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Gen Z and Maslow’s hierarchy of needs: are you helping younger colleagues to flourish?

By Will Harman | SEO & CRO Account Director

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November 22, 2022 | 7 min read

Will Harman of agency Found looks at one of the most famous models of motivation for lessons about building workplaces that will fulfil the needs of your youngest colleagues.

A light prism pyramid

Can Maslow’s hierarchy of needs help you provide a better environment for gen Z colleagues? / Michael Dziedzic via Unsplash

If you want to be a successful manager and leader of generation Z talent, you need to understand who they are and what they want from their workplaces.

I’m not going to lecture you about the gen Z perspective of the modern workplace (my colleagues Jas and Sadia have done that pretty well), but I will present you with a motivational theory that you should look to employ in your workplace in order to get the most out of your gen Z talent.

So, let’s talk through Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, a motivational theory with five levels, and how each level relates to gen Z.

Level one: physiological needs (food and clothing)

Anyone that enters the workplace looks for and successfully finds themself a job that helps them to fulfil their most basic needs. By paying your staff a decent wage you fulfil this inherent need for them.

Level two: safety (job security)

The best form of safety you can offer your staff is job security. As long as you’re not making team members work zero-hour contracts, this shouldn’t be a constant concern.

This is, however, a very important element for members of gen Z. The Covid-19 pandemic threw job security into doubt for most of the working world, but the youngest members of our workforce were only just finding their footing at work. They started off on shaky ground; you need to offer them stability now.

The best thing you can do for gen Z staff is make it clear that you have processes in place for the future. Ensure that your team knows where they stand with you and be clear with any decisions that you make. Clarity is key.

Level three: love and belonging (friendship)

If a member of gen Z doesn’t feel like they belong in the workplace, you’ll never get the best out of them. Their creative juices won’t flow and productivity will drop.

What should you do as a manager or as an employer to make them feel like they’re wanted and belong at your business? Go the extra mile to engage with them on a personal level. Get to know them, and understand their quirks and frustrations. On an organizational level, do what you can to get a mix of age groups in social committees and working groups to ensure their opinions are being heard and they feel valued. You need to make sure that young staff are visible, and that they (and their thoughts) matter to you and the rest of your company.

Level four: esteem

Esteem is the belief that you’re working toward a higher goal, and that you’re getting credit for your contributions. For gen Z, more than any other age group, it's important that kudos and successes are communicated regularly. This is because gen Z are the first generation with hybrid/remote working as the norm.

With less face-to-face communication happening, ensuring clear communication of wins is vital. The social cues and regular shows of affection and congratulations that we became accustomed to as eager new members of the workforce are sometimes missed over Zoom. Ensure they’re done, and followed up on.

Level five: self-actualization

The final level of Maslow’s pyramid is self-actualization. Every employee wants to be the best they can be at work. Ensuring that gen Z employees have a clear career plan in place will keep them motivated. Motivated employees work harder and produce better work. As a manager you should help and guide gen Z colleagues on their career paths; it’s up to them to take ownership, but giving them guidance and providing anecdotes from your own career is a great way to buoy them up.

We need to move away from the current ‘gen Z aren’t resilient’ or ‘gen Z are lazy/soft’ mentality. It’s a toxic narrative that has no place in any workplace where decent people want to be.

If your youngest team members aren’t motivated, ask yourself what you’re doing wrong. It’s your job to lift up and empower your junior colleagues. Don’t cop out and start pointing the finger; take a good look in the mirror.

Ask not what your gen Z staff could be doing better for you; ask what you could be doing better for your gen Z staff.

Work & Wellbeing Agency Models Business Leadership

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