How Can Leaders Support Gen Z Employees?

August 21, 2023

Generation Z, the oldest of which are now into their mid-20s, comprise still a relatively small proportion of the overall workforce today. That involvement, however, is set to grow naturally over the next couple of decades.

Understanding younger workers, what they are looking for and how they fit into modern employment practices is key for businesses of all sizes. Research shows that these individuals have clearly defined wants and needs separate from their predecessors.

What all employers and top managers must consider is that, while Gen Z may have a slightly different worldview than older generations, they are still going to be leaders of the future. The question then arises as to how these individuals are supported and encouraged in the workplace to achieve their full potential.

The shadow of Covid

On top of understanding the possibilities for Gen Z employees and finding effective strategies to develop these, it’s important to also understand the role the Covid pandemic has played in recent years.

The experience of many who have recently dropped into the workforce is a lot different to their predecessors – their first introduction to your business may have been through remote working and we should not dismiss the impact this has had. According to the Harvard Business Review:

“For the rest of their lives, the time the world stopped will be seared in Gen Z’s collective memory, a generation-defining moment that instilled deep fears about their uncertain future.”

It’s critical for business owners, managers and CEOs to assess the long-term effect of this start on Gen Z’s working life and how it might influence behaviour and career development in the future.

With businesses mostly back to normal operation now, it’s time to review what Gen Z employees have missed out on and how this can be repaired. This is particularly vital for those who started work during the pandemic itself and may need additional onboarding, however late in the day, as well as other support.

Leaders of today supporting leaders of tomorrow

There’s no doubt that today’s leaders, from CEOs and managers to business owners themselves, have a challenge in helping future Gen Z leaders to develop. There needs to be a proactive rather than reactive approach in identifying and then supporting individuals to help them achieve their career goals.

In short, reactive approaches tend to wait for the potential future leader to emerge. Proactive strategies look for the best in us from the start and help create a much larger pool of effective leaders because they have the support from the outset and no one falls out of the system.

The importance of onboarding

Standard processes such as onboarding for new employees should be about building community and getting to know people rather than a procedure-driven exercise the aim is to learn about rules and regulations. In other words, it’s not a box-ticking exercise but something that has real proactive value to the individual and the business.

The emotional basics

There’s growing evidence that Gen Z is perhaps more in tune and democratic in their emotional responses than perhaps previous generations. Two-thirds want to align with companies, for example, that take good mental health in the workplace seriously.

Emotional resilience is a critical factor when you are developing leadership roles and careers. You need it to survive and thrive.

It’s good that more and more businesses are investing in greater health and wellbeing in the workplace but they also need to follow it through. Key areas that Gen Z may need support in developing include:

  • Helping potential leaders to focus on their emotional makeup and how this is likely to drive them in the future.
  • Exploring their sense of self and how this fits into the wider world.
  • Finding ways to be open about how others see them in the workplace and the impact this is likely to have.
  • What value systems the individual has and how these may complement or conflict in their chosen career.
  • Developing honesty and integrity. Successful leaders need to nurture authenticity and this can’t happen without a large degree of emotional intelligence and honesty.

Leaders, like all of us, need a sense of purpose but this is unlikely to be fully developed in a Gen Z employee who may still be working to make sense of the workplace itself. This process doesn’t happen overnight and supporting young workers from the outset is key in helping them develop organically, positively and swiftly.

Skills building

Of course, a key part of supporting and developing Gen Z employees is how businesses and organisations build their skill levels. Continuing professional development is as important as ever – skill requirements are in constant flux as new technology, ideas and research come online practically every day.

When it comes to leadership potential, having a clear strategy for skills development is critical in modern businesses. This may mean developing in-house solutions, building connections with education providers and other support externally and introducing approaches such as mentoring, all of which will have a huge impact on individuals. Businesses may also look to rotate and challenge Gen Z employees in new roles so that they have a more rounded experience as well as offering strategic career support.

It’s vital when setting out a strategy that we understand how this is going to help the individual – there is no one-size-fits-all scenario. Mentoring should be a key focus in this development. Research shows us that if someone is coached or mentored well it can greatly speed up their development.

Stress Management Solutions

As we’ve already mentioned, good mental health is something that Gen Z are very aware of and building strategies into your business to support this among the workforce is essential. According to the Health and Safety Executive, there were more than 800,000 people at work affected by stress, anxiety and depression in 2020/21.

A situation that was almost routinely swept under the carpet until recently, is now taken much more seriously by businesses. Research from the American Psychological Association tell us that Gen Z report higher levels of stress and anxiety than previous generations and this is something that has to be addressed by businesses in all sectors as a matter of priority.

Opportunities vs Stagnation

Finally, one of the key components in creating leaders, Gen Z or not, is finding opportunities and not allowing them to stagnate in their roles. Again, this comes down to being proactive and identifying career paths with timely intervention for advancement based on merit and performance.


Gen Z and those among them who will be the leaders of the future have had their challenges as new members of the workforce in the past few years.

For businesses looking to develop leadership potential, proactive strategies that not only overcome the stagnation caused by the pandemic but positively support CPD, as well as emotional development, is key.

Editorial Team
We share the latest news, updates and information from Horton International and the executive search industry.
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