Retaining Gen Z in the Marine Industry
While people in all generations measured themselves against eternal factors—fellow employees, family, their industry, etc.—Generation Z is fixated on measuring themselves against the world as seen through social media. Coaching them will help them begin to turn inward and measure success against their own goals. One of the keys to retaining your Gen Z workers will be in positively coaching them.
Coaching should provide positive feedback about employee contributions. At the same time, regular coaching brings performance issues to an employee's attention when they are minor and assists the employee to correct them. By being a good coach, you allow Gen Z employees to grow without too much negative feedback. Remember, they collect LIKES online! Too much negativity at once will cause them to tune out and shut down. But no matter your age, I think the same could be said for you.
Many employers and supervisors sit their workers down once a year for a review. At that time, the employee finds out what they've been doing right or if there are areas in need of improvement. But what happens the other 364 days of the year?
Coaching is a different approach to developing employees' potential. With coaching, you provide your staff the opportunity to grow and achieve optimal performance through consistent feedback, counseling, and mentoring. Rather than relying solely on a review schedule, you can support employees along the path to meeting their goals. Done in the right way, coaching is perceived as a roadmap for success and a benefit. Done incorrectly and employees may feel berated, unappreciated, even punished.
The steps can help you with the coaching process:
- Identify Opportunities – Look for the coaching opportunity. Then assess its coachability. For instance, you cannot coach a process, only the people involved in the process.
- Picture the “Should Be” – Take the time and pinpoint what the situation will be like when your team member has bridged the gap. Provide all the necessary information ahead of time, so that everyone involved feels like success is attainable.
- Establish the Right Attitudes – Encourage a positive learning attitude. The person you are going to coach should believe that he or she can change, is coachable, and isn’t resentful of the situation. The person must be able to see what is in it for them to be motivated to success. We also know that our attitude as the coach is equally important. If the coach does not have a positive attitude, it is unlikely that our team member will succeed. People will live up or down to our expectations; thus, we must aim high and support the people we plan on coaching.
This is a good place to practice Dale Carnegie’s Human Relations Principles:
a. Begin with praise and honest appreciation.
b. Call attention to people’s mistakes indirectly.
c. Talk about your own mistakes before criticizing the other person.
d. Ask questions instead of giving direct orders.
e. Let the other person save face.
f. Praise the slightest improvement and praise every improvement.
g. Give the other person a fine reputation to live up to.
h. Use encouragement. Make the fault seem easy to correct.
i. Make the other person happy about doing the thing that you suggest.
- Provide Resources – Ensure that the appropriate resources are in place and available. Over promising and failing to deliver causes frustration for everyone involved. This type of behavior can make everyone feel like they were set up to fail leading to an atmosphere of mistrust.
- Practice Skill Development – For knowledge to evolve into a skill, our people must practice it and perfect the skill with the help of a coach who ensures that they are practicing the correct skill. Practice also allows the coach to identify strengths and opportunities for improvement while witnessing the skill in real time.
- Reinforce Progress – When coaching others, it is important to provide feedback in a way that is sincere and allows the other person to hear what you are saying. You might think that all positive feedback is acceptable. However, if feedback is shallow or meaningless, it probably will not have the desired effect. Likewise, negative feedback can cause the recipient to shut down and not learn from our observations. Careful and sincere wording and congruent body language are essential to good communication. Another aspect of reinforcement should be establishing and communicating a measurement system that will enable some degree of self-motivation and management.
- Reward – Recognition and reward can be one of the most difficult things we do, especially in the workplace. To reward people, not only must you recognize their accomplishments, but you must also be comfortable verbalizing recognition.
So, you might be thinking that all the coaching stuff above sounds like everything that you have always heard. And how does any of it relate to Gen Z?
Gen Z craves social interaction. They are looking for mentoring, training and meaningful roles. And a part of the vision that Gen Z has for their career is a strong relationship with their leaders.
Gen Z says that they want to have value from day one, and they want to be a vital part of the organization. So, creating 30-, 60- and 90-day and beyond objectives is a way to illustrate their value and invite participation in accelerating the trajectory of a career.
The secret to motivating and retaining this generation is to adopt fluidity. Provide involvement in planning and strategizing for their future, demonstrate how they can move through the organization and flex their skills. Give them the framework to connect their life to the organization, fusing purpose and potential. You’ll have their loyalty and, the process will help you comprehend how someone can have value and impact from day one.
Gen Z has not been taught to be analytical therefor learning must include the ability to think through processes and learn from mistakes in a safe space. They have grown up with all obstacles cleared from their paths by parents, teachers, and other adult figures. Encountering obstacles can be distressing and anxiety-inducing.
So, when they come into the workforce and encounter issues that require analytical thinking – like why is the engine smoking – they do not know what to do.
Not only do they not understand the engine, but they also haven’t been taught to work their way through the reasons for the smoke and they are going to resist the “old school” jerk that is yelling at them to figure it out.
The best way to get them to learn and begin to think analytically is to bring them to the problem area, explain to them what is happening, take them away from the problem to an area where they feel less anxiety and ask them to solve the problem. They will probably get some of the solution wrong but so didn’t most of us in the beginning.
Let them know where they got it right, explain where they got it wrong and then take them back to the problem and let them work on fixing it. Obviously in demanding situations at sea, this won’t happen easily, but if you take on this method of training it will bear fruit.
When you’re new, just the color of the walls, the lighting, the sounds, the boat smells, the VHF radio, the new faces you’re supposed to be working with, 100 new things that you must remember the names of, and the new safety management system can be overwhelming.
How can you blame someone for bowing out of that environment? If your new hires don’t have the chance to bond with your purpose, then it is just a job.
In the absence of good communication, the human brain creates stories like ‘you don’t care’ or ‘you didn’t give me attention.’
As a CEO, my first reaction is ‘No, you’re wrong! Look at all these manuals we gave you to help you succeed!’ But those new employees are right. We haven’t truly connected with them deeply, and that’s where I see the change come from.
So, my question to any leader reading this: If you know what the average client’s value is, what’s your average staff member’s value?
Think about the best first-day experience you ever had.
What about it was so memorable?
- Was it the warm way you felt when your co-workers welcomed you?
- Was it the excitement of being on the water and being taught new things?
- Was it the effortless way that everyone worked together and understood their jobs and coached you along?
Now think about the worst first day:
- What about it was instantly unpleasant?
- Was it the confusion you felt when you stumbled around the dock trying to figure out how to get on the boat and then where to go once onboard?
- Was it the sloppy, unorganized way your boss flitted from phone call to task without much time to listen to your questions?
- Was it the danger all around you and no one even paying any attention to you?
Let’s think about those experiences in terms of today’s job market. Imagine you are a young, unestablished person who has hundreds of options—if you don’t enjoy working for this company, you could pick up a couple of part-time gigs while building an online personal brand and starting your own business.
- You could work as a Starbucks barista and get two years of free college.
- You could even work on a cruise line in the galley and travel around the Caribbean capturing Instagram-able moments your friends are sure to envy.
Your options are almost endless. If your company is not somewhere they can see themselves in several years, they know on Day One.
- Gen Z is experience led.
- They are constantly analyzing and crafting their own narrative to build the life they want to have and there is a strong fear of missing out on the excitement of life.
- They are realists.
- They don’t expect life to be easy but do expect to be genuinely and authentically treated and for their voice to be heard.
- They are driven.
- They expect to achieve individual success and not be dependent upon an employer, parents, or friends to define what success looks like for them. And they are impatient.
So, when it comes to the first day of work, they expect excellence. The company should bring their best effort to the first day, set up expectations correctly and be authentic with the experience that they would get working there.
Here are some easy ideas:
- Send swag so they get excited about day one.
- Schedule pre-day one online learning
- Send directions
- Prep them with handbooks, dress code info, etc.
- And greet them when they arrive.
Every young person takes a different approach to achieve the same goal.
So how do Gen Zers find the comfort to be curious?
It all comes down to the role of a coach. This coach should be someone the young person feels comfortable talking to and asking questions of.
Because of school, Gen Zers often bring with them an expectation of getting an assignment. They are used to receiving an assignment and delivering the product, and of course, they’re also drilled into seeing answers in black-or-white, right-or-wrong contexts with little room for gray area or interpretation.
To ensure success, it’s critical for the coach to ask clarifying questions, such as ‘What do you need from me to use your hours wisely?’” Encouragement is key to success from the manager’s perspective. It’s so easy to forget the encouragement piece. There should be a commitment from the manager in the early days to be available and answer questions, check in frequently until you know they’ve got it.
As a leader, make an intentional point to stop by and check in on a project, and just ask your young person, ‘Are there any barriers that have popped up that you weren’t expecting?’ Then the follow-up question: ‘What are three ways that occur to you of how that challenge could be solved?’
Contrast that approach with the typical human response when something goes wrong, which is usually to step in and solve the problem—or worse, become unduly frustrated with the employee, creating distrust and often confusion.
Coaching moments can happen in small bites and are usually more effective when they do.
What is happening neurologically when you create these moments of insight is this:
- The brain is lazy and wants to push things into habit naturally.
- Our brains don’t want to think of new things, so having a moment of insight is like having a spotlight go off in your brain that illuminates a new pathway or way of thinking.
Then the leader needs to shift roles into being the encourager and accountability partner to keep them moving toward the new destination. Otherwise, habit is going to kick in. The brain weighs 2 pounds but uses 20% of your energy—it is an exhaustible resource. It’s normal to fall back on habits and bias, and they are similar because they are both unconscious.
Leaders must be explicitly clear in communicating and do it frequently. Why?
Simply put, social media has wired the Gen Z brain to do two things:
- Instantly know how their photos/videos are performing based on the engagement, and
- Simultaneously fear that despite our best efforts, they are always at risk of doing something “wrong,” which naturally creates mental downward spirals.
Because their brains are wired this way, leaders must be explicitly clear in communicating and do it frequently and be overtly intentional about praising them for work well done.
Jason Dorsey and his team at The Center for Generational Kinetics found that
- 60% of Gen Z members prefer multiple check-ins with the boss during the week, and
- 40% of those workers prefer that those check-ins happen at least daily.
- If these check-ins and interactions don’t happen regularly, a Gen Z worker is likely to think they’ve done something wrong.
This may sound daunting to any other generation, or even worse, extremely time-consuming. So, let’s break down what feedback should look like.
Give attention often - Attention is Gen Z’s normal “state of being"
A check-in for Gen Z can be simply an acknowledgment that they exist. Sometimes all they need is for their manager to stop in, say “good morning,” and ask how they are.
This not only builds a great relationship but also shows your young hire that you will listen to and respect their opinions on small things, thereby building a bridge to respect their voice on larger company decisions in the future.
Give the feedback directly, then provide encouragement.
Let’s say your Gen Z employee fails to complete their part of a team project on time and you need to confront them. First, recognize that if you hired an independent Gen Zer, they are likely going to know that they failed you and the team and already be self-correcting in their own head—they are naturally self-deprecating because of social media.
Gen Z doesn’t want sugarcoating up front, but that doesn’t mean they don’t need encouragement! Stick it at the end and you’ll leave the conversation on a positive note.
Second, acknowledge that the Gen Zer might already know why you’re having to confront them. They aren’t clueless and they can see through the BS easily, having been conditioned by the bluntness that comes from social media feedback.
By simply stating “you probably already know why we need to talk,” you’re acknowledging them as adults.
Third, by stating “I don’t want you to blow this out of proportion,” you are empathizing with Gen Z’s tendency to focus on mistakes more than successes – again, cultured by the negative impacts of social media – and helping them see the bigger picture.
By reminding your Gen Zer that they are doing great and that mistakes happen, you can help encourage positive mistake-making. Overall, be blunt and direct, but be clear in your intent.
In conclusion, retaining Gen Z employees means that many of us must change our habits.
- We must learn to be a guide.
- We must support issues that are at the core of what matters to gen Z
- We must present reality and allow Gen Z employees the opportunities to create a unique identity.
- We must let them tell their story.
- We must be responsive, inclusive, adaptive, supportive and provocative.
When organizations deliver more of what young workers need to thrive, they’ll see the benefits in increased engagement and retention not just among those younger workers, but also with their older ones.