We are undergoing a huge change in the workplace, as millions of Baby Boomers retire and so-called Millennials move into management roles for the first time. Then there is Generation Z (born between 1994 and 2010).
Whatever you think about Gen Z, they are already entering the workforce – if they haven’t come to an organisation near you, then they will be in the next few years.
While Millennials (or Generation Y) might be flavour of the month right now, they are by no means the only kids on the block, and with the appearance of the first Gen Z employees, we’re entering an interesting phase of multi-generational workplaces.
As these generations become increasingly separated along well-defined age bands, we’re seeing employees in their 40s, 50s and 60s having to work and collaborate with much younger colleagues who have different values and ways of working.
What’s more, managers and HR professionals are being required to communicate with and manage these very distinct generations of individuals, while constantly being challenged to re-evaluate the way they engage with employees.
Born between the late 1990s and 2010, Generation Z is all about the technology, given that they are the first generation to have grown up in an age of the Internet, mobile and social media.
But think again. Recent studies have shown that Gen Z isn’t just about the technology. In fact, when it comes to the work environment, they want face-to-face contact, with regular feedback, and collaboration with colleagues – despite being digital natives – according to a global study by Randstad, a US-based HR services company. The study found that over half of Gen Z respondents prefer in-person communications with managers, as opposed to emails, phone or instant messaging.
So, for a group of individuals that apparently spends so much time on social media communicating with friends and family, this appetite for face-to-face interaction is not just surprising, but also an important consideration for managers, especially the next generation of Millennial managers, looking to engage with this new generation.
Gen Z is also highly entrepreneurial, much like its Millennial colleagues, and while collaboration is important, so are workplace flexibility, training and development, and the ability to share new ideas and contribute to the future success of the organisation.
Demanding and more likely to challenge traditional ways of doing things in the workplace, this younger generation is likely to be more restless than older colleagues, and so more receptive to regular feedback and mentoring.
At the same time, purpose and values seem to be high up on the priority list for Generation Z. Whether this is surprising or not to employers, it does mean that organisations are going to have to be more authentic if they want to attract the next generation of employees.
There are still those companies out there who claim to have values, but more often than not they are simply a poster on the reception wall or a page in the annual report. For Gen Z it ‘s not acceptable for it to be a box ticking exercise or a random selection of ‘cut and paste’ values that make for nice framed pictures around the office! Social awareness and corporate social responsibility is a big part of these people’s lives and employers will attract the best talent if they can show that values matter and are part of the organisation’s culture.
The Randstad study also points to honesty as the most important quality in a good leader, according to Generation Z and Millennials, as well as support and mentoring capabilities. The need to be honest is something that is core to employee engagement where honest and direct feedback is absolutely critical to positive communication and people development.
This applies of course not just to Generation Z, but also to Millennials, Generation X and Baby Boomers, who may have different attitudes to work, but who still expect honest feedback from their manager. The difference is that when managers engage with a younger workforce, they will need to provide regular and instant feedback – and ask for regular feedback from the employees as well. This is expected of a generation of people who see social media and mobile technology as fundamental to their lives and where feedback is both instant and often brutally honest.
Gen Z isn’t all about the money either. Something of a misconception, we assume younger generations are only motivated by how much they earn. In fact top incentives for Gen Z and Millennials is money, for sure, but also opportunities for advancement and meaningful work.
So while money is important, employers should be looking to emphasise the things that matter – career progression, the values and culture of the organisation, collaboration and the individual’s role in being part of the future success of the business. According to the Randstad study, nearly half (49%) of Generation Z expect to work in their current industry for their whole career, so it’s worth hanging on to those people who value a sense of loyalty in the workplace.
All of this must be reinforced throughout the employee engagement process and as part of an overall people development strategy.
Employers are in a unique era of employment today, juggling the needs of up to four generations of employees. Never before has there been so much emphasis on getting it right for these distinct groups of individuals. But while each of these groups has different views on what they look for in a job – perhaps Baby Boomers and Gen X prioritise a work/life balance over future career development, for example – employee engagement remains core to people development and management.
Each organisation is different and will have a very different make up of people. Ultimately, the key to an effective employee engagement strategy is giving employees choice and choosing the path that best suits that organisation.
John Ryder is the Founder and CEO of Hive.HR – an employee engagement platform that specifically focuses on helping organisations to drive engagement with an ‘always-on’ approach.