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Getting Gen Z to return to the office

Being a corporate leader today is the ultimate balancing act, and managing Gen Z talent in the middle of return-to-office efforts is no exception. Sixty-two percent of U.S. CEOs recently surveyed by KPMG want their employees back in the office full-time within the next three years.

At the same time, they’re trying to figure out how to engage with their Gen Z workforce, who have a different definition of success and ambition and aren’t interested in climbing the traditional career ladder. 

How do leaders ensure that the office is enticing to Gen Zers, and helps them want to excel in their careers? It’s a question that many corporate leaders are asking.

“What I worry about is the careers,” Kim Seymour, Etsy’s chief human resources officer said at a panel discussing engaging with Gen Z at Fortune’s Most Powerful Women conference in Laguna Niguel, Calif. on Monday. “I’m in HR, I’m worried about careers and development, and who’s next, because I just am convinced that the next [generation of leaders] is not emerging from cushions of the couch.”

Offering the ‘carrot’ and avoiding the ‘stick’

One solution may already be in the works at many companies: enticing young workers to enter the office. The same survey from KPMG also found that nearly all (90%) of CEOs also plan on rewarding employees who come to the office with raises or promotions.

For the youngest working generation today, offering the “carrot” will be far more effective than threatening with the “stick,” the panelists say.

“I don’t think that generations like Gen Z want to be told what to do. They’re not looking for the stick,” says Maryam Banikarim, co-founder of NYCNext, founder and managing partner of MaryamB, and the panel’s moderator. 

She recalled recently working with the nonprofit Partnership for New York City to help revitalize midtown Manhattan and bring workers back to the office, and noticing that the leaders would use company cars to commute to the office while telling young workers to commute in via subway.

“Make it fun to come in and also find ways for them to experience what we all had, which was you got to hear something that you wouldn’t have had otherwise, you get to be more creative and then there’s the want to come in versus this sense of, that’s what you need to do.”

Roblox gets creative

Christina Wootton, chief partnerships officer at Roblox, likens engaging with these employees to engaging with an audience, and asking what benefit you can provide the audience that they’re not getting elsewhere. 

“Kind of the same thing as an employer or manager, if they come into the office and they sit at their desk, and they’re just doing email, why are they coming in?” Wootton says.

Instead, employers can focus on offering something different from what workers would get from home, whether that’s attending a leadership panel or engaging with cross-functional teams. “It might not be every day, but just something that’s different than when they’re at home alone.”

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