“I want it all!” – Three steps to prepare for Gen Z in the workplace

Shifting values but stable needs

From postcards to instant messages, from VHS to video streaming, from bank cheques to mobile money and blockchain, from analogue to digital. Our world has changed significantly in the last thirty years. As much as we all need to adapt to changing contexts, our developmental years (generally understood as the period between birth and age twenty-one) fundamentally shape our values, needs, attitudes and behaviours. This is why understanding the changing sets of values of different generations is so important if we are to apprehend the strategies these time-bound groups of people use to deal with the world they are presented with. This helps us distinguish a Baby Boomer and a Gen Xer, or a Millennial and a Gen Z (who are now entering the workforce).

By their thirties, Baby Boomers were likely already married with a professional career marked with perhaps only one or two significant employers. Stability, pragmatism and risk avoidance have been key objectives in their lives. Millennials, on the contrary, may have grown up with the notion that pursuing their dreams was the only thing that mattered. The traditional milestones that characterised a Baby Boomer’s life became irrelevant or, at least, not a priority for this generation. Exploration, optimism and risk-taking seemed to be the important characteristics for their life. Now, when it comes to young Millennials and members of Gen Z, they show signs that they are children of both these worlds as they develop strategies to manage the tension between these two-opposing sets of goals.

In our work with both these generations, as well as the future of urban living, we learned that today’s digital natives are struggling between an inner need for stability and a realisation that entrepreneurship will be a required skillset to succeed in the future.

The world around these young professionals is changing at an incredibly fast pace. Headlines on automation stealing jobs and the rise of the gig economy are an accepted reality within the economic environment they are entering. A well-informed generation, they recognise that lifelong employment is a thing of the past and that they will need to hustle to succeed. The world requires them to be highly mobile and open to accept short term contracts. Lack of security is the immediate consequence. This realisation clashes with a growing desire for stability. Having seen their families go through the challenges of an economic crisis, these youthful workers are aware that life is not an easy ride, so are looking for stability wherever they can find it in their personal and professional lives. Having a good salary, a family, and a roof over one’s head is becoming the desired defence strategy against today’s uncertain world – to provide a sense of control amidst the chaos.

These differing contexts create an inner tension which may seem untenable to those outside of their age group. Yet, it has become the new normal for this generation.

The employee experience

When it comes to planning their professional careers, this tension is reflected in a dilemma for today’s candidates when choosing between the dynamic yet risky startup job and the safe, more structured path of a corporate job. Yet, no matter where they are, there is evidence of their dissatisfaction. According to Deloitte (2018), in 2018 43% of Millennials were planning to leave their job within two years versus an even higher 61% of Gen Z. This has severe implications for employers. For example, the cost of a departing employee is estimated to add up to $121,000 in hiring costs and lost productivity for employers (Economist, 2018) – not including the internal knowledge loss, future training requirements and distress that a vacancy creates within an organisation.

As much as some organisations are already taking steps to address this challenge – think of the now famous Google allowance for employees to spend 20% of their time on entrepreneurial initiatives – we believe that most companies would benefit from rethinking their full employee experience. This will allow them to meet these changing needs but also remain nimble enough to stay ahead of their competitors.

Companies, justifiably, tend to focus on delivering excellent customer experiences. Yet, this should not be at the expense of their employees. Employees are the internal customers of an organisation and deserve attention. It is often said that the best way to deliver a great customer experience is to have a satisfied workforce. So, what do these shifting needs mean for organisations, the selection and onboarding of new hires or their talent development programmes? How can organisations provide that fine balance between entrepreneurship and stability? And ultimately, how do they turn into attractive employers for today’s candidates?

 

Meeting the needs of the next generation

At Claro, we have identified three fundamental steps to be taken and internalised by organisations who wish to consider the divergent needs of this next generation of workers:

Be people-centred and focus on a desirable employee experience – Organisations would do well to engage with their current and future employees to deeply understand their challenges, aspirations and expectations related to the workplace. Only by truly empathising with them, will they manage to envision their ideal work experience. At the same time, organisations should also consider two additional aspects. Firstly, determine their identity and how they would like to be perceived externally. Secondly, identify how best to adapt to meet the demands of the future – what are the big cultural shifts to come that require preparation to stay competitive? It is at the intersection of people, organisation and society that we believe organisations can start to design relevant and satisfactory employee experiences.

Understand the implications of the new experience – Once the desirable employee experience is envisioned, it is important for organisations to identify the consequences this has on their internal structure, processes and ways of working. What needs to change in order to turn this vision into reality? Is there anything new to be introduced? How will people be affected by the change? How to ensure a smooth transition? Companies need to communicate the new strategy, determine priorities, find owners and identify internal champions that can become advocates of this transformation. The risks of ignoring this step could be confusion, siloed and inefficient working units, failure or even complete lack of action.

Don’t aim for quick fixes – Redefining a company’s employee experience implies a significant organisational change: above all in people, mindsets, and culture. This is why companies should avoid treating it as another PR drive to attract and retain this season’s talent. Today’s candidates have a sixth-sense for what is real and what is rhetoric. A superior employee experience is the sum total of many different experiences – from a satisfying application and onboarding process to a stimulating and enjoyable work environment. Adjusting benefit terms or allowing flexible hours may be part of the solution but, singlehandedly they do not constitute the full employee experience. Employers need to be aware of this and balance their need for immediate returns with the expectation of long-term rewards that come from creating holistic employee experiences.

 

Next steps

Despite the challenges, we believe this is a moment ripe with opportunities for large organisations. Both established corporations and high-growth startups have the chance to play a role in this workplace transformation by either adding an entrepreneurial flavour to traditional ways of working or by providing elements of stability that people are now looking for. Talent is becoming more and more of a scarce resource: those companies who can meaningfully attract and retain it will gain an advantage in the years to come. Creating satisfactory people-centred employee experiences goes beyond a single generation. Organisations need to consider the diversity of all the people that make up their workforce and ensure each person in their organisation is catered to. By identifying these new employees’ needs and delivering on them, companies will be providing the necessary benefits not only to their employees, but to the business performance itself.

If this topic is important for your company, or you would like to know more about our insights and perspective on the tail-end of the current Millennial generation and their Gen Z counterparts please contact us at the following e-mail address: hello@claropartners.com 

Oct 30, 2018