How to Manage Employee Disengagement Among a Gen Z Team


In a 2017 study by Full Potential Group found that 20 year olds(Gen Z) were the least likely to be motivated at work with a full 33% saying that Work/Life balance was a key demotivator. Since we have yet to define what work/life balance looks like from person to person, I’m going to hazard that work is demotivating and that they would prefer to living their life.  Balance has little to do with it.

What’s truly interesting is that 51 years olds(Gen X), scored the workplace as 7.7 out of 10. They found they were motivated by flexible hours, challenging work and freedom to make decisions. They might describe work as an exciting part of life, and they have the flexibility to balance the two.

We could conclude from the study that those starting their careers do not have the luxuries and freedoms of those much later in their career and, as a result, can not balance work and life to the same degree.

What does it mean for a leader looking to improve morale?

Do you give these freedoms to team members just starting on the career journey? As a leader, what can you do to improve motivation and job satisfaction?  Let’s dig a little deeper.

Let’s start with three ways to recognize when your team or individual is not engaged and not motivated.

1. Listen

You’re looking for negative language.  What words are being used to describe the product, the business, the team, the leadership?  Does the language swing to the negative side of the scale?  Listen for feelings that imply they are along for the ride. Do they feel they do not have input, and that ideas and trends just come and go? The language will reflect a lack of control and purpose.

2. Watch

Low morale is demonstrated with low engagement. You’ll notice little to no initiative.  If your team waits for you to tell it what to do, you have low morale and reduced job satisfaction.  You also notice low productivity and poor performance.  Your team will show up less often to work, and they will have more “sick” days. 

3. Measure

Performance is an excellent measurement of morale and engagement. As a leader, what gets measured improves. If you notice the team is missing targets, missing deadlines, and not meeting quality expectations, you should start looking at job satisfaction. Missing project deadlines and making more mistakes by the team or an individual implies engagement is declining.

What do you do?

We now have some easy ways to identify a potential problem. What do you do? Throw a pizza party? Give out an employee of the month award?

Start with taking the time to find out what’s important to each team member. What does balance look like for them or what career goals do they have? When work becomes part of life instead and not an interruption, it becomes easier to balance. When a team member feels they are moving towards a bigger goal, one they have control of, they stay more engaged.

Setting correct expectations is vital. We feel unhappy when our reality falls short of our expectations. If I expect $1,000,000 and I receive $100,000, I am unhappy. If I expect $10,000 and receive $100,000, I am happy. The same amount was received, and the expectation was different. Explain to your team that the current entry-level job they are in is a grind; you once had a similar position. As a leader, you are committed to helping them build the skills, experience and knowledge needed move to the next stage of their career, with the agreement they stay committed and engaged in doing their best in this position. 

When you are 20 years old, 5 years to move ahead is 25% of your current life span.  It seems like forever.  When you are 50, 5 years seems a whole lot shorter.  It took them 4 years for high school, another 4 years to become a college graduate, can you blame them for thinking they can be CEO in another 4 years.  A new expectation needs to be set.

Reward the team and individuals.

Reward your team, as both a team and as individuals, when they show engagement and initiative. That which is rewarded will be repeated. 

Public recognition is a motivating reward. A powerful way to show a person is valued is to take the time to call them out for doing a great job, holding to company values or sharing a great idea.

Use positive language.

Use positive words and be deliberate about your language. Positive language is especially crucial at the individual level. Langauge that focuses on them is best.

Find a common enemy

The last tip is to create a common enemy. It sounds counterproductive, and it’s not. A disengaged team has nothing to rally around. They don’t feel like they have a purpose or a direction. They don’t feel like they are in control, and they feel leadership is to blame for that. The enemy of my enemy is my friend. If you create a new common enemy, you are now on the same side. That common enemy can be a competitor. It can even be another department if framed around healthy competition and respect. The point is to give your team common ground and goals that they have control over.

Final thoughts

Morale and engagement is a big problem in today’s workforce, especially with Generation Z and Millenials. These two generations are looking to contribute and expect levels of co-operation and inclusion that can often be at odds with the current status quo of how business has been done in the past. As mentioned earlier, happiness is the GAP between expectation and reality. Close the gap, and you’ll have an engaged and motivated team.



Each person has a natural communication style.
Understanding yours can and will impact how effective you are when dealing with friends, co-workers and clients.

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