Gen Z woman holding a tablet standing behind a checkout counter in a clothing store

How to Manage Generation Z: What Retailers Need to Know

Every Generation is Different—Here’s How to Help the Latest One Entering Retail’s Workforce Thrive

They’ve been called the iGeneration, Homelanders, Post-Millennials, and Zoomers, but the name that seems to have stuck is Generation Z. 

Generation Z is the cohort of people born roughly between 1995 and 2010, and are most often the children of Gen X-ers or Millennials. Now, they’re joining retail’s workforce, with many more of them set to follow in the years to come.

Gen Z is currently the largest generation on the planet, making up 32% of the population—that’s 2.47 billion people. And like the cohorts that came before them, Gen Z-ers have a distinct approach to work.

With the upcoming flood of them entering the labor force, now’s the time to learn how to manage Generation Z in the workplace more effectively.

Generation Z Characteristics in the Workplace

  • They’re considered “digital natives” and are incredibly adept at using technology
  • They crave human connection more than their Millennial counterparts
  • They’re more careful than generations before them
  • They want stable employment, and are less likely to job-hop
  • They’re ambitious and take pride in their professional achievements

These can be great qualities to have, especially as brick-and-mortar retail continues to adapt and evolve. If you’re able to nurture younger employees, these attributes will work to your company’s advantage.

But retailers often wonder, how do you manage Generation Z in the workplace? And what do Gen Z employees want out of their jobs?

To help you motivate and engage Generation Z at work, here are five things you need to know to make them an efficient and positive addition to your retail team.


How to Manage and Train Generation Z in Retail

Generation Z retail employees working in a clothing store

  • Communicate Creatively and In a Variety of Ways

Gen Z-ers have grown up with the omnipresence of smartphones and information that’s transmitted instantaneously. So, they know how to shoot off texts in seconds or conduct video calls on-the-go. And although they also crave face-to-face human interaction, they reportedly only have an 8-second attention span. Yikes.

A variety of communication methods will keep them engaged, as long as you make messaging short and to the point. 

Rather than sitting in hour-long meetings with your Gen Z employees, send out direct messages or broadcast important announcements and information they can read instead. Fast and frequent updates are more easily digestible than long, drawn-out information dumps, and can be sent directly to them through retail communication software.

It’s worth noting that 98% of Gen Z own smartphones, and 50% of those use them for 10+ hours a day. So, when you need to communicate with them, definitely think mobile-first.


  • Celebrate Diversity

According to the Pew Research Center, Gen Z is the most ethnically and racially diverse generation ever to exist. They’re also the best-educated generation to date, as well as the most accepting. 

They want to see diversity reflected in their workplace—77% say that the level of diversity at a company affects their decision to work there. And diversity makes significant positive contributions to the workplace. (Deloitte research found that “high-performing teams are both cognitively and demographically” more diverse.)

Cognitively speaking, problems are best solved when approached with a variety of mental frameworks. Some people are strongest at assessing risk or predicting outcomes, while others excel at evaluating the human effect on a particular situation. A combination of these thought processes generally leads to a better, fully-formed solution to a problem.

Hiring a team with different ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds provides a wide array of knowledge and experience and encourages everyone to challenge their existing perspectives and preconceptions.


  • Skip the Flashy Perks

Unlike their millennial counterparts, Gen Z employees aren’t so easily persuaded by the promise of free snacks and casual dress codes. They’re career-driven and willing to put in hard work to achieve their goals.

So, what do perks look like to a member of the Gen Z cohort working in retail? They’d prefer job security, learning opportunities, and health insurance compared to other more common rewards, like discounts on products.

Gen Z-ers measure personal success based on professional accomplishments. Titles like “employee of the month” and a reward of one-on-one mentoring with management are likely more appealing to them than receiving a coffee shop gift card because they met a sales target.


  • Help Them Manage Stress

Growing up watching older siblings and parents struggle through student debt, job scarcity, and a major recession may have taught Gen Z to exercise caution and work hard. But that doesn’t mean the pressures of modern life are any less stressful.

Though Generation Z is the most likely to report and seek help for mental health issues, the American Psychological Association reports that 73% of Gen Z-ers feel they could have used more emotional support over the last year. On average, Gen Z is more stressed out about work and money, among other issues, than the majority of adults.

That’s a lot to deal with, and it’s not possible to shut it all out just because they have to come to work. So, making sure there are resources at work to help them cope is essential. Access to and benefits for counselors or other mental health professionals, resources for stress-reducing activities like yoga and meditation, and a culture that values self-care can go a long way towards helping Gen Z manage its collective stress.


  • Provide Constant Feedback and Training

Generation Z is hungry for approval, having grown up in the age of Instagram likes and TikTok views. Rather than annual performance reviews, they’re more receptive to weekly—or even daily—feedback. 

Quick verbal praise can let employees know what they are doing well. Send direct messages or publish posts through company communication platforms highlighting an employee’s work to show your appreciation.

The latest cohort to enter the workforce also likes on-the-go learning opportunities. They grew up with YouTube videos giving them instructions for anything and everything you can imagine, so they prefer short, succinct directions. 

Gen Z relies heavily on visual learning, so graphics, video clips, or in-person demonstrations are generally most effective when teaching them new skills. Share a photo of a well-executed display or a video walkthrough to help train staff and set benchmarks or expectations for the whole team.

Once they’ve acquired new skills, give Gen Z-ers the chance to take on additional responsibilities. Many of them are willing to embrace multiple roles within their job, especially if they work for a company they believe in and want to succeed.


Unexpected Challenges

This year has upended everyone’s lives, but Generation Z is uniquely affected because so many of them are in the midst of completing school or just entering the workforce. Classes are being administered in unusual ways, and job opportunities are hard to find, leaving Gen Z-ers without a lot of guidance during the transition from school to work life. As such, it’s imperative that leaders provide additional training and increased mentoring opportunities for their newest hires.

In addition to skills training and physical health and safety measures implemented in stores, pay attention to their mental health and the anxiety caused by the pandemic. As mentioned, Gen Z is already predisposed to stress, so it’s especially important to take care of them as they continue to serve the public during such a difficult time.

On the bright side, Generation Z’s already high levels of empathy, adaptability, and resilience have only been heightened during COVID-19. By building up their existing strengths, Gen Z will prove to be a powerful force in the retail industry for many years to come.


More concerned with Millennials? Click here to learn how to manage Millennials in retail, and visit our Resources section for more tips, tricks, and how-tos.


About the Author

Sarah Murphy is a content marketing specialist with a background in journalism. She lives in Hamilton, ON, where she is mom to a 13-year-old wiener dog named Penny. When not watching bad reality TV, she’s probably chasing squirrels out of her garden or baking cookies.