How to Empower Your Young Workforce and Create a Thriving Work Environment

Patrick Antinozzi

Let's get something straight here. This isn't going to be one of those "back in my day" speeches that Grandpa tells you every time you stop by to watch the ball game and have a cup of coffee.

I'm not here to indulge your nostalgia and longing to return to "simpler times". (talk to me in private though, because I do love a good rant)

No, this article is about embracing new philosophies and ideals that, at first glance, may seem completely counter-intuitive.

The world changes fast. As time passes and technology advances at an incredible pace, the gap between how generations view the world grows ever larger.

This is no different when it comes to retail.

Retail sales associates are generally made up of men and women under the age of 37, with 39% being under 28.

But, if you think this is going to be another post about Millennials and their unique needs, you're mistaken. Because, as you've probably noticed, the year is now 2017. (!) Which means we're now getting into Gen Z territory.

What the heck is a Gen Z?

hiring young retail workers

A member of Generation Z is someone who was born after 1995. Since we're now in 2017, this would make anyone under the age of 22 a Gen Zer.

The retail industry is often where young people get their first job opportunity, which means you're going to be hiring a lot of Gen Zers going forward.

Gen Z folks share a lot of similarities with Millennials, but there are a few key differences.

6 differences between Millennials (Gen Y) and Gen Z

  • Even less focused. Didn't think it was possible did you? Gen Z has grown up in the information age. Going through their day-to-day lives with constant notifications and alerts has led to even greater difficulty focusing on tasks at hand.
  • Extremely adaptable. There's a positive side to everything. (at least, if you're one of those "optimists") While Gen Z has a hard time focusing, it also means they have developed the ability to pivot on the fly. Regularly transitioning between work and play, having multiple screens open at the same time, and growing up on a rapidly evolving internet means Gen Z has no interest in being stuck in the past. What's hot right now? Ask a Gen Zer.
  • Early starters. Many young people are entering the work place at a younger age and carving their own non-traditional path to the top. Higher education is not what it used to be. A university degree is no longer the job guarantee it once was, and you can learn a heck of a lot of useful skills for free on the internet.
  • Greater entrepreneurial spirit. Gen Z desires more independent work environments. In fact, 72% of high school students and 64% of college students want to start a business someday.
  • High expectations. Millennials grew up on Minesweep, standard definition TV, and dial-up internet. Gen Z is growing up in an incredibly high-tech, fast-paced world. If something isn't happening fast, they think something is wrong.
  • Craving individuality. Gen Zers want independence and individuality. They don't mind working for a business, but they don't want to have to sell their soul to do it.

Alright, now that we've reviewed what young people are looking for in a great job, let's talk about how you can meet their needs.

6 ways to empower your young workforce and build a thriving work environment

1. Help them embrace their short attention spans. Multi-tasking isn't necessarily the best way to conduct work. It is usually better to focus on one individual task until completion. However, the retail environment often requires multi-tasking. You will regularly find yourself answering phones, greeting customers, and processing payments simultaneously.

This is why it's extremely important to track all interactions with customers with a tool that makes it as seamless and automated as possible. It should come naturally and fit perfectly into their work flow.

2. Allow them to use their favorite tools to stay on top of trends. Things go from 0 to 100 real quick these days. (so much so that apparently no one says that anymore, so I've been told)

Staying on top of, and capitalizing on trends is an important aspect of great retail. No one saw the massive hit Pokemon Go coming, and even fewer predicted that Sprint would integrate it so heavily in their marketing strategy. *cough* except us *cough*

3. Don't write them off because of their age. Nothing gets Gen Zers going more than someone who dismisses them simply because of how many years they've been alive on this planet.

And really, who can blame them? No one should be written off for something so trivial. Sure, they may lack the experience, but they will often more than make up for it with their passionate desire to learn.

4. Give them room to breathe. Assign them a task, then leave them alone. True knowledge isn't about knowing everything. You want someone who has the ability and drive to acquire the knowledge necessary to complete a task.

Don't lurk over their shoulder and watch them like a hawk either. Give them the space to get the job done, and you'll be pleasantly surprised by what they're capable of.

5. Take their feedback, and use it. Gen Z also wants to be heard. They have grown up in the age of social media, and have no problem sharing their opinions and viewpoints with the world.

They should feel comfortable and safe enough to share their feedback with you, even if it's critical. Schedule regular 1:1's with them and offer them the ability to schedule those themselves. Your door should always be open to them.

6. Encourage and nurture individuality. There's a reason why "brand ambassadors" and "influencer marketing" are things now. People buy from people they trust, and they'd rather follow humans than businesses.

Individuals can gain their own followings and bring those customers to whichever business they choose. Invest in tools and create policies that give your team the ability to embrace their true selves.

Your customers will love it.

About the Author

Patrick Antinozzi

Patrick is our Content Specialist / Brand Ambassador / Internet Geek. He's got his finger on the pulse of business and retail trends, and loves writing in various corners of the internet. When he's not doing that, you'll find him traveling the world, playing hockey, or ranting about the Montreal Canadiens.

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