The Secret to Managing Generation Z? Think Like a Gamer

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Generation Z is growing up. The first “fully digital” generation is now entering the workplace, and managers are scrambling to figure out how to train and retain this new segment of the workforce.

When managers made way for millennials, they learned to care less about dress codes and timestamps and more about flexibility and the occasional ping-pong table. When it comes to managing Gen. Z, company leaders may need to take a different approach: thinking like a gamer.

Research shows that 90 percent of Gen. Z-ers play video games of some kind, and many Gen. Z-ers — especially males — consider gaming to be an important part of their identity. As Gen. Z joins the job market, we’re starting to see how this generation’s gaming habits have informed their expectations of the workplace.

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Level Them Up

My company, InsideOut Development, recently surveyed more than 1000 Gen. Z-ers to find out what they want at work. One of the most surprising results: More than 75 percent of Gen. Z-ers believe they should receive a promotion within their first year on the job. Thirty-two percent of them even think they should get a promotion in six months or less!

Some might think this means Gen. Z is greedy or entitled, but perhaps there’s another explanation: Thanks to video games, Gen. Z-ers are used to operating on a faster timeline.

Video games have been shown to possibly sap attention spans, and we saw this firsthand. As we were fielding our survey, we ran into a problem we’d never encountered in any of our dozens of previous professional surveys: Our Gen. Z respondents weren’t completing it. Even though we’d followed every guideline in survey creation to keep it from being unwieldy, the dropout rate was so high we had to redesign and re-administer the survey.

We quickly identified a gaming concept we could apply to keep Gen. Z survey participants engaged: easy level-ups.

In gaming terms, “leveling up” refers to a character’s advancement through the ranks in a game. Level-based games like RuneScape are known for capturing a new player’s attention and building confidence by letting them level up more easily and frequently at the beginning of the game. (Leveling up gets exponentially harder as time goes on, but I wouldn’t necessarily recommend adopting that same mechanic at work.)

The best games engage players from the moment they start playing, and the workplace should be no different. Employers can incorporate easy level-ups into their offices by creating workplace coaching programs that provide incentives and recognition. While employers probably can’t — and shouldn’t — start offering promotions every six months the way our respondents hoped, they can recognize and reward even small successes early on. From there, employers can coach employees to gain the skills and experience necessary to level up from one job title to the next. That way, Gen. Z-ers will feel engaged enough to keep playing.

Gamifying the Workplace Further

Easy level-ups aren’t the only way to gamify the workplace and increase Gen. Z engagement. Processes like onboarding and training can also be gamified. When done correctly, this strategy can be hugely impactful in fostering employee enthusiasm and motivation.

Enterprise technology giant SAP created Roadwarrior, a gamified training tool designed to prepare sales professionals for meetings with potential clients. The app used real-life examples and data to create simulated meetings with prospects and clients. As sales pros competed against one another on a virtual leaderboard, they could earn badges and unlock higher levels in the game. By all accounts, Roadwarrior worked incredibly well as a training tool.

Not every company will have the resources to create a custom app to engage Gen. Z workers, but you can introduce gamification in simpler ways, too. Just creating a checklist of tasks for a new hire to achieve can provide the achievement benchmarks and sense of fulfillment Gen. Z-ers crave.

Consider designing the onboarding experience as a quest that encourages new hires to seek out the knowledge they’ll need to be successful in their jobs. An onboarding task can easily be transformed into such a quest through the right framing. All you need to do is describe the task in a way that moves ownership of its completion to the new hire. For example, rather than scheduling shadowing experiences, task new hires with scheduling that time themselves. Then, require them to share their learnings with a colleague once the task is complete.

Like millennials before them, Gen. Z-ers may get a bad rap for their shorter attention spans and the amount of time they spend on gaming consoles, but this generation has a lot to offer the workplace. They’re often characterized as driven self-starters, and some have even dubbed them the “most entrepreneurial generation ever.” Clearly, these workers have the potential to create massive value for your organization — especially if you help them level up until they master the game.

Michael Rutkowski is vice president of marketing at InsideOut Development.

By Michael Rutkowski