All Articles Leadership Management Are you ready to lead the purpose-driven generation?

Are you ready to lead the purpose-driven generation?

Young people today want a workforce that strives for results but also purpose, fulfillment and meaning.

6 min read



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Generation Z, are individuals born between the mid-1990s and mid 2000s, who are revolutionizing the relationship and expectations that employees will have with their leaders.

Media-strategy firm MNI Targeted Media conducted a survey of college students focused on their buying trends and preferences. The survey revealed that more than half of the Gen Z respondents said important factors influencing what they purchase include “a brand showing dedication to social impact, by giving proceeds to charity, being environmentally conscious, having strong values, or projecting an impact-driven image.”

That predisposition extends to more than how they shop. Gen-Z’ers are among the most purpose, passion and values driven talent cohort in the workforce, evident not only in how they make purchasing decisions, but in what they look for in their employer and career trajectory. Now, and in future decades, leaders will be managing individuals for whom meaning matters as much as, or more than, money.

The essential factors required to retain this talent will challenge leaders to craft workplaces where purpose, fulfillment and meaning are on equal footing with delivering great results. Here are five areas you can focus on to engage and retain the new talent flowing into your organization:

1. Define a purpose-focused business mission.

Gen Z cares deeply about making a bigger difference in the world. Leverage that drive by clarifying how the mission of your organization contributes in ways beyond profits and market share. What’s the bigger “why” behind your business? What change are you making through your products or services that affect society? How can you help employees develop a sight line between their role and how it contributes to the larger mission?

2. Establish an empowering, passion-linked work culture

This is a generation that wants to be empowered to contribute. In a 2017 study of 5,000 recent graduates, the No. 1 factor that respondents said would lead to them staying with an employer for more than three years is an empowering work culture. Gen-Z’ers are less inclined to believe that good ideas come only from the top, and will want to see open dialogue and shared contributions from all levels of the organization.

Along with their focus on purpose and meaning, they are also keen to understand their passions and link them with job roles. It’s not just about having the skills for a role, this cohort wants to find a passion and build a life around it, with work being a major outlet for that passion.

As such, it’s important for leaders to invest in self-knowledge-based programs and systems that will allow this generation to develop a fluent understanding of their passions so that they can align them to work roles throughout their careers. To foster the passion/role connection, re-examine your job descriptions and recruitment advertising. Do they identify the implied passion characteristics of the role? Do your recruitment, interview and selection processes allow potential new hires to build an emotional as well as a skills-based connection to the job opportunity and the organization?

3. Invest in development, mentoring and meaningful work

Beyond identifying an empowered work culture as key to their retention, Gen Z members want to feel that they have growth potential and opportunities for promotion. That makes it essential to invest in their development, especially in healthy economic times when many organizations are enjoying cash-rich balance sheets. Couple training and stretch assignments with a robust mentoring program, as well.

In one study, 33% of Gen Z’ers viewed mentorship as the most important benefit that would attract them to an organization — second only to health care. And, make sure those stretch-work assignments are meaningful. The fastest way to disengage this cohort is with a daily diet of mind-numbing work in which they can identify no value. It’s true that routine jobs exist in every organization, but how are you balancing the time employees engage in those roles with the opportunity to work on projects that they find meaningful?

4. Balance autonomy with appropriate support

Offering roles with depth and autonomy is key to keeping this generation engaged, but they should be coupled with measured leadership support. As a generation accustomed to feedback and encouragement, Gen Z’ers thrive when they experience genuine interest in their well-being and success. It should be noted, however, that this generation is experiencing higher levels of anxiety and depression than other generations in the workforce.

They’ve grown up in a fully wired, socially networked, highly competitive world, where for many, the lives of their Facebook and Instagram friends look far more successful than their own. Their progression to the workforce has been marked by stressors like fears about not getting into a good school, concerns about achieving good grades when they do and, in cases of school violence, surviving long enough to graduate. These facts pose a challenge for any leader and any organization.

Consider that support for Gen Z’ers may look different than for other generations you are leading, and attention to mental health may need to be part of the formula for retaining and growing this cohort.

5. Make diversity and inclusion a priority

As the most racially diverse generation, Gen Z’ers want to see their employers supporting equality. In fact, racial equality was viewed as the most important issue today by 72% of Gen Z respondents in one survey, followed by 64% who thought gender equality was most important and 48% who said sexual orientation equality should top the list. With their penchant for authenticity, this generation will look for employers that do more than offer lip service to diversity.

They’ll be watching for real progress towards parity — for women, minorities and other underrepresented groups — until more people in leadership positions look like they do.

Next year, Gen Z will comprise 32% of the population, surpassing millennials as the most populous generation. How ready is your organization?


Alaina Love is chief operating officer and president of Purpose Linked Consulting and co-author of “The Purpose Linked Organization: How Passionate Leaders Inspire Winning Teams and Great Results” (McGraw-Hill). She is a recovering HR executive, a global speaker and leadership expert, and passionate about everything having to do with, well … passion. Her passion archetypes are Builder, Transformer and Healer. You can learn more about how to grow leaders, build passionate teams and leverage passion to create great customer outcomes here.

When she’s not working with her Fortune 500 client base, Love is busy writing her next book, “Passionality, The Art and Science of Finding Your Passion and Living Your Bliss,” which explores the alignment of personality, purpose and passion, and the science of how it contributes to our well being. Follow Love on TwitterFacebookYouTube or her blog.

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