2018 was an auspicious year, the first when those born at the turn of the century reached adulthood. Generation Z, those in their late teens to mid-twenties, has grown up in a truly connected society and that’s had a profound impact on their outlook. These individuals have a very different sense of self and set of priorities to previous generations, so businesses need to understand their attitudes to their working lives to attract and retain the very best talent.
There’s a lazy misconception that those fitting into this age bracket lack motivation. However, any suggestion they aren’t prepared to work hard is entirely wrong. Younger people certainly aren’t afraid to put in the graft, rather the challenge they face lies in balancing their career with their other interests.
Technology affects career thinking
We’re all told technology will free us, but this generation really buys into this and these digital natives have grown up with the expectation that nothing is impossible. This makes them hugely ambitious, as well as tech-savvy. Typically, they are great at multi-tasking and handling (continual) change. It’s this flexibility that makes them such significant assets in a market where agility and responsiveness is all-important.
However, their global perspective has shown them there’s more to life than their parents’ nine-to-five. To them, the ideal of the nuclear family seems rooted in the past, as does the accumulation of physical ‘stuff’. After all, these are the children of austerity: they have the burden of tuition fees and spiralling living and transport costs. This reality has changed young people’s attitudes: if you can’t afford a mortgage, why not put the savings into travel – and why commit to car repayments when an Uber’s just the tap of a smartphone away?
For Generation Z, true value comes through experiences, and work is just one experience of many. They don’t believe in jobs – or even career paths – for life and this makes recruiting and holding on to the right people challenging. It’s inevitable that when increasingly significant portions of your workforce values new experiences above all else, churn is going to be an issue.
Back into the fold?
While younger employees might well decide to leave your employ, under the right circumstances they might also choose to come back. They want to test and learn and if something doesn’t work out, they feel little stigma of perceived failure – they’ve tried something new and potentially learned some new skills along the way. Sometimes things simply don’t work out.
It’s a refreshing attitude and understanding the motivations behind this behaviour has highlighted a new approach at IPG Mediabrands: we’ve thrown out the old rulebook and developed working practices to align to the very different career and personal aspirations of the next generation of leaders.
We now offer all staff the chance to take annual sabbaticals from the outset, as well as the opportunity to work across teams. We recognise that as a contemporary employer we have to be able to support and reword less linear career paths. So, we encourage staff to try different roles should they wish, or work in different markets where appropriate.
After all, work is one part of their lives, but it’s not all about making money. Recognition is often more important to young people than financial reward. As such, you need to be able to give them a greater degree of flexibility to travel or develop their side hustle: we have staff making music, running a food truck and a whole range of esoteric propositions on the side.
Being flexible and adaptable as an employer isn’t simply giving people leave to work any time, any place, anywhere as suits them. It’s a two-way street and we ask a lot of our staff – there’s an underlying understanding that sometimes they may need to work later, from a different location, or even from a client’s office.
Offering greater flexibility offers benefits to both parties. While there’s no sense that these perks need to be earned, there is a psychological contract that starts from a place of trust.
A focus on flexibility and collaboration
The greatest hang-up that exists in business is trusting people to work remotely. However, the UK’s largest research study into flexible working carried out by Timewise revealed that 87 per cent of full-time staff either work flexibly already, or would like to have the opportunity to do so. This equally benefits parents working around childcare, or Gen-Z staff that want to pursue their passions beyond the workplace.
So, ask yourself, why can’t you trust young people to work remotely? If they’re working to task-based objectives then it certainly doesn’t matter exactly how many hours they’re sat working in the office. It isn’t true that you can only be conscientious if you’re chained to the desk nine to five. Agile working provides greater flexibility and can help even retain younger employees as their lives develop and circumstances change outside of work – just look at the success of Digital Mums.
Of course, that means having agile working ambassadors to help teams understand the opportunities around using collaboration tools such as Skype, WebEx and so forth – and pointing people in the direction of the right tool for a given job.
Empowerment, inclusion and development
Having diverse minds on a team – with contributors from all age groups and demographics and regardless of where they’re physically based – results in broader perspectives, greater creativity and better results. Otherwise, there’s always the danger of conforming to groupthink.
Younger talent keeps your business fresh. Retaining it means making sure everyone is empowered and everyone is heard, because giving people responsibility early in their careers is a key way to encourage the leaders of tomorrow. For that to work you need great learning and development programmes, including management training. Mentorships are also hugely popular – and this means investing in proper training for mentors too.
Reducing churn matters for leadership
In our experience, younger employees, at least those yet to start families, are less concerned with work-life balance. They throw themselves in to their working lives for the same reason they develop their interests outside of the office – to learn and to try new things. There’s a greater fluidity between their professional and personal lives and they find each can complement and enrich the other. As such, their older colleagues need to change the way they think about the workplace too. It’s not about how we separate our work and life – it’s about how we can blend them.
No-one wants to be bored or to be a small cog in a larger machine. If you understand this and value each and every employee as being greater than the sum of their job title, there’s a much better chance you’ll be able to reduce Gen-Z churn.
This should be a key concern, as businesses will struggle if they don’t develop and keep hold of the best younger staff as the next generation of senior management. However, sometimes you need to recognise that you need to let go and it’s not personal if your star players decide to gain experience(s) elsewhere. If you’ve treated them with respect and nurtured their talent, there’s every chance you’ll welcome them back at a later date.
The world is changing, and many businesses are looking to introduce new types of services in the digital economy. As such, it makes sense to encourage a greater mix of skillsets within your workforce and be progressive. Being able to pull together cross-disciplinary teams at short notice gives you the greatest chance of adapting to take advantage of opportunities as they emerge – and you can be sure that those most enthusiastic to give it a go will be Generation Z. It’s this ambition, fearlessness and resourcefulness that will make them such great leaders – if you can encourage them to stay!
Caroline Foster Kenny, CEO EMEA