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Generation Z: What can you expect?

Posted by Dan Rodriguez, HAys US president on Monday, Sep 11, 2017

What do you need to know about Generation Z in the workplace?The next generation – born from the late 90s onwards – are just starting to enter the workforce. So far they’re largely in part time retail and hospitality jobs, but you may also be seeing them at university career fairs, or in your latest crop of co-ops and internships. In the next two to five years they’ll be your entry-level and junior hires.

What do you need to know about this generation to make sure they’re ready when you need them?

Why does Generation Z matter?
We’re still hearing about Millennials, and they’ve been in the workforce for almost 15 years. Many of the changes to work practices, including flexible hours, flatter organizational hierarchy, and cross-training and work rotations have been driven by their desire for autonomy, work variety, and continual professional development. If employers had been able to see these changes coming and prepare in advance, we may not have seen the same job-hopping, cultural fit issues, and misunderstandings or miscommunication.

Be proactive instead of reactive to the changing expectations of each demographic. By understanding today what drives Generation Z, you can start to put in place the programs and processes to attract at retain them.

What sets Generation Z apart?
These are the digital natives who are constantly connected and ambitious, but who seek instant gratification and feedback, and can be incredibly anxious.

This group have grown up during the 2008 financial crash and subsequent economic downturn, threats from global terrorism, political uncertainty in countries that have been traditionally stable, and high youth unemployment in much of the developed world. This generation witnessed their older siblings or parents struggling, and this has affected their attitude to work, their ambitions and motivations. It has made them more self-aware, self-reliant and driven. They are realistic, goal-oriented innovators and more likely to want to save money than spend it. Gen Z acknowledge they will have to retire at an older age, so they will want work to fit around their lives.

What could that work look like? According to UK social media monitoring company Brandwatch, which has tried to forecast future jobs for Gen Z, new jobs could include digital architects who design virtual buildings, waste data handlers who dispose of data in a responsible way, elderly wellbeing consultants as the population ages, and nanomedics who create small implants so people can
monitor their own health and self-medicate.

Many HR professionals believe Gen Z will disrupt the workplace more than Gen Y or Gen X ever did. The challenge is to find effective ways to accommodate and retain emerging talent, and a structured onboarding process is certainly a must.

What are Gen Z’s priorities and how can you make sure you’re ready to welcome them to the workforce?

They have practical concerns
Money worries mean Gen Z will value financial protection such as a good pension, private medical insurance and income protection, as well as flexible benefits that allow them to enjoy life and book extra holiday.

Diversity and inclusion are considered the norm
This generation don’t see diversity as a project or program, but as a reflection of their lives and social groups. Many are also much more comfortable about their sexuality and ethnicity and will expect the companies they work for to embrace diversity, which they will see as the norm. Gen Z are less likely to consider themselves “exclusively heterosexual” compared with millennials, according to research by The Innovation Group, while data from the United States Census Bureau shows Gen Z will be the most ethnically diverse group to ever enter the workforce.

They’re not afraid to reject the “standard” path
Gen Z are worried about student debt and according to UK figures many are considering apprenticeships as an alternative to further education. According to training provider learndirect, 37.4 per cent of the apprentices starting in the UK between August and October were aged 16–18. This was up from an average 25 per cent recorded in the previous five years.

Generation Z care about employer branding
“There is a lot of parental influence. This age group will discuss with their family a potential employer, the role being offered and the salary,” Steve Morris, Marketing Director of learndirect, says. “For many Gen Zs and their parents, the employer brand is often more important than the initial job they will do.”

He points to how some high-profile employers are wooing apprentices because these are perceived as great brands to work for in the eyes of parents, but Gen Z are also open to brands that their parents haven’t heard of, such as the retailers where they shop or the niche digital brands they interact with every day.

They might need guidance on workplace expectations
Sue Warman, Senior Director, HR for Northern Europe and Russia for business intelligence and analytics firm SAS, says there is an element of pseudo-parenting required by HR and line managers as younger people learn what behaviours are acceptable in the workplace.

“They need to understand meeting protocol, how to manage their time and how to represent our brand. It means a big coaching overhead for managers, but Gen Z welcome a good manager they can look up to.”

Authenticity is highly valued
Warman says older workers are fascinated by their younger colleagues, but when recruiting from Gen Z it is best to ask for help from those in the same demographic. “You cannot fake youth as an HR person,” she says. “We are doing a big push to get our younger workers to recruit for us through their university contacts and social media. I have seen how companies are using virtual reality and gaming at events. You have to speak their language and not be too corporate.”

A short-term point of view is common
Because of their age as well as demographic trends, many Gen Z are not looking beyond the next two years of their career. At civil engineering and construction company Costain, HR Operations Director Jenny Tomkins calls Gen Z the “impatient generation” and says the immediacy they demand in their lives extends to the workplace.

The company has shortened its graduate scheme from three years to two and split it into two streams. There is still a longer route for those who need the technical knowledge to become engineers, but also a shorter path for those earmarked for management.

“We want to be able to accelerate people’s careers if they are ambitious, but they still have to earn their stripes,” says Tomkins. “You also have to spot a young person’s strengths and potential early. We had one graduate who was going down the technical engineering route but was not doing too well, so we moved him into a sales role and he is flying.”

Generation Z care about the “why”
Tomkins notes that Gen Z also have a commitment to ‘purpose’ in their work, and want to understand ‘why’ a company does what it does. “We build the infrastructure, such as the redevelopment of London Bridge station, that will support Britain’s future, and that is an exciting story when recruiting.”

Read more about the future of the world of work in the latest issue of the Hays Journal.

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