Illustration of a giant "Z" with people around it

No, not everyone under 40 is a Millennial; Generation Z (generally understood to have been born between 1995 and 2012) is here, and they are coming in droves!

I have been studying generations for more than a decade and have seen the impact generational differences can have on organizational performance, which inevitably impacts our customers: our community and our elected officials. As every new generation enters the workplace, different norms and values come with each cohort. By understanding Gen Z’s new viewpoints of work, organizations can adjust their culture to create a better sense of belonging, which produces better outcomes.

This article will provide tangible ways to recruit and retain the best Gen Z talent, but it can be helpful for all generations at work.

1. Promote and Train the Best Leaders

Did you know that, according to the Center for Creative Leadership, “Almost 60% [of leaders] said they never received any training when they transitioned into their first leadership role” and that “50% of managers in organizations are rated as ineffective”? Also, Gallup found that “managers account for at least 70% of the variance in employee engagement scores across business units.” So, most of our leaders did not receive leadership training once they were promoted, but they are the main reason our employees are engaged or disengaged at work. This is comparable to handing your kid the keys to a brand-new car because they got straight A’s in school but do not yet have a driver’s license.

Also, just because a candidate has seniority or a graduate degree does not mean you are promoting the right person. Yes, they may have stuck around, and pursuing a graduate degree is rigorous while working full time, but neither of these means they are 100% qualified to be a leader.

Our data found that Gen Z wants their leaders to be coaches and mentors, not just technical experts or task assigners (although these are important). Being a good coach and mentor requires a different lens, one that values a one-on-one mentoring session as much as writing a staff report (unless it’s the same day as your council meeting!)

Actions you can take starting today:

  • When ready to promote an employee to a supervisor, make interpersonal skills a key factor.
  • Provide new supervisors with leadership and coaching training, as well as a mentor.
  • Make employee engagement scores of subordinates a critical factor in your supervisors’ performance reviews.

2. Create a Purpose-driven Culture

Recruiting and retaining employees based on monetary incentives can be challenging unless you are a massive city/county with a budget to match. Having consulted with municipalities and having worked in the public sector, I understand that budgets can be tight. But I have some good news: according to a recent study by Lever, “42% [of Gen Z’ers] would rather be at a company that gives them a sense of purpose than one that pays more.” I like to call local governments “purpose factories” because of the unparalleled impact they provide for their residents. Your after-school programs give kids a place to go; your police forces help keep families safe; your trash haulers keep the city clean, and so on.

Find ways to communicate the impact of local government employees as you recruit your Gen Z’ers, and take the time to show your current Gen Z employees how their work positively affects the community. For example, if you have a management analyst who needs to prepare a request for proposals (RFP) for a playground, take them to where the playground will be built or show them how dilapidated the current playground is, which will give them skin in the game. Once the project is complete, allow them to attend the grand opening and see how their work impacted those kids and families.

Actions you can take starting today:

  • Utilize social media to show the positive impact working for your local government can create for your community, which can help recruit altruistic Gen Z’ers who want to make a difference.
  • Show your direct reports how their work creates positive change.
  • Create impact metrics, such as trees planted, attendance at parks and recreation programs, square footage of affordable housing, crime statistics, building permits process, new businesses, etc.

3. Invest in Gen Z’s Strengths to Help Them Be the Best Version of Themselves

While pursuing my doctorate, I had the opportunity to take the CliftonStrengths Assessment. Upon graduation, I was promoted to work as a project manager overseas, responsible for millions of dollars while leading a multicultural team. In addition to this work challenge, I was a new father and moved my family to the other side of the world where we did not speak the language. Many changes occurred in my life in only a couple of months, and I needed to look back to my “greatest hits” from what I learned in my doctorate program. When I did this, I revisited my CliftonStrengths Assessment results and started implementing Gallup’s suggestions based on my top five strengths. Completing this exercise gave me more energy, helped me understand where my weaknesses lie, and allowed me to delegate tasks to folks whose strengths complemented my weaknesses.

Gallup found that when organizations incorporate the identification of leadership and employee strengths into their culture, they have:

  • Higher customer engagement (3-7%).
  • Lower turnover (6 to 16% for lower turnover organizations and 26-72% lower turnover for higher turnover organizations).
  • An increase in the number of engaged employees (9-15%).
  • Significantly fewer safety incidents (22% to 59%), (which I’m sure your insurance provider will appreciate).

By understanding how each person on our team is wired, we can speak to them in a language they understand and will respond to, which works for every generation (Boomer to Millennial, Gen X to Gen Z).

Also, this is an excellent tool for staff leadership and council to do together. Imagine, as a city manager or county administrator, you can immediately understand how each city councilmember or county commissioner is wired, and you will be able to respond in a manner or language that will keep them engaged.

Actions you can take starting today:

  • Look at your latest employee engagement survey results.
  • Create a baseline of what you want to measure, such as your employee engagement results, turnover rates, absenteeism, safety incidents, customer service scores, accounts payable or RFP cycle time, and anything else you use to track each department’s productivity.
  • Have your team take a strengths assessment.
  • Bring in a facilitator to conduct strengths workshops, starting with the city manager’s office and department heads (you can include your city council if they are available), and then implement with the rest of the organization and find champions in each department to make it part of the culture.
  • Ways to make it stick: Incorporate strength assessments into performance reviews; post results on Zoom/Teams backgrounds, email signatures, or desks/cubicles; and start weekly staff meetings by recognizing someone’s strength with a positive outcome.
  • Once implemented, examine your metrics baseline and compare them at three months, six months, and one year. How did you do?

4. Cultivate a Culture of Growth, Not Stagnation

What is the first thing that organizations usually cut as budgets get tighter? You guessed it: professional development/training, which is a big mistake. LinkedIn’s 2022 Workplace Learning Report states that having the opportunity to learn and grow is the number-one determinant of a great corporate culture. Also, McKinsey & Co’s global study found that the number-one reason why employees quit during the Great Resignation (April 2021 to April 2022) was a “lack of career development and advancement.”

Our study of Gen Z’ers found that they want the opportunity to do tasks outside of what they were initially hired for, and many of them have a side gig or plan to get one. Gen Z is on track to be the most educated generation in history, and simply completing repetitive tasks for years before a promotion or role change will cause them to leave or engage in quiet quitting (doing the bare minimum to avoid being fired, rather than being passionate about their work). Leaders can prevent turnover by investing in professional development (conferences, tuition reimbursement, books, mentoring programs) and implementing job rotation programs.

Low-dollar actions you can start today to create a culture of growth, not stagnation:

  • Establish monthly leadership book clubs.
  • Create a formal mentoring program.
  • Hold regional meetups—encourage your department heads (and lower-level leaders) to meet with the other folks in your region to discuss different topics and lessons learned. These roundtables can help eliminate redundant tasks and is a great way to build community and gain a different perspective.

5. Recruit Where Others Are Not Looking

One of the great things about high school Gen Z’ers is their focus on their future. They may not decide to work in the service industry because they are taking college courses, volunteering, or interning in a potential field of interest. Cities and counties can leverage this by creating a high school internship program (paid or unpaid), giving them real-world experience while viewing them as potential hires. While writing my book, I had the opportunity to speak to a group of high school interns at a Fortune 500 company. I don’t know about you, but in high school, one of my first jobs was working at Blockbuster (RIP), which had nothing to do with my career aspirations.

One of my clients created a high school internship program to give students volunteering hours while doing real work, such as creating social media content, helping with filing, and more. Even though the interns may not work with you long term, this is a great way to plant the seed of working in local government, which could blossom into a long-term relationship.

Actions you can take starting today:

  • Work with your human resources department to develop a plan to start this program. Here are some sample roles in helping you get started:
    • Social media outreach—task them with ideas to improve your social media outreach strategy.
    • Graphic design—they can create flyers for your events using Canva or other familiar tools.
    • Murals—give art students a chance to paint a mural on a wall or utility box.
    • Intern rotation program—allow them to rotate and learn about each department.
    • Environmental audit—provide feedback on what your city/county can do better to be more environmentally friendly.
  • Bring this to your city council or board of county commissioners for support during your next strategic planning session.
  • Ensure you use metrics to measure the success of the program: satisfaction with the program (from intern and city staff), hire rate (did you hire them later?), and general output from whichever role they perform (ex., how many social media posts or flyers did they produce?).
  • Have a final project and allow them to showcase their work at a city council meeting.

6. Accountability and Metrics in a Post-pandemic World

Our data found 98% of the Gen Z’ers we surveyed want clear expectations from the first day on the job. If holding folks accountable and having clear expectations are important to Gen Z, but our leaders are not doing this, we could have a potential disconnect.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, we have seen businesses adapt: box stores will deliver groceries to our car, we can visit our doctor via teleconference, and we can watch movies the same day they are released in theaters. But some organizations have been slow to adapt to a hybrid workplace. Yes, a hybrid or remote work schedule is impossible for specific roles (cashiers, parks and recreation, law enforcement, etc.), but why do human resource or finance professionals have to come into the office daily? Can you give some employees one or two days a week to work from home and save time commuting?

We found that about three out of four Gen Z’ers want a hybrid work schedule as we exit the pandemic. Allowing folks to have a hybrid work schedule is a low-cost perk that may lure your Gen Z workers from the private sector. Working from home has its challenges, and if employees work remotely, we need to ensure they are working, which means we need clear performance metrics and hold our folks accountable for meeting those metrics.

We live in a great time where artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning are easily accessible to help managers make intelligent decisions quickly. You can utilize metrics and dashboards within every department in your organization. An excellent place to start is by defining which metric is the critical indicator of success for your department or organization. For example, how long does it take to get a pothole fixed from the time of the complaint to completion? What is your front desk’s average customer service score by category (parking permits, building permits, etc.)? Consider tracking customer cycle times, customer satisfaction scores, weekly productivity rates, etc.

Actions you can take starting today:

  • Have each department create a measurable metric synonymous with success in their department (ex., accounts payable cycle time, RFP cycle time, front desk customer service score, employee engagement scores, etc.)
  • Team up with your human resources department to create a hybrid work policy clearly stating the expectations of working from home.
  • Define metrics related to each person’s job. For example, your accounting department’s metrics may be the number of invoices processed or the cycle time to pay vendors. Also, providing metrics to the community can help show transparency and how hard your team works.
  • You can place QR codes in your lobby and encourage residents to take a customer service survey or utilize a text messaging service a day or two later.
  • When employees are in the office, use this time for critical face-to-face conversations, such as staff meetings, work sessions, one-on-ones with supervisors, etc.

Most of these tips will work for all generations in the workplace, but empathy is the key to understanding each generation, and compassion is how we help them. Remember, the future is bright!

Headshot of Santor Nishizaki

DR. SANTOR NISHIZAKI is the founder and CEO of Mulholland Consulting Group, LLC, and he is a Ph.D. professor of global leadership and change at Pepperdine University. His work on Millennials and Gen Z in the workplace has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Inc., Entrepreneur, Psychology Today, Yahoo Finance,, SHRM, ATD, and more. His new book, Working with Gen Z: A Handbook to Recruit, Retain, and Reimagine the Future Workforce after COVID-19, is available for order on Amazon. (

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