Gen Z | Keeping up with the demands of the next generation of workers
Written on 21 September 2021
Thanks to increasing life expectancy and decreasing mortality, there is now a greater age range in the workplace than ever before.
But whilst employers largely know how to deal with and what to expect from those at the older end of the spectrum, it’s those at the other end, or ‘Gen Z’, that are an unknown quantity.
What’s more, though this is a generation that naturally poses a new challenge for employers, COVID-19 has complicated matters further, with the motivations and desires of many having now shifted as a result of the disruption.
However, Gen Z invariably represents a powerful tool for businesses going forward, and on that basis, employers must equip themselves accordingly.
What does Gen Z want from a workplace?
While each generation naturally brings new sets of values and ideals into the workplace, Gen Z is arguably an extreme example of this.
In fact, in a survey of over 6,000 Gen Z individuals in 2018, Deloitte found that 77% placed importance on their organisation possessing values that align with their own.
Social consciousness is perhaps the most prominent example of this, particularly as Gen Z is statistically the most ethnically and racially diverse generation in history.
With that in mind, it’s a given that qualities such as environmental and diversity consciousness are going to be actively sought out by these individuals as they prepare to enter the workplace.
Aside from this, Gen Zs are also thought to be particularly confident and self-assured when it comes to their self-worth as professionals, how they want to work, and what kind of environment they want to work in.
In practice, this means they are often driven by fair compensation, strong company culture, location, and work-life balance.
This is again clearly indicated in research, with one study finding that 75% of Gen Zs say they would consider joining the gig economy in pursuit of greater flexibility and remuneration.
Finally, the pandemic is also likely to be a clear driver in terms of how Gen Zs perceive employers. Research shows that 22% have taken time off work due to stress and anxiety during this time, suggesting that a compassionate stance on these matters would be a desirable trait in an employer.
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Why employ them?
As is the case with values and ideals, Gen Z also comes equipped with a series of new traits and abilities.
First and foremost, as the first generation to have grown up wholly in the digital era, they are tech-savvy – a critical attribute in this increasingly digital world.
The figures on this are striking. One study suggests that nine in 10 own smartphones, more than half own a tablet, and more than three quarters use social media. It’s hard to argue that in this day and age, these are things that will translate to attributes in the workplace.
Much of Gen Z’s value is also derived from the mere fact that they are new to the working world. On this basis, they are more likely to be mouldable and adaptable, and to have the ability to approach problems in a more unique and progressive manner.
However, employers must also be conscious of the fact that these attributes often need to be unlocked, and will require the right guidance and nurturing in order for full potential to be achieved.
Engagement, for instance, is a key example of this. Gen Zs need to feel heard and respected, so managers must tailor their approach around this, establishing an open forum for individuals to express their views and ideas.
Similarly, Gen Zs need to be afforded the opportunity to learn, grow and innovate, having recently emerged from education with a host of new skills that are ripe to be refined and honed. After all, Gen Z will be doing jobs in the future that don’t even exist today.
With that in mind, L&D initiatives need to be moulded around this in order to get the most out of these individuals.
What are the challenges?
Finally, employers must remain conscious that, for all its potential benefits, the process of integrating an entirely new generation is unlikely to be completely frictionless.
This may become evident when it comes to engagement and retention.
For instance, the ‘work to live’ (rather than ‘live to work’) mentality is one that courses through Gen Z in particular. Candidates therefore have far greater demands when it comes to balance and flexibility, and may also view benefits as often being more important than salary.
Naturally, this puts more pressure on businesses to design workplaces that attract the right people.
Loyalty is another area where this tends to manifest. A combination of skills shortages (meaning that candidates now come at a premium) and the connectivity of platforms such as LinkedIn mean that employees are difficult to tie down, and can often find new opportunities with relatively little effort.
COVID-19 has once again impacted this quite significantly. The advent of remote working has meant that a much greater number of jobs are within their reach geographically and, likewise, that the talent pool from the employer’s perspective is much greater.
Finally, staying on the theme of pandemic-era working, employers may find themselves with a dilemma when it comes to Gen Z candidates and remote or hybrid models.
Interestingly, research suggests that 77% of London’s younger workers (aged 18-34) are eager to return to the office, compared to half of staff aged 35 and over. This may be down to a number of factors, including wanting the ‘buzz’ of the office, a desire to establish strong social and professional relationships with colleagues, and even just a lack of suitable homeworking space.
Given the difference in preferences between different age groups, and the more general shift to increased remote working, employers could find themselves in a situation whereby Gen Zs are working in a separate location to more senior staff, many of whom are opting for hybrid or flexible working arrangements.
Whether both parties are working from home or one remains office based while the other is remote, it must be made clear to managers that they have a responsibility to manage their time around the needs of their team. Gen Zs will also require more one-on-one support and training from managers to help them get to grips with the company and role.
All of this will require a new breed of managers – ones who are not only technically competent but also skilled people leaders who can keep staff, particularly younger workers, engaged and productive despite the barriers of remote working. In this way, organisations should not only focus on the wants and needs of this next generation of workers, but on how this impacts their workforce as a whole.
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