage with them without necessarily breaking their bank accounts?

72% of Millenials state they want to be their own bosses. With current technology trends and the idea of remote operation, work and life today are intertwined—they have become one. Much of Gen Z has this same outlook that work and life should be evermore intertwined and fluid. In terms of solidifying a smooth balance though is the true struggle. From firsthand experience witnessing their parents’ loss of jobs during recessions, company loyalty has come under serious question. A majority 74% would rather work for themselves. Thus, for both generations being their own bosses and defining their own pursuits has become paramount. The idea of autonomy has been only furthered by technology allowing better remote function that more efficiently and fluidly melds work and life together. However, it is worth noting that with the great benefits of technology, Gen Z realizes the humanity in collaborative work and would often opt for in-person meetings, brainstorms, and discussions when possible. In better understanding these facts and appreciating the individual worth of each of these potential employees—their power and efficiency in autonomy—SMBs will be better positioned to retain them.

Research suggests that millennials and Gen Z’ers are headstrong, go-getters thirsting for what’s next in all senses of the phrase. A progressive, entrepreneurial-minded company that rewards fun collaboration yet maintains a hardworking culture while nurturing their growth will undoubtedly attract them. This is not to say that everything must be cutting-edge and progressive—although the more intelligent use of meaningful technology, the more appreciated—but rather that energy be focused on maintaining relationships with employees, generating meaningful and pertinent work through faster paced, responsive environments, and fostering constant company growth as to remain relevant to industry as well as the generations. The young generations want to see small businesses creating their unique spaces and setting their own trends and standards to meet demands of the industry—this in turn will create an exclusive culture worthy of retention. Current data suggests it costs thousands of dollars to replace millennial employees and increased turnover driven by Generation Z would only accelerate those costs. Thus, in order to future-proof your SMB, companies must consider the inner workings of their businesses and structure them accordingly as to entice young generations to remain loyal. It is not a one-size-fits-all model by any means, nor is the expectation to sell oneself and/or your business short by pretending to be something you’re not. In fact, it is exactly the opposite, businesses must value their domains and know what they stand for. To put it plainly, they need authenticity!

The new wave wants a culture and a company they can believe in and that speaks to their ideals and beliefs. In delivering on authenticity, you will have already appealed to them. “False and insincere organizational practices propagate the low tenure stats attributed to Gen Y and Z,” states Louis Efron in his Forbes article “Why Millennials Don’t Want to Work for You.” If they are not engaged and feel that their work and/or position is marginalized, consider them gone. For them to grow the company, they want to be a part of something special so be prepared to firmly state how your company’s work affects the world—how are you changing it?—and prepare to allow them to have a direct stake in that. They expect to have their hands on work that is deep, impactful and relevant—current challenges that face the world they live in today. Based on their entertainment preferences and general affinity to post-apocalyptic themes and unassuming hero story lines, they have developed beliefs that ordinary people can make a difference. If they feel a bond and connection to the organization—if it practices what it preaches while also investing in their employees (if even in small ways in caring about their well-being)—the employees, the ordinary people, are more likely to last and celebrate their workplace.

The future of your business will lie in the hands of the now maturing Gen Y and Gen Z employees. To appeal to them is insurance. In order to best gain their trust is to be true to yourself. It may sound more like a key to life happiness, but it translates to your business practices as well. These generations are most concerned with authentic companies, mentors and managers. Thus, in structuring both the company mission and the management, be mindful of how they are set up, ensuring that there will be inclusive and encouraging managers and checkpoints built in. From there it is imperative to not only give them the autonomy and space to grow in and out of the office, but also the encouragement found in the pillars of smart culture—collaboration, work-fun balance, flexibility and attention to individual work styles and schedules, and open, authentic communication.

In fostering their growth at your company, you are in turn fostering the growth of your company through their contributions. They possess the power to change the world for the better and they are the generations the most willing to do so. To win them over and to cater to their needs is to ensure business success and future immortality.


Satalkar, B. (2010, July 15). Water aerobics. Retrieved from

Osman, Meg. (October 2015). How the workplace needs to change for Generation Z. Retrieved from

Crouch, Bob. (May 2015). How will Generation Z disrupt the workplace? Retrieved from

Efron, Louis. (December 2015). Why Millennials Don’t Want To Work For You. Retrieved from

Ologie. (2015) We Are Generation Z. Retrieved from

On Marketing. (May 2015). Dear CMOs: Gen Z Doesn’t Need You, But They Can Help You. Retrieved from

Glum, Julia. (January 2015). Marketing to Gen Z: Millennials Move Aside as Brands Shift to Under- 18 Customers. Retrieved from

Bearne, Suzanne. (May 2015). 10 Things to Know about Gen Z. Retrieved from

Gramigna, Kristen. (August 2015). 11 Stats Marketers Need to Know About Generation Z.

Newton, Paula. (May 2015). How to Market to Generation Z. Retrieved from

Oster, Erik. (August 2014). This Gen Z Infographic Can Help Marketers Get wise to the Future. Retrieved from

© 2016 Ian Kitchen. All rights reserved worldwide.