Attracting, retaining Gen Z requires flexible work environments, cross-role learning

By Amit Das

Bennett Coleman & Co. Ltd. (The Times Group)

Mumbai, India


In today’s knowledge-driven networked business environment, we need to re-orient our workplace talent strategies. This requires a drastic shift in leadership mindset, which needs to take collective ownership of the redefined workplace policies, norms, practices, behaviours, and ways of working, in a flatter, less hierarchical, and inter-dependent organisational structure.

Members of Gen Z are the real children of abundance. They are upbeat, competitive, ambitious, and driven by both results and purpose. They will not hesitate to speak their minds for psychological safety, and they abide by consensus culture.

Instead of containing Gen Z in outdated work environments, they need to respond to this younger generation's needs and desires.
Instead of containing Gen Z in outdated work environments, they need to respond to this younger generation's needs and desires.

Just as parents of this generation have reconciled with the fundamental differences in the way they think and act, today’s organisations are also compelled to stop judging and start understanding this new employee segment with a much more inclusive mindset. They must recognise and embrace the unique strengths of this new age workforce, which can be leveraged both in the workplace and beyond.

We are now delving deeper into the complex social interactions that are fast replacing routine work and how these social aspects of the working environment are becoming a significant influencer in productivity. Gen Z will increasingly demand conditions created by organisations that prevent siloed thinking. They will support those organisations that offer ongoing learning, provide challenging and meaningful work, and reward fairly through an objective and transparent performance management and total rewards framework.

Collaborative mindset

Leaders need to replace their personal power with a collaborative mindset in a gig economy that will be dominated by Gen Z. I don’t think members of Gen X can give lectures to Gen Z based on historical viewpoints simply by having the virtue of living a few decades more than them. The set of traits associated with Gen Z that are considered dysfunctional need to be looked at with a different lens. They must be leveraged for building the fundamentals — not only for business continuity and success, but also to create disproportionate value for enterprises going forward.

I foresee a lot of common ground and meeting points for engagement, collaboration, and meaningful conversations across multiple generations in workplaces. There is also a huge opportunity to leverage cross-generational perspectives and learnings to build robust and resilient organisations for the future.

We need to calibrate our organisational mindset to lay down certain fundamental principles and practices to unleash the power of Gen Z in the workplace. Gen X shouldn’t try to pretend to belong in Gen Z country and instead think of itself as tourists in this space. Gen X should try to soak in the new ethos, culture, and perspectives. We must stop seeing Gen Z as tech-obsessed and assume they do, indeed, need human touch and interactions.

Rethinking workspaces

We must provide them with opportunities to have entrepreneurial, flexible, and collaborative workspaces. Gen Z does not work for you; they love to work with you. Therefore, we should make small tweaks in the work environment with flexible, hybrid working hours and spaces. We should encourage a role-based organisational hierarchy, promote a growth mindset, and stimulate creative disruptions by allowing for constant experimentation. Harness a creative vision and leverage a clear sense of purpose and passion. Help Gen Z connect and align with the larger organisational canvas.

Organisations should help younger staff progress from self-oriented thinking to selfless behaviours and actions. Invite them for reverse mentoring initiatives and give them the psychological safety needed to speak up and actively engage with senior leadership. Leverage new-age social enterprise tools to drive collaboration, connect, and integrate within Gen Z communities based on shared interests.

New products and services

Research shows that members of Gen Zwant companies to translate their existing products and services into digital experiences. This is probably because they expect more innovation since they’ve grown up in an age of rapid innovation. Corporations need to be more authentic and transparent about what their brand stands for and what it does.

Corporations also need to be open about the challenges their businesses may be experiencing when dealing with Gen Z. As we look at the future of business and work and how to manage the Gen Z segment going forward, we are creating a new implicit contract with this audience. Gen Z still cares about money, but seems to have exchanged security and career obsession for a meaningful and engaging work environment as well as work-life balance.

They also have other social needs, such as social networking, dealing with social anxiety, and making a difference to society. Meaningful work provides a useful lens through which Gen Z can be managed. Without such a lens, managing members of Gen Z could become a Russian roulette of retention and attrition, which will be filled with managerial miscalculations.

We must learn how Gen Z is different from earlier generations. Corporations need to tweak hiring processes to ensure younger workers can showcase their personality traits. We have to engage in face-to-face communication and deliver feedback in a straightforward manner. That is what they want.

Independence and collaboration

Give members of Gen Z independence whenever and wherever you can, and encourage them to collaborate when it’s needed. They don’t really want interferences in their professional and personal space. That is where we need to encourage them on the value of collaboration, because it won’t necessarily come natural to them.

Alternative work options and portfolio career choices work great with them. They also love to dabble with multiple roles throughout their career, which would fulfil their aspirations, instead of engage in a linear career progression.

Constant skill development is essential in providing opportunities for role rotation and multi-tasking. The constant need to stay relevant will compel Gen Z to experiment with different roles and opportunities. Most of them are keen to be mobile, not just across geographical borders, but across various functional corporate structures as well.

Organisations need to provide for comprehensive training and development programmes that advance and drive specialist skills. These programmes will benefit organisations in the long run as they will have access to a pool of talent consisting of multi-skilled, highly experienced, and dynamic individuals.

Corporations must also build managerial capability for giving continuous feedback and managing meaningful conversations with members of Gen Z. Gen Z wants challenges and recognition in their deliverables, and they often want this to be seamless, continuous, and immediate.

Entrepreneurship is in the DNA of Gen Z 

They know the value of money and the importance of education and return on investment from material and human resources. This means they don’t just want money; they also want experiences. Gen Z tends to value experience over status, and authenticity over deceptiveness — the two major characteristics that make them see the world differently from their older counterparts.

They will focus more on environmental and social causes across all facets of life. They adapt quickly, embrace experimentation, are agile, and, most importantly, aren’t afraid of change. They want to get people thinking and, importantly, doing. They would work toward a workplace that cares about its employees as well as the greater world. Companies need to constantly look for ways to promote diversification, through cross-functional exposure and active cross-pollination of talent.

Corporations need to accentuate their own learning and insights by diving into the world of Gen Z. If required, they should apply the design-thinking approach for a deeper understanding of the traits and relationship dynamics of Gen Z.

When it comes to attracting and retaining Gen Z, we have to start with the basics of understanding their views and translating our learnings by crafting employee value propositions that are relevant to their needs. Companies need to convey these compelling propositions in a transparent and authentic manner.

Where they fit in

Creative executives should consider not only what companies can offer to individual employees, but also how each individual fits into the organisational ecosystem. Members of Gen Z want to see a vision for company growth and be part of the digital transformation journey. We need to re-create employee experiences across all employee lifecycle touchpoints that are relevant and provide the high moments of truth for employees.

Gen Z understands that equality doesn’t always work. It’s equity that really makes the difference in the world. It is important to them that a workplace recognises each person has different circumstances and allocates the exact resources and opportunities needed so everyone can reach an equal outcome. They want an environment where they are not judged on anything other than their work — a place where everyone is given a chance to grow.

About Amit Das

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