Commentary

How To Engage The Empowered Teen Employee

As the U.S. economy and job market has improved, so have the prospects of today’s teen employees. Generation Z has more employment options now than in the last five years, when they first entered the job market. It’s easier now for teens to leave their jobs for a better opportunity or if they feel that their current role isn’t a good fit.

And as we have seen many times recently in the news, disgruntled teen employees can wreak havoc. PR fiascoes involving Domino’s Pizza, McDonald’s and Wendy’s demonstrate how unhappy employees can easily create derogatory videos that go viral. Social media has empowered teen employees to sabotage the reputation of their employers.

At the same time, hiring teens is about to get more expensive. While the federal minimum wage hasn’t changed since 2009, many cities and states—including New York City, California and Seattle—have approved an increase. Teen labor isn’t as cheap as it used to be, and employers need to get more value out of it.

So how can employers navigate today’s rapidly changing teen employment landscape where talent is harder to find and more expensive to hire? These four tactics can help:

1.Provide frequent feedback.

Growing up with the Internet, teens are used to getting real-time feedback—and lots of it. Their education and co-curricular activities have also made them used to receiving constructive criticism and acting upon it to improve their chances of success.

“The big thing for employers to consider is that Gen Z actually wants to be mentored and managed,” says Tom Turpin, president of employment agency Randstad. “Gen Z places a tremendous amount of value on an employer’s ability to mentor and teach them.”

Annual reviews are insufficient if you want to help your teen employees improve. They will better appreciate regular feedback that they can use to hone their technical and business skills. 

2.Communicate your purpose.

A 2014 study by Randstad and by the management consulting firm Millennial Branding shows that Gen Z employees aren’t strictly motivated by money.

“We found that Gen Z appears to be more entrepreneurial, loyal, open-minded and less motivated by money than Gen Y,” says Dan Schawbel, founder and managing partner of Millennial Branding. “These attributes are important because if you want to hire, engage or sell to Gen Z, you need to emphasize customization, incentives for loyalty and training and development over money.” 

To motivate Gen Z employees, employers need to prioritize meaningful work over money, according to Schawbel. That’s why employers need to communicate the greater purpose of the work that their teen employees perform. Sharing your company values and reiterating them through cause-marketing programs such as donation-matching or volunteer days can be a great motivator for your employees.

3.Tap into their expertise.

Nobody in your organization is more conversant in technology trends than your youngest team members. They grew up with the Internet and have an expert sense of what will resonate on social media. Whether helping you set up your Twitter account or telling you about Vine and Snapchat, your teen employees will feel empowered when you exploit their expertise.

Another tactic is to implement two-way mentoring, where teens are paired up with senior execs to get business leaders up to speed on the latest tech and social trends.

4.Engage them in a two-way dialogue.

Check in regularly with your staff to make sure they’re satisfied. An ongoing dialogue with your employees can stop an issue before it escalates. If you provide a forum to talk about workplace issues, employees might be less inclined to broadcast their grievances on social media. Use tools such as employee engagement communities to build a two-way relationship with your staff and track satisfaction levels over time.

Talking to your employees can also drive innovation by helping you identify your next billion-dollar idea. If your business sells to teen customers, your teen employees are a valuable source of customer intelligence about your target market.

Conclusion

Teen employees are motivated and resourceful. If you treat them right, they can be your biggest allies and most vocal advocates. In order to earn their loyalty, however, employers need to a deeper understanding of this new generation of employees. Two-way engagement with your teen employees is one of the best investments you can make as an employer.

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