Your gen-Z staff need a helping hand – here’s how to offer it

Businesses are increasingly implementing coaching as a cost-effective way to provide support for generation-Z workers and upskill them

Illustration of Gen Z workers

In the seven years since Josh Akapo founded his creative house Archtype at just 16 years old, coaching has been instrumental in shaping both him as a leader and his company structure in a way that he didn’t think was possible. 

Once reserved only for C-suite executives or high-potential groups, coaching has recently taken off as a benefit at every level in the workplace. Many companies employ coaching programmes to cope with a crisis of disengagement, particularly when it comes to their employees from generation Z. Despite being the freshest arrivals to the workforce, gen Z is the least engaged generation at work, according to recent research from consultancy Gallup.

And it’s a strategy that can pay off. A Metrix Global study found that coaching has a 788% return on investment (ROI) based on factors including increased productivity and employee retention. Indeed, organisations with a strong coaching culture have 60% higher employee engagement than those without it.

With the rise of hybrid working, Akapo believes coaching is a powerful tool to help gen Z navigate the post-Covid corporate environment more effectively, understand corporate culture and meeting dynamics and handle social situations. “The appeal of coaching is that it helps you become a better version of your professional self,” he adds.

The rising tide of coaching in the workplace

Sir Cary Cooper, professor of organisational psychology and health at the University of Manchester, has found that gen Z is different to previous generations of workers. They are questioning the value systems of the previous generations and wanting to work for organisations that actively prioritise workers’ wellbeing, he says.

He believes that coaching offers neutrality and support in addressing both professional and personal issues because coaches typically possess high emotional intelligence. This makes them well-equipped to listen with empathy, earn employees’ trust and facilitate open conversations about their concerns.

Nick Goldberg, founder and CEO of coaching platform Ezra, says that coaching, while sharing similarities with other workplace wellbeing initiatives, is specifically geared toward enhancing employee performance and productivity. “Coaches use what they describe as Socratic questioning, which means rather than telling you the answer, they help you come to it through challenging some of your assumptions as to why things may or may not happen,” he explains. 

Coaching provides the emotional intelligence that helps employees evolve from commander to influencer leader

Coaching can also help foster more inclusive workplace environments. Samantha Price, talent solutions director at engineering consultancy Morson Group, agrees that coaching can play a pivotal role in helping employees grasp the significance of DE&I and their responsibilities in promoting inclusion.  “Coaching can help individuals recognise, challenge and address unconscious biases, which helps contribute to a reduction in unequal opportunities and outcomes,” she says. 

Both Price and Akapo view coaching as a major tool for upskilling and training younger employees from under-represented backgrounds. “It enables people to build confidence, especially for those from backgrounds where that has been forcibly stripped from them due to systemic oppression,” Akapo says. 

Both, however, warn against using coaching initiatives as box-checking diversity exercises. While Akapo notes there has been an increase in coaching programmes, he stresses that many organisations are trying to create a culture of assimilation where people feel like they are part of that workplace by adopting its values, cultures and its beliefs.

“Coaching programmes should be part of a comprehensive diversity, equity and inclusion strategy that includes policies, training and a commitment to meaningful change in the workplace,” Price agrees.

What makes a successful coaching programme?

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to developing and implementing a successful and scalable coaching programme. Still, Goldberg credits the success of Ezra – it has helped organisations such as Coca-Cola and AstraZeneca – to the platform’s personalisation and technology aspect. “Having a one-to-one coach enables the process to be contextualised and tailored to each individual’s needs,” he says. 

This could further be explained by the emerging trend of more personalised employee experiences, such as custom pensions or benefit packages.

From an administrative perspective, Goldberg believes technology has made coaching more accessible and user-friendly, reducing menial tasks and democratising the process. “It’s so much easier for people to do today than it was four years ago, when it involved a whole process. It’s digital and people can do it wherever they like,” he adds.

What can businesses do to measure the impact of coaching?

Like any other corporate initiative, a successful coaching programme needs to be measured and reported effectively. Goldberg notes that the coaches need to have some understanding of the business, not just how to coach, otherwise, it can become “fluffy”. To measure the impact of coaching, companies can look at both qualitative analysis such as goal attainment and behavioural change, and quantitative analysis such as productivity, retention and revenue before and after coaching implementation. 

Goldberg suggests a competencies framework where employers can select areas where they want their employees to improve and individuals on the programme can indicate which competencies are particularly important. They will then be able to see the difference before and after the programme.

He highlights that 41% of participants are increasingly focused on developing their “articulate ambition” skill, making it one of their top three competency choices. Other competencies that people and organisations turn to consistently include communication, influence and leading change, shaping strategy, developing self-confidence and managing conflict.

As companies want to recruit and retain gen-Z and young millennial workers, Cooper believes coaching can provide pastoral support as well as learning and development opportunities. “Younger people are trying to gain experience and develop relationships with people when they first enter organisations. So the irony is, as much as they are digitally savvy, gen-Z workers are being prevented from establishing those relationships in a digital world,” he says. 

While coaching can often be confused with “rescue” or  “help” mode, according to Price, it is more about empowerment, reflection and awareness of each person’s unique journey. 

“At the heart of it, coaching provides the emotional intelligence that helps employees evolve from commander to influencer leader,” she concludes.