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For a company to remain competitive, they need a steady flow of diverse people to bring new ideas and inspire innovation. As the most digitally native generation in an overwhelmingly digital world, Gen Z employees (those born between 1997 and 2012) are a vital component of any company’s workforce. However, their distinct attitudes towards work are creating stumbling blocks for many line managers, who are struggling to figure out what makes this youngest generation tick.
We spoke to two hiring experts to understand how businesses can attract, hire and retain Gen Z staff: Charlotte Steggall, Global Employer Brand Manager – Early Careers at WTW and Corey Bainerman, Vice President – People and Culture at Orangutech.
What does Gen Z want?
For your job offers to appeal to this generation, it’s important to first understand their mindset. As Charlotte Steggall says, “Gen Z don’t have any different needs to other generations, they just vocalise their needs better.” They are not shy about asking more of their employers: more flexibility in hours and places of work, more diversity in the workforce, and more social responsibility from the company. And they’re not shy about quitting, with 25% planning to move jobs in the next 6 months.
For a successful relationship, then, managers need to talk openly and clearly to Gen Z workers about their wants and needs. The cohort now makes up 25% of the UK workforce, so their attitudes are no longer a minority that hiring managers can afford to ignore. Understanding also needs to lead to action, with this LinkedIn article noting that “Gen Z’s demand for authenticity and transparency is compelling organizations to bridge the gap between what they claim and what they actually do.”
Why does Gen Z have different needs to other generations?
Several factors have shaped this generation’s attitude to work.
When Gen Z were at school, they could watch the rise-and-grind culture from a distance, alongside its negative effects. Their closest generation, millennials, were burning out at a high rate, overworking themselves for little reward. Gen Z’s reaction to this has been to switch their focus to a healthier work-life balance and higher salaries, rather than holding out on promises of career progress to come.
The pandemic played a role in exacerbating worker burnout and hit just at the time Gen Z was entering the workforce. Not only was the pandemic an eye-opener for Gen Z on how businesses should not treat their employees, it was also a watershed moment that revealed alternative ways businesses could work.
Before Gen Z were fully assimilated into the decades-old status quo, they were living the reality of a viable alternative to 9-to-5 office work.
Gen Z is the master of the side hustle. They grew up in an era of self-made online success, when anyone could earn money as a content creator on YouTube or TikTok, selling arts and crafts on Instagram, or, as Charlotte has observed, “going to charity shops to find things to resell on Depop and Vinted.” This business-minded, tech-savvy confidence is the reason why they think little of leaving a job that isn’t serving them: “they know their own worth and have a strong sense of what they’re able to offer an organisation.”
How to attract Gen Z
Alongside their desire for better mental health, Gen Z are well-known advocates of inclusivity and accountability. This means they will actively seek out, or avoid, businesses based on their corporate social responsibility (CSR). By updating DEI guidelines to follow current best practices, businesses can show Gen Z workers that they share their values. This is vital in attracting Gen Z talent, who matured in the shadow of the Covid pandemic: “Holistic wellbeing, social and environmental activism, and personal fulfilment top their list of values driving workplace engagement”, according to an article by We Forum.
Indeed, Gen Z place a significant emphasis on the purpose and impact of the employer within their community. Corey Bainerman highlights the importance of alignment between the company’s ethos and Gen Z’s personal values as a crucial requirement in attraction. Corey also underscores the importance of this value alignment coming from the top. Gen Z values an organisation that places equal effort and focus on culture and the employee experience, and the CEO should actively champion this culture-oriented approach. “This is most true of the CEO, as many people will follow their behaviour.” Building cohesive values in an organisation, showcasing them on the company website and throughout the hiring process, will help to tick boxes that Gen Z talent are looking for in a new role.
Because many members of Gen Z are going into their first jobs, benefits packages could be a completely new concept to them. For Charlotte, the most important thing for hiring managers to do is educate Gen Z about the potential of different benefits: “Someone leaving education may not know the great benefit of having private healthcare or a dental plan, and research has shown that Gen Z are the most likely to opt out of their insurance plans as they don’t know the benefit.” It’s thus important to build this education into the hiring and onboarding process. By giving new Gen Z employees a full understanding of how they can best use their benefits, a business empowers them, inspires trust and loyalty. Loyalty is particularly important in talent retention of Gen Z.
Hybrid working continues to be a key priority for a generation that have largely only worked this way. An article in the Financial Times notes a 2022 survey of 647 Oxford University students, where “Good work/life balance” was the most important attribute of a job. Employers that choose to reduce the number of remote working days do so at the risk of alienating Gen Z staff and losing them to their competitors.
While benefits packages are increasing in importance, salary is still a key priority to Gen Z. Given the rising cost of living and the fact that many Gen Z employees occupy more junior, lower-paid roles, younger workers look for pay transparency in the hiring process. They tend to be assertive and know their value, and won’t waste time in a hiring process if they believe that the salary won’t match their ambitions.
Talent Retention of Gen Z
While earlier generations’ loyalty to a company could be earned with the promise of secure income and steady career progress, this commitment in the process has been eroding since the financial crisis of 2008. Winning Gen Z’s loyalty is much more about value alignment and demonstrating investment. As Charlotte puts it, “it’s about the commitment to the employee. When they see investment and long-term planning with themselves, they are more likely to think long term about the employer.” Part of this is down to management style. Charlotte goes on to note: “emotional intelligence is the biggest skill managers need to have in 2023″;
“the old school style of cold, directive management doesn’t fit with the needs of today’s young workers.”
In fact, Gen Z talent expect significant investment in their professional and personal development. Businesses should leverage their desire to grow and develop in their careers and provide ample learning opportunities. As a LinkedIn article states, “By enabling Gen Z employees to pursue their passions and personal interests within the context of their professional journey, L&D teams tap into their natural curiosity and foster future leaders.” According to Deloitte, robust training and leadership programmes with a “real and tangible focus on diversity” form a golden egg for companies looking to nurture and retain Gen Z.
Whilst investing in employees is key, the direction of this investment must be influenced by workers. Corey emphasises the need for an intentional strategy around listening to employees, incorporating stay interviews, focus groups, and engagement surveys. “Nothing frustrates people more than being asked to answer surveys, only to see that no changes happen,” he warns.
Training and opportunities
One of the most important ways to invest in any employee is through training and development. Gen Z want these opportunities for personal and professional development as much as other generations but, as Charlotte describes, a one-size-fits-all approach is not always enough: “it’s about having conversations about their aspirations and helping them towards those goals.” Working with a Gen Z employee to build a more bespoke, personalised progression plan is a highly effective way to draw them deeper into a team and company. Managers should set aside time to help employees work out “exactly what skills they need to improve and signpost them, so the accountability is on them.”
Corey also emphasises the importance of transparency and career progression in retaining Gen Z workers, and the need for employers to provide clear, tangible career progression paths. This can be achieved through the development and publicising of career frameworks, outlining the requirements and associated salary bands for each department. He adds, “What is true is that most companies fail to clearly share the requirements to move to a new role in the company, and to show what kind of pay changes are associated with those new roles.” This sentiment is echoed in an article by We Forum, stating that Gen Z workers “want more control over a variety of career paths and the option to speed up and slow down”, and to “give people more stretch opportunities and training to progress faster if they want to — with pay structures that reflect the extra initiative.”
Understanding the unique priorities, benefits, and engagement initiatives of Generation Z is crucial for HR professionals and hiring managers. Charlotte Steggall and Corey Bainerman’s expert insights shed light on how to create a workplace that not only attracts but retains Gen Z talent. By implementing these strategies, organisations can position themselves as forward-thinking employers in the eyes of the generation that are shaping the future workforce.