Embracing Gen Z – Practical Tips for Leaders Engaging the Gen Z Workforce

Jon Hobgood

Vice President, Engineering, Integrated Supply Chain at Honeywell

Learning Objectives

In 2030, Generation Z employees will be over a third of the workforce. These early career employees need to be engaged differently from the generations before. Hear the perspective of a leader of teams that has hired over a hundred Gen Z engineers. Walk away from this presentation with practical guidance to improve the effectiveness of your engagement of Gen Z employees!

Key Takeaways:

  • Gen Z employees will soon be the majority of your workforce - you need to engage them differently

  • You can create the environment to successfully engage Gen Z team members

  • Practical tips to be more effective leader of Gen Z employees

"They're used to getting information quickly and processing it. You really need to think about engaging them, providing feedback and providing recognition at a much more rapid rate."

Jon Hobgood

Vice President, Engineering, Integrated Supply Chain at Honeywell


Hello, hey, let’s take a moment and talk about how we need to embrace the newest generation of team members entering the workforce. People that us as leaders, we need to engage them a bit differently from the people in our teams from before. And I’d like to start out just sharing with you talking about Alex. Alex here is one of our early career employees. I’d like to share he’s an automation engineer. And actually we have him here. Looking at an HTF engine when our HDF family of engines, we put these on Honeywell aerospace aircraft for our customers, then bombard the challengers 303 50s Gulfstream G 280s, Embraer aircraft Cessna, you name it in, you can see he’s got some real world glasses that Honeywell offers for connected worker. And Alex basically picked these up and then an hour figured out how to use these things. And we’ve been using them to help set up our factories around the world, teach people instruct people around the world, been very useful, especially in this time of, you know, health challenges, safety challenges in our sites. And as we’ve gone through some of this craziness around the world with this pandemic, and literally in an hour, he’s getting this thing set up. If it’s not working, right, you can fiddle with and get to work and he knows how to use technology, you talk to him, you walk down the hallway, he has a conversation with you. And you might see him flip through his phone and, and make a comment on Instagram as you walk down the hallway with him. Really a sharp guy, so glad to have him on our team. But he demonstrates some of the things we need to think about as we engage this latest generation of employees in our workforce. And I think the first thing to know is when you think about the people like Alex, as much as I’m going to talk in this this presentation about generations and then make some very general statements. Don’t label this group or any group with these tags, it makes everyone irritated but especially the Gen Z team, they definitely don’t want to be called Gen Z’s or be lumped in with a bucket of people. They’re all unique individuals, and need to be treated that way. So even though I’m going to talk in generalizations, I highly recommend you don’t you don’t do that. And basically, my name is john hobgood. I work in Honeywell aerospace, leading one of our engineering groups, there are manufacturing engineers, where we develop technology and ship our products out the door. And in my teams, in the last three to four years, we’ve hired over 100, probably close to 200 team members that have just come out of university. And so I want to share with you today, some practical experiences, practical tips. So you are successful as you bring this these team members into your your workforce into your company as well. Of course, I’ve got to show a chart, I’ve got to show a chart here that that compares the generations. And all I’d like to say is, you know, at leader as leaders, we need to bridge the gap between all these generations engage all of them. But it’s a very real fact that some of the things that that impacted my worldview, growing up some of these things that that really impacted my life in a positive or negative way. In many of my peers growing up people my age, are different from those experiences that the other generations have had. So So I think if you don’t acknowledge that, that there’s some difference in worldview based on some major impacts in their, in our upbringing, I think you’re really misguided. You know, I think sometimes an older manager might say, to younger employee, things like I had to do my time for 10 years, and that one job you should do. And I’ll tell you, the world out looks different. And if you engage the team members that are just graduating the early career team members now, the same way you engage people 10 years ago, you’re going to continue to have high attrition, young, successful, and really have your team, you and your team have a miserable time. I want you to be successful. So I hope you step away with a few nuggets, things that you can use, things that you can apply in your business to be more successful. So I just want to make some general statements here. You can read this, you can google there’s a million charts like this out there on the web, but I just want to contrast and compare some different things here about the generations. I’m a Gen Gen XOR. I grew up working hard and watching my parents work hard. And my graduating class, you know, jobs were not easy to find. And so really worried about getting that first job and supporting my young family there in the beginning. Not as much here in the Gen Z. You can see Gen Y there we typically call the millennials There may be other names for Gen Z i Gen, whatever it is. But let me just talk about a few highlights here on the charts. And as you read different things. We grew up in a Gen X in the middle there. I called ourselves my I would say I’m a, an MTV generation TV was just coming on board. Things like I remember starting out with a Commodore 64. Some of you may smile with that. Not a very powerful computer. But I was in the basement at 11 and 12 years old, working on a computer. My parents thought I might never come out of the basement one summers, I got this thing. And man was I excited when I graduated from a cassette tape drive to a floppy disk drive. And man, when I got for Christmas, that 2800 baud modem, wow, life changed for me. And I got to tell you those experiences, you know, when I look back into what I have some kids who are Gen Z, in college, very different, you know, they, they have never experienced anything but the internet. They have, you know, instead of an MTV Video, being four minutes long when I grew up, these this generation, the latest generation of employees, you know, they know the TIC Tock video can’t be more than 60 seconds. I mean, just everything has sped up. Everything is very different. The technology, we pulled out the encyclopedia set when we have to do a quick report for our junior high. My kids, Gen Z people, they just surf the internet. And then, and then five minutes had access to all the information on the world all the latest information that waiting for the latest encyclopedia to be published. And by the time it published, it was wrong a year later. So their whole outlook about information, getting information learning. And technology is quite a bit different. Some other points I’d like to make when you think about some of these, these things on this chart, like formative experiences or events COVID-19 that we’re all going through right now is this videos recorded. You know, this will be the biggest impact on this early career crowd right now. I mean, we we’ve had to make a few cuts in our team members. A number of people have been laid off, they started a job for the first year. It’s been if they were going to college for the first year, they might be at home instead of going to college. Can you imagine that? Can you imagine your senior in high school, not being able to go to class or go to the football game on a Friday night, some things that were really normal, you know, with us other generations. So there’s going to be impacts on this. And their outlook is going to be probably a little bit more stability, looking for stability, looking for some continuity, in spite of all the crazy things going on around them.

You know, instead of this 20 100 baud modem, the the gen Z’s will have a streaming where they stream I mean, we watch Hulu and Netflix our family but I don’t think I had my son over, my son was over doing some homework on the weekend, the football game was on the TV, really low volume, he was capturing texts and facetiming with a friend. While he was doing his lab work for a course in university on his computer, this generation is known to to constantly have three or five screens in front of them at one time. They’ve never even used a landline. And they’ve probably never visited a bank. So their whole outlook of how things should be communicated, how they gather information process, it’s quite a bit different from the other generations previously. Another fact I think that it’s important to note is even millennials, about 71% of them feel that they might have a higher quality of life, higher standard of living their parents. But Gen Z 56% feel that they’ll have a better quality of life in their parents, there’s been a lot more challenges they’ve seen in the economy in the the world that have their outlook a bit different. And the important thing to understand is the reason we’re talking about this new generation of workers in their early career is that in some research studies, Gen Z is right now in 2025, coming up in a handful years here will be 19% of the workforce. If we don’t learn to engage these these team members, we will not be successful in our business 25% of the current population is this Gen Z. And if we don’t engage them differently, we’re not going to be successful. In fact, some studies have said 78% of these early career individuals plan to leave their job within two years. So if you don’t engage them differently, engage them better, you will not be successful in your business. And so I want to just share with you some practical tips. This is not going to be some deep technical talk, but just want to share with you some things that I’ve As we’ve hired many of these individuals, and how to engage them, effectively, the first thing is you better have a clear mission and how you benefit society. This generation has a lot more concern about society, the world, and they want purpose in this job, not just to make some dollars and go home and pay for the rent, they want to see some purpose so you better understand what the purpose of your company is. Maybe if I quote Guy Kawasaki, what’s your mantra? What are you known for? What real benefit Are you provide them to the world? You know, Honeywell, we provide safety and efficient means of traveling our aerospace group around the world for everyone to allow commerce to allow people to travel and see their loved ones. But it’s really around safety and efficiency. But when you’re talking with with these early career individuals, you better know what your company in just a few words, is doing to provide benefit to society and where they’ll fit in your company providing that value. They want to be something part of something bigger than just come to job each day, as we all should. But this generation in particular, I’ve also noticed, you know, as you interview these latest university graduates that diversity and inclusion is extremely important. You know, I’ve had a number of people in the interviews I’ve talked with, say, so tell me about your diversity program? Or tell me how I can get involved in some of the clubs you have in your company? What are they? And how do you think about them? And how, and how can I get involved? Can I get involved if I join your company. So you better have a very clear inclusion diversity program and your business and really be involved and you can’t fake this, you’ve got to be genuine, right? And that you really do care and value, diversity. And you can google this on your own. But you know, there’s many studies that have said, if you don’t have a diverse workforce, the companies with the most diverse workforces are the ones that perform the best in the marketplace. So there’s plenty of information out there that says that. And to me, I know, in my own personal experience, if I don’t have team members with diverse experiences, diverse outlooks, diverse, diverse ways of looking at problems, we don’t get the best solution. And so you better be able to communicate how you value diversity, and what your company is doing in regards to diversity.

Dollars is not enough. I mean, it’s not just about compensation obviously needs to be fair, and be reasonable in their compared to your peers. But like we talked about, they’re really working for you for a higher purpose. And so you better have some understanding of that you better be able to provide other things than just a fair compensation to to know you’re going to be successful. Many of them, you know, when I’ve done surveys with, with all the early career people in my teams, it’s very interesting. If you’ll say what do you value, education, career advancement, cool projects, you know, whatever the category is, honestly, when the survey comes back, it is literally split between every one of those categories. They’re all individuals. And you need to be addressing every one of those areas, if you really want to be successful with these early career people. And I would just say on recognition, feedback, we all as people want to feel appreciated. But in general, these that with the talking we had earlier around, processing of information, gathering information, driving through, going through a drive thru and getting food in a minute. I mean, we’ve all had that. And it’s only sped up in, in the times going through but their whole world is about instantaneous. instantaneous. They’re technology dependent, even right? They’re used to getting information quickly and processing it, you really need to think about engaging them providing feedback, providing recognition at a much more rapid rate. And again, if you sit back and say hey, they need to be adults and learn to do their job without me, you know, checking in on them, you’re gonna miss out because, you know, I think they just, I find even just a quick phone call. As you’re passing in the hallway. If you type a quick I am whatever the medium, I haven’t noticed there be any downside any one of those, maybe emails, the worst might be the easiest for many of the older generations. But I am phone call text. If you check in with them after me say man, that was a great point you made Hey, I really like your thinking around that automation project. That’s going to go a long way. With this generation. You need to provide more rapid feedback and there’s no excuse for you not to do that. The next section I wanted to talk about is just preparing and hiring.

The first section was purpose This is preparing. If you read chip Heath or see some of his videos, he talks about an elevated experience for employee He wasn’t talking about Gen Z in particular. But if you think about them, you know, wanting to be a part of this something used to having streaming content every moment of the day, getting updates from everyone on on social media, you need to be able to provide some of these elevated experience for them. You know, that awesome picture on Facebook? Maybe you should be thinking about what does your team look like? How is your team going up here if it was on Facebook, and one of those experiences that you can share with these employees. For example, one thing we did in Honeywell aerospace and one business area is we had every one of these new employees and other seasoned employees as well go take a flight with a local flight school, and an aerospace we’re about flying aircraft. But many of them had never been on a little plane been on a plane. And so we quickly arranged in an experience of flight with the local flight school. And one of our team members to be excited about the industry that they were a part of. No other company is flying people around in planes when they joined the company in their first day, second day of work first week. And I mean, I’ll never forget, we had one intern start, and an HR person went with them, we tried to pair up people to have more benefits out of these flights. And I’ll never forget hearing that he landed the plane, you know, the the flight instructor was right there with him, landed the plane, it bounced a couple times. And the HR person in the back, you know, had a lot of excitement there. But, you know, this is an experience about Honeywell DNA, that we’re about flight. And we provided that experience to these early career employees as well as other seasoned individuals. But this is the kind of elevated experience in their first week that you’re gonna want to provide to these employees. Many studies you read, people will decide if they’re going to stay with a company in their first day in their first week. So make that experience worthwhile. And in fact, I really like the word pre onboarding. You know, when we’ve been most successful, engaging new hires, we’ve actually done things like had a happy hour, one of my managers, for example, would take his team, and go have a happy hour with the new employee, before they even started working with us. I’ll never forget one time someone was traveling. And they happen to be near a facility where someone was in their team nearby. And they again, met them at some brewery over dinner, you know, a month before they started working with us. And those are the kinds of experiences you really need to take time and put in place and drive your leaders or managers of people to be doing these things every day. And probably sitting back and setting up a program, like what are we going to do in the first week, and the first three months in the first year for all these new employees. I mean, everyone does a leadership rotation program now, right? But what are really those elevated experiences that you pride to provide to these individuals, you know, another tip I found is, is hiring in pairs. You know, the latest latest studies out there, you know, it all when I was growing up, all the studies said, Hey, you really don’t work for a company, you work for your manager. And that’s still true today. But most of the studies say, you’re going to be more loyal to a company and stay there, if you have a friend at work, if people care about you at work. And obviously, if you’re hiring one early career individual at one of your facilities, and there’s one in each of them, and and you don’t help facilitate those social connections with people that are more like their demographic, then then they’re gonna leave you. And so what we found is in many places, we’re a global company with many facilities around the world, when when I hire early career individuals, we try to hire them in with two people or more in one location, just so there’s some commonalities, they go through common experiences. And some places they’ve even shared the same area, the same cube together, right? So they can, if they have questions, they can help each other out. And it becomes this natural support network. And someone that they know can relate to them easier than maybe some of the older employees around that. Obviously, a good team mixes all the generations together to solve these problems, right? But hiring in pairs has been a really good thing that we’ve done. Exposure to your business, we are doing so many things like a virtual plant tours, business overviews with our employees that is going over tremendously well, you’ll see that they’re very well attended. So making time or telling your your early career employees that hey, we’re expecting you to go to these things. You know, once a month, we have a virtual plant tour where you see what’s going on in another plant, not the one you’re sitting in, you know, to kind of see what we do. Give them that broader perspective. They want to know where they fit, they want to know what other opportunities are out there. They want to know the cool things that your company is doing. So just take some time. put together an Excel sheet with your 12 functional areas, you’re gonna have a little tour on or the 12 factories you’re going to go through and give everyone in advance, notice, throw it on the calendar and have that virtual plant tour, the virtual product demo, maybe a customer speaking, and let them hear directly from a customer once in a while. I mean, you really need to think about those experiences. So they understand that they’re part of something, not just working on their engineering problem every day. You know, we had one experience where we had a vanload of people go see a rocket launch. And at Honeywell, we built some of the avionics that went on that space rocket launch and that satellite, and I’ll never forget it. And I know that those individuals never will either. So those are the kind of things you need to think about, besides just preparing once they’re here, once they’re with you, you have to ensure that you have personal engagement. Now, you can google this, and there’s probably a billion our articles around employee engagement. But this is especially important for Gen Z employees. You know, I think it’s with every employee, but especially with this generation, one on ones, you better schedule on the calendar, one on ones, you know, I had a chief engineer one time, tell some Gen Z employees, hey, you can always call me, I’m always here for you. And frankly, our seasoned employees, they are always available whenever some Junior employee comes by early career says, Hey, I have a question. I love that about Honeywell, and many of your companies are probably that way. But these employees may not want to bother the more senior individual, they may feel that they’re distracting them, you know, on a meeting or in between meetings as they’re typing away or on a phone call. And so you, the senior employees, the leadership, you really need to be intentional and go to them, you need to go engage them, set the time aside in your calendar, block the time to give them a phone call, or say for the next 30 minutes, I’m going to call three or four people that are in my group, I’m going to set up one on ones over the next three months with every individual in my team, or in facility X, Y and Z, you need to be intentional and set this up. You can’t expect this, this Generation Z to come to you when they have questions or comments. Some do. I don’t want to generalize too much here. But this is a generation that’s grown up with a screen in front of them, and may not always know when they’re supposed to bother the boss or bother their mentor, etc. I would highly recommend video, it’s been very successful for me. I mean, again, these are people that are looking at their screen hours a day, I think it was 95% of people are engaging social media at least weekly, in this generation. So their visual visual is very important to them. And I tell you with a cell phone or something, you can record a message in 30 seconds, attach it to an email and send it that employee that will make a world of difference compared to typing up a few sentences and email. Obviously, pick up a phone as well. But but really the best way to engage this team is with video. They’re watching everything streaming every day, they’ve learned from not reading a book, but probably a three minute YouTube video. So I highly encourage you to use video in your communication plans. Sometimes it’s uncomfortable for some of us. But you really need to learn how to perfect that. And practice because you need to do that. projects, assigning projects more than just their day job really engages this generation, they want to be part of something bigger. And I they always step up when you give them some crazy projects, something they didn’t do before. That’s incredible, an incredible prioritize appreciation, we’ve talked about that a bit with feedback already. Make sure you put an operating system in place, whether it’s recognize one person, every staff meeting, I’m going to send out three thank yous or call three people during the week. But really put that operating system in place to do that. We found the mentor and the buddy also works well. You have a mentor who is that seasoned individual who can answer any technical question, but at the same time, assigning someone who is more like them, perhaps in age or background as a buddy, something go to to just ask advice to assigning both of those two together as really been powerful, versus just assigning a mentor that they may or may not click with. And then one thing that we’ve been doing lately, you know, obviously if it was in normal times, not with a lot of lockdowns going on. We would do a normal happy hour after work or get some coffee with an individual walk over there, take them to lunch, you got to do those things. But even if you can’t do it physically right now due to some restrictions in your geographical area, having a virtual coffee hour or a virtual happy hour. I’ve had a number of employees tell me you know just even setting up 15 minutes or a half hour to talk about non work stuff every week. Some people have said even seasoned managers now that that is the favorite meaning of their So highly encourage you to set those up. Again, not natural and your busy schedules. But we as leaders need to be doing that. Well, I hope I gave you some practical tips really how to engage this, this university graduating outstanding individuals. I found as I’ve traveled the world and interacted with with these University grads, I’m amazed, everyone I meet, I say to myself, wow, I don’t think I was that smart when I graduated University. Hallo hack, they know so many of these technologies. And I remember bumping in a number of them that, you know, in their first three weeks, they’ve, they’ve reviewed all the Six Sigma greenbelt material on their own, just because they wanted to learn and grow and develop. I mean, I’ve been consistently impressed with the hires we’ve made from straight out of university. And we owe it to them to engage them properly, as leaders, you know, again, you read a lot about employee engagement. And I just define that as inspiring your employees. We, as leaders have that obligation responsibility, this new generation that’s graduating and joining our workforce, and will soon be a third of our workforce in the next several years between 2025 and 2030. If you really want to be successful in business, you need to engage them differently. And provide that advancement that engaged with them the time with them, the learning, treat each one of them as an individual. And if you’re going to be successful as a business, so I love there are a few nuggets in there today. Love to hear some of your questions here on the offline tool. And please reach out if there’s ever any way I can help you. And I do wish you the best the best. I know you’ll do a good job of engaging this new generation. They are they are tech savvy. They are excited to make an impact on the world and I wish you the best in getting them to join your your business.

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