How to Retain Gen Z Employees? Provide Them the Learning Experiences They Want

Nov 1, 2023

It was 1999. The world was partying per Prince’s instructions, anticipating what was projected to be a catastrophic global technology failure as computers turned over to the year 2000.

Meanwhile, the first members of Gen Z were finding their voices and cutting their teeth on plastic toy flip phones.

The metaphor couldn’t be more appropriate. The radical shift in technology that coincided with the dawn of Gen Z ushered in a generation born into a digitally connected world, and the cultural impact of that urgent rush to globalization is now being felt as the oldest members of the new generation settle comfortably into their jobs.

For learning leaders, fostering these innovators and cultural change-makers presents a massive opportunity. Let’s get to know Gen Z a little better and explore what you need to know to tap into their potential.

How Gen Z is already impacting company culture

One of the defining characteristics of this generation is their purpose-driven mindset. They seek meaning and fulfillment in their work, and they are passionate about aligning their personal values with the organizations they choose to work for. This self-selecting process has had a profound impact on the corporate world.

Gen Z’s emphasis on purpose has prompted many companies to reevaluate their workplace culture and brand voice. Emerging generations have challenged the traditional notion that work is solely about earning a paycheck and have pushed for a greater sense of meaning and social impact in their careers. Gen Z’s demand for authenticity and transparency is compelling organizations to bridge the gap between what they claim and what they actually do.

As Gen Z seeks out organizations that genuinely embody their values, companies have been prompted to enhance their employer brand to attract and retain this talented generation. Younger employees are more likely to join and stay with companies that prioritize diversity and inclusion, social and environmental responsibility, and employee well-being. In response, corporations have had to evaluate their policies, practices, and values to create a work environment that resonates with Gen Z’s purpose-driven mindset.

By shaking things up and challenging the status quo, Gen Z has played a crucial role in improving company culture.

Gen Zers seek opportunities to learn and grow

According to the LinkedIn Employee Well-Being Report, employees see “opportunities to learn and grow” as the top driver of work culture. This finding underscores the crucial role that L&D leaders play in driving employee engagement among Gen Zers. By promoting a culture of continuous learning, organizations not only engage their current workforce but also position themselves as attractive employers for young talent.

It is evident from the data that Gen Z employees, who have clear agendas when it comes to job hunting, place great importance on opportunities for career advancement and skill development. In fact, a majority of Gen Z respondents expressed a desire for more opportunities to move up or increase responsibilities (61%) and more opportunities to learn or practice new skills (76%).

Gen Zers surveyed were also more likely than any other generation to agree with the statement, “I used to think learning was not worthwhile, but now I think it is.” This shift in perception indicates adaptability and agility — two qualities that should be nurtured in a workforce.

Gen Z is hungry for learning opportunities, and L&D teams are well positioned to meet their expectations.

Here’s a look at how to best provide Gen Z employees with the learning experiences they’re after.

Three key strategies to retaining Gen Z employees

Retaining Gen Z employees is a top priority. After all, it has been proven time and again that investing in an existing workforce is far less expensive than hiring new employees. And what better investment is there than building your future leadership from the ground up?

These key strategies will help L&D teams ensure they keep Gen Z’s top talent engaged and committed.

1. Tie learning to career paths and internal mobility programs

LinkedIn asked people what would motivate them to spend more time learning. Gen Z employees led all generations in selecting “if it helped me get another job internally, be promoted, or get closer to reaching my career goals” as their No. 1 motivation for learning. Their close second choice was “if it was personalized specifically for my interests and career goals.”

“Much is defined around careers, so define career possibilities early on for new Gen Z hires, including job movement,” advises Sophie Wade in her LinkedIn Learning course Attracting, Hiring, and Working with Gen Z. “Clarity gives them comfort about the company’s interests in their ongoing employment and professional development. Involving them in the discussion engages them through increased ownership of their career path. Exploring different roles also helps keep [them] engaged by allowing them to discover what really interests them, understand more about the business, and build new skills.”

Connecting skill building to career pathing and internal mobility programs shifts learning from a series of one-off courses to an impactful, sustainable business strategy. When skill building is directly linked to career pathing and internal mobility programs, it creates a clear and tangible way for employees to advance within the organization. This connection helps employees understand how their learning efforts contribute to their professional growth and align with their long-term career goals.

Make sure to leverage your people managers to drive this home. Many of them already understand the importance of learning when it comes to career development: The No. 1 reason managers recommend learning opportunities to their direct reports is to help them grow in their career.

2. Help Gen Z learn the skills they want, in the way they want

Online learning is second nature to Gen Z, who experienced a large-scale shift toward digital learning during their academic careers. This is reflected in the behavior they exhibit in their free time as well, with high engagement in microlearning through various social media apps.

“Gen Z is truly one of the most DIY generations in history,” notes Jonah Stillman in the LinkedIn Learning course Managing Generation Z. “We are intense do-it-yourselfers. From the day we were born, we’ve had the ability to simply log on and learn at any time, whatever we need to learn.”

And despite a renewed focus on building soft skills, LinkedIn data reveals that Gen Z spends 12% more of their time on LinkedIn Learning building their hard skills when compared with the average learner. One thing that likely won’t come as a surprise though: Gen Z strongly prefers learning on mobile devices.

3. Let Gen Z blend personal development with professional

Perhaps even more important than the how, where, and what behind Gen Z learning is the why.

As a result of improved work-life balance combined with an uptick in flexible work, hybrid work, and remote work, younger generations have become more comfortable bringing more of themselves to work.

Development opportunities that enable personal growth can be just as important as career growth for impacting business outcomes like culture and retention. At the same time, 69% of Gen Zers say they want to learn about a topic they are personally interested in.

When personal learning and career development initiatives go hand in hand, organizations not only foster an environment that supports individual growth but also increase the likelihood of retaining more of their workers. By enabling Gen Z employees to pursue their passions and personal interests within the context of their professional journey, L&D teams tap into their natural curiosity and foster future leaders.

Find ways for personal learning and career development to go hand in hand, and you’ll keep your youngest learners coming back for more.

Final thoughts: Retaining Gen Z talent is a cross-functional effort 

Learning professionals have always understood the importance of knowing their audience. As Gen Z continues to make up more and more of the workforce, it’s essential that you work to understand these learners and build programs and mentorship opportunities that meet the needs of the youngest working generation. L&D teams can’t do this alone, though.

L&D leaders will need to partner across the HR function to tie learning programs to career paths, build personal development into performance reviews, and build a learning culture that leads to strong employee retention. Do this well and you’ll play a large part in helping to future-proof your organization.

By Laurie Moot