Time for
Some Zs

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Gen Zs are digital natives who prefer text over talk, and expect to find their first job via social media.

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By Sarah Fister Gale

T

he next generation of workers is already trickling into the workforce. Don’t be fooled; these are not mini-millennials. Generation Z brings a vastly different set of skills, expectations and life experiences — and they will be in hot demand, said Penny Queller, senior vice president and general manager at Monster Worldwide Inc., an employment website company based in Weston, Mass.

Gen Z is entering the workplace in an era of unprecedented growth, where low unemployment rates and high demand for skilled labor means they can be choosy about who they work for and where.

Unlike millennials, who graduated from college in the midst of the worst recession the country has seen in decades, Gen Z is entering the workplace in an era of unprecedented growth, where low unemployment rates and high demand for skilled labor means they can be choosy about who they work for and where.

This generation is also larger than millennials. They may only be interns and college students today, but in a few years they will make up more than 20 percent of the workforce and outnumber millennials by more than a million.

If wanting to be a Gen Z-approved employer of choice, companies need to start adapting their recruiting and management styles. “Companies that assume Gen Z is just a younger, slightly more digital version of the last generation will be very disappointed in their ability to attract and keep them,” Queller said.

Counting the Differences

From a technical perspective, this generation is more digital than their older peers. Gen Z grew up reading their baby books on iPads, getting their first smartphones in grade school and assuming that any piece of information can be instantly accessed the moment they want it.

This could be a problem from a recruiting standpoint, said Queller, who is also the parent of two Gen Zers. Other generations have grudgingly tolerated employer-focused job application processes, where résumés get sent into a black hole and candidates rarely get any response or feedback, she noted. “But this generation will not stand for it.” Her 20-year-old son recently chided her for working in an industry that “just makes people feel bad.”

“This generation can track everything they do; it makes no sense to them that they wouldn’t know where they are in the talent acquisition cycle,” she said. “Companies have to do better.”

Along with making recruiting platforms more transparent, recruiters and managers will have to adapt to Gen Z’s preferred communication and listening styles. Most of this generation never check their email and they loathe getting phone calls because they assume that all meaningful communication can be conducted via instant messenger or Snapchat. They also have no qualms with using multiple communication platforms simultaneously, noted Jonah Stillman, the 19-year-old half of GenZGuru, a multigenerational consulting firm run by Jonah and his father, David Stillman. Jonah sees this as proof of their honed ability to multitask, but managers may mistakenly assume they are slacking off. “Just because we have five screens open doesn’t mean we aren’t doing the work,” Jonah Stillman said. “It’s not the process but the performance that matters.”

Embracing a nonstop multitasking approach to work can be challenging for older managers, noted Jennifer Prevoznik, global head of interns and early talent acquisition at SAP in Philadelphia. “Managers think they are distracted, but this generation is hyper aware of their surroundings and they question everything,” she said.

Technology isn’t the only thing that differentiates this generation. Socially, economically and emotionally they are a very different breed. This cohort of kids grew up in the recession and saw many of their parents lose their jobs, Jonah Stillman said. “We saw the economy suffer, and we saw our parents’ net worth fall.”

They also lived through the aftermath of tragedies such as 9/11, Sandy Hook, Marjory Stoneman Douglas and a barrage of other mass shootings that left them feeling angry and vulnerable. “Instability is part of who they are and how they grew up,” said Jennie Hollmann, director of organizational research for Caliper, a talent development company based in Princeton, New Jersey. These experiences gave them a very different outlook on the value of education and their expectations for the future. “They crave a sense of stability that millennials didn’t need.”

That has made them a lot more focused on creating a career and achieving individual success. Seven in 10 Gen Zers surveyed by Monster rank salary as a top motivator for taking a job — higher than any other generation surveyed — and they are willing to work hard to earn their keep. Fully 58 percent say they will work nights and weekends for higher pay, and 74 percent would move for a job opportunity — more than any other generation.

Still, money isn’t the only thing driving their decisions. This generation may be cost conscious, but they also care about the world, Queller said. Monster’s survey shows 74 percent of Gen Z believe work should have a greater purpose than just earning a salary (compared to 45 percent of millennials). “They are committed to social responsibility and they want to know their employer does the right thing for people and society.” To tap into this expectation, she encourages companies to integrate information about social responsibility into job postings. “Every Fortune 1000 company publishes information about their CSR efforts but rarely on their career sites,” she said. “That’s a missed opportunity.”

This generation has only barely entered the workplace, which means companies have a golden opportunity to figure out what they need.

There’s No ‘We’ in Gen Z

The companies that can win this generation over can expect them to be hardworking and loyal. “They are motivated and willing to work hard to get what they want,” said David Stillman of GenZGuru. Just don’t ask them to collaborate. “They are competitive, driven and independent,” he said. “They want to be judged by their individual merit and contribution, not the achievements of the group.”

That independence extends to their preferred communication style. “Even though a manager might have the last say or the upper hand, all conversations should be a discussion, not a dictation,” Jonah Stillman said. “Gen Z has grown up being told to speak up and that their voice matters. If they feel that they are not on equal ground when it comes to the ability to share thoughts and ideas, they will not engage.”

Clarity about expectations is also critical, said Prevoznik. She has found that her Gen Z interns perform best when given formal projects with clearly communicated deliverables and expectations. “Open dialogue and feedback early and often is critical to get best work outcomes.”

They also need to be given permission to get involved in other projects. Gen Z has an entrepreneurial spirit, and it’s important for companies to foster that, she said. SAP accommodates this attitude with interns by talking up the different kinds of projects they can work on and highlighting the many hackathons, coding challenges and design thinking workshops they will have a chance in which to participate. They also encourage interns to get involved in anything happening at the company, whether it is helping out on a client project or working in the organic garden created by employees. “We want them to not feel like they don’t have to be chained to their desk all day,” she said.

While these are general best practices for handling Gen Z talent, it does not mean their communication preferences will be identical, added Prevoznik. Finding an ideal form of communication “requires experimenting and using a mix of informal, formal, in-person and virtual tools to find what works,” she said.

Companies that assume Gen Z is just a younger, slightly more digital version of the last generation will be very disappointed in their ability to attract and keep them.”

— Penny Queller, senior vice president and general manager at Monster Worldwide Inc.

Forget Job Fairs

While Gen Z is still relatively new to the workplace, some companies are already adapting their recruiting strategies and communication styles to accommodate their aspirations. SAP, for example, expects 25 percent of annual new hires to be new college grads, which has caused them to reevaluate their recruiting and management approaches. The global software company may have more than 88,000 employees, but as a B2B software provider, they aren’t widely recognized by the Gen Z set. “We have to get better at letting them know who we are,” Prevoznik said.

That starts with targeting them where they live. Gen Z doesn’t want to truck across campus to career fairs, then stand in line to hand over their resumes, Queller said. They want to communicate with recruiters via virtual job fairs and WebEx events.

When companies do come to campus, they need to be more targeted in how they talk to candidates. For example, instead of traditional recruiting fairs, SAPs recruiting team invites the top assistants in a computer science department to lunch, offers experts as classroom speakers and hosts robotics labs on campuses. “It’s all about finding pragmatic ways to get in front of them instead of asking them to come to us,” Prevoznik said. SAP isn’t alone in adapting its recruiting messages and platforms for Gen Z. Companies like Amazon and Goldman Sachs have started posting job ads on Tinder and Spotify as way to engage candidates in new locations. And last year Booz Allen rolled out BARB, a Booz Allen Recruiting Bus that tours college campuses and career fairs, offering potential candidates tech demos, puzzles, swag and recruiters who conduct interviews in the spot.

When recruiters get in front of them, they should have conversations rather than deliver sales pitches. “The goal shouldn’t be to showcase every benefit at the company and expect them to get excited,” said David Stillman. “The best approach is to ask the Gen Zer what is most important to [them], then position the benefits that are a direct match.”

This generation has only barely entered the workplace, which means companies have a golden opportunity to figure out what they need. The companies that start today will be ahead the curve in attracting these hard workers. “Gen Z are innovative, and they will drive change across the workforce,” Jonah Stillman said. “But you have to be open to new ways for getting things done.”

Sarah Fister Gale is a writer in Chicago. To comment, email editor@talenteconomy.io.