Culture change professionals spend a lot of their careers learning, shaping and adapting their approaches to help organisations consider their most important asset – their people. Through years of hard work, the profession has developed a good understanding of what makes people tick. But we have a new generation in town – and research and experience is showing that our previous approaches will not always land in the same way.
Gen Z are here and they’re not just the future, they’re the present. Born between 1997 and 2012, the eldest of this generation are already in their mid-twenties and well into their careers. The lived experience and our research is clear – Gen Z challenge us to think and approach the workforce differently. They have grown up in a time of unparalleled technological and social change – with Covid being a key developing factor in their social and professional approach – and when trying to connect with this generation, it’s imperative for businesses to factor in their preferences, needs and wants within their strategies.
In this feature we will be exploring how we consider Gen Z in our full employee lifecycle – from recruitment to life in our company and then all the way through to their next opportunity and exiting the business.
From the start: attracting and recruiting talent
It seems a logical place to start at the beginning of the employee life cycle which, as we explain to our clients, is not their first day but way back when you were actively marketing the role and going through the recruitment process with your new hires.
During this stage, you need to consider how you are advertising and interacting with your Gen Z candidates. Our survey results support the idea that they prefer video and audio content across the social media channels they use and love, such as Instagram, TikTok and YouTube. Consider utilising or emulating the style of these channels when marketing your talent brand and in your recruitment advertising. Along with this, our research identified an interesting trend that may prove useful in shaping better employee experiences for Gen Z. Individuals within this generation value access over ownership. A big driver for this is the desire for flexibility and environmental concerns1 and can be seen in the increasing demand for everyday services such as streaming sites or clothing rental2 , and in some part may well be caused by delays in typical milestone investments like home ownership.3 Consider tweaks to how your organisation views rewards and benefits packages to offer a greater range of pick ‘n mix perks. Allowing staff to tailor which services they personally value is a more current approach and likely to appeal in particular to Gen Z.
Finally, make sure to keep front of mind how you are sharing your environmental, social and governance (ESG) commitments to this generation through your recruitment campaigns and media. This generation are strongly mindful of these issues and want to know companies’ approaches.
Active time with you and your business
Once you have this generation joining your business, experience and research is telling us there are different tactics and approaches you need to consider as part of your people strategy to effectively connect with them. There are three key areas:
1. How to engage and keep interest
When creating engagement strategies for your people, consider the generational differences in how they prefer to review and consume content. Many of us will resort to the written word and classic update mechanisms such as newsletters and emails. However, our student research shows us that Gen Z prefer indirect and short updates through varied media channels. To engage this audience effectively, make sure you are including short and sharp bitesize updates as part of your communications mix. The key thing here is to consider a variety of channels and mechanisms to cascade messages. Email still has merit, but consider video and shorter sharper written updates if using this heavily. When utilising video think of where it is hosted – do you have a central ‘youtube’ or ‘stream’ set up where people can review the videos in their own time (as they do with social media). For any business it is also worth considering what engagement platform you have (if at all), there are a number of options out there to allow people to interact, like and share content and updates within the business. This level of ‘social’ interaction will be expected by Gen Z team members.
This will help ensure you’re providing content that resonates with all generations within your organisation, effectively communicating your key messages and ultimately helping you to have some fun within this.
You should also consider how messages are disseminated and shared. Gen Z tend to resonate best with messages that are delivered by relatable peers and influencers within their spheres of interest.4 As we will get into later, senior sponsorship may resonate less with Gen Z, and therefore considering your change network and team level sponsorship is key when engaging with your business.
2. Their expectations of technology and processes
As with any generation, it’s important to understand what they expect from their workplace and your organisation. In a complex and rapidly changing work environment, many of us will have technology and processes that we know are not optimal and that we are working hard to improve. For your Gen Z team members, it’s worth noting that they value the intuitive over the complex and technology over analogue. Our research suggests they may have less patience for these inefficiencies than previous generations have.5
In actionable terms, this insight is useful in two ways. Firstly to ensure we have transformational programmes in place to improve technology and processes to the level we see as consumers, and secondly to make sure we are using employee insight from all generations to inform where the most significant pain points are. Give everyone a voice and a say within the transformational agenda of your organisation.
3. How they value transparency and fact
Our research shows the importance of transparency to Gen Z. They are increasingly aware and in turn wary of misinformation in all elements of life, and this does not stop in the workplace.4 When misinformation becomes clear, they are more likely to try and hold brands accountable – both inside and outside of work. Gen Z are ‘truth barometers’1, being nearly twice as likely as older generations to fact-check their news and with nearly 60% saying they’ve developed techniques to spot unreliable or fake news.4
So, what does this mean for your people strategy? Firstly, you need to ensure you are being as transparent and straight talking as an organisation as you can be. You should instruct, coach and train your decision-makers, ensuring this is a valued behaviour and cultural driver. Secondly, make sure you’re providing supporting evidence and dates when stating facts, figures and points of view. Your strategy, updates and messages need grounding in facts and good practice wherever possible.
Their departure and onward journey
Finally, and this is inevitable, most employees will exit your business. Adam Kingl hypothesises that Gen Z could have 30+ employers in their lifetime, based on a pattern of each generation before them doubling the average number of employers they have – Millennials are expected to have an average of 15-16. 6
While many of us wish not to think about it, particularly given the investment of time and resource and the perceived loss of knowledge associated with departures, it’s imperative that you ensure this is a considered and effective part of your people strategy.
Research shows that Gen Z continue the trend for career flexibility7 and mobility that has been increasingly prevalent in recent years, with the low brand loyalty1 that our research identified also linked to this preference – as we know our workplaces are a form of brand. It doesn’t mean they don’t value or enjoy the workplace, but progression and flexibility is seen beyond the walls of the current company. So, what do we need to consider here?
First, design an exit process for your people that celebrates the individual, their successes and contributions to the business and the next step on their career journey. Ensure you use engagement interventions and team touch points to communicate this, and your people leaders are empowered and trained to echo this messaging. You are actively trying to avoid any feeling of shame within individuals and allowing them to leave with positive memories. Your exit process should also include adequate time for knowledge transfer and handover processes to avoid any potential lulls in performance where possible.
Finally, once your team member leaves your business, it doesn’t mean you should stop engaging with them. Having the perspective of leavers turning into ‘alumni’ upon exiting your business is an important one. Ensure you collect their preferred contact details (in a compliant way of course), and regularly engage and communicate with this group – perhaps even hosting the occasional event. Create the feeling of community that is so important to this generation. And in time, you may find your leavers refer high quality, well aligned friends and contacts from their network to your organisation, off-setting exiting talent losses by creating a new recruitment channel.
1 How the young spend their money | The Economist
2 Driven by Gen-Z, Preowned Clothing is Expected to Make Up 27% of the Average Resale Buyer’s Closet By 2023 | BCG
3 Access vs Ownership: Really a Revolution? | Yannis Gidopoulos
4 What Business Needs To Know About The Generation Changing Everything | Oliver Wyman
5 Gen Z can’t work an office printer — but please don’t ‘tech shame’ them | NY Post
6 Next Generation Leadership: How to Ensure Young Talent Will Thrive with Your Organization | Adam Kingl
7 Great Expectations: Making Hybrid Work Work | Microsoft
Looking to better connect with Gen Z? Get the framework now.
Our A to Gen Z framework provides businesses with specific and actionable steps to effectively engage with this influential generation.