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CRE Opinion

The Zivot: Pivoting to Attract and Retain Gen Z

Morrow Hill's Chris Morrow shares lessons he's learned leading a commercial real estate firm during the Great Resignation.
By Chris Morrow |
Jeffery Rolinc/Flickr

“And the sign said the long-haired freaky people need not apply…” The song is from the ’70s, but I could have been singing it in the early 2000s when I founded my company. If you were going to work for me, you were going to wear a suit, a coat and tie, and you’d better not show up with facial hair.

My company is 20 years old, and many of my employees aren’t much older. Our niche of commercial real estate, commercial leasing lends itself to attracting and growing very young talent.

While I have employees who have been with me for 10-15 years, the things that kept them are not the same things that will keep the generation born between 1995 and 2009, Generation Z. That’s why I decided to Zivot.

Research shows Gen Z at the forefront of the Great Resignation. They are the least engaged and most likely to bounce if they’re not satisfied with flexibility, perks, and technology. Since this generation will make up more than a quarter of the workforce by 2025, we need to learn their needs now.

Here are some of the things we’ve found endear our company- and our culture- to our youngest employees:

  • Relaxed Dress Code and Vibe – We’ve relaxed to a more casual dress code and have branded polos and outerwear that people often wear to work. While the office looks more casual, it feels more productive and engaged. If you walked into my offices today, you’d likely see someone in a polo shirt and jeans putting a golf ball while the golf channel plays on the 80” TV in the common area. You might find two others in the conference room zooming with a client while they share sushi.
  • Creative Ideas- while we offer the best technology for what we do, and even invented some of it ourselves, we recognize we’re dealing with a group of young professionals who grew up digesting technology very differently and have ideas and strategies for its use that we an all adapt and benefit from. One recent hire said, “The software we have access to like and Sites USA. I think all of that stuff is so cool. You get to see data that most people don’t realize is out there. I think it makes looking for real estate easier because you can avoid areas with low statistics.”

Management Style

Since the beginning, we’ve always had a pretty relaxed, open-door management style. However, we’ve found it’s more important than ever with Gen Z not just to manage but to listen. Employees who feel heard and respected are the ones who buy in, stick around, and make us proud. Our youngest employees tell us, “The culture is good, and it is a learning environment where you are encouraged to be on a path to the next promotion. People here always want you to keep learning and help you.” We have also adopted what I call Extreme Employee Appreciation. It’s not uncommon for me to go find someone and hand them a $100 bill because I got a kudos email about them. In December, we called the whole company to the roof of our parking garage and gave two of our top performers brand new, 2022 BMWs to thank them for their hard work!

Office Culture

Our office culture has become a lot more “fun,” in many respects, although us old-timers were no strangers to office shenanigans and after-work debauchery. Today that looks like closing the office one Friday a month for employees to catch up on personal time. This is probably everybody’s favorite perk! We cater lunches, decorate, and celebrate holidays, and it’s not uncommon to find people gathered at the break room keg late in the afternoons to catch up on how client calls went and map out strategy for next steps. It also means being more intentional about diversity, equity, and inclusion. We know LGBTQIA+ employees, BIPOC, and working parents were hit hardest by Covid 19. That taught us just how important DEI is to each individual, and by extension, to the strength of our entire team.

Likewise, I’ve changed the way I attract, hire, and retain new talent, and the results have been amazing. I used to pay headhunters to find me resumes. But I’ve found that speaking to younger job hunters where they are, I’m hiring great people and finding them faster. I’m promoting fun office activities with bold “we’re hiring” messaging on social media, and using hashtags such as #werehiring, #funoffice #bestplacestoworkinTX, and #worklifebalance. I recently spoke to a class of real estate students at the University of North Texas. At the end of my talk, I invited them to connect with me on LinkedIn, to send me their resumes in my DMs, and they have. I have found and hired several people through my inbox on LinkedIn.

Organizations that fail to reinvent their approach to attracting and retaining Gen Z workers risk turnover, vacancies, and lost opportunities that impact the bottom line. (source: McLean and Company 2022 HR Trends Report.) Since I’ve made the “zivot” to focus on Gen Z, I can see our company growing and expanding. Not just size-wise, which we are, but also through enthusiasm, fresh ideas and approaches, and the strength of a cohesive, multi-generational team.


Chris Morrow

Chris Morrow

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