Posted 4th January 2019

We have already seen much discussion on how to recruit, engage and retain Millennials. In essence, what you can do to earn the respect and productivity of this cohort.  But already the next generation (aptly labelled Gen Z) is poised to enter the workplace. So now organisations need to understand how to adapt to this new, emerging workforce with the same effort that it took to understand the nature of the Millennials.

Of course, mass generalisation does mean that not all individuals identify with the attributes placed upon them, but there have been some great insights provided by research that do afford us a glimpse into the psyche of these new recruits. Such research can help organisations put in place ‘things’ that will really make a significant difference to both these generations, who have different views, aspirations and core values to the traditional workforce of yesterday. 

Motivations of a generation

Every generation seems to have a label and associated expectation of how it will behave and what it will demand in the workplace.   Baby boomers caught the end of the ‘job for life’ phenomenon and have had to come to terms with the fact that jobs were, in fact, transient. This is also the case for Gen X, and this transitory nature affected different industries at different paces. Of course, the impact was felt considerably on the parents of Millennials and Gen Zers, which resulted in a huge difference in the workplace experience and the generational response to it. 

The economic landscape that formed the backdrop is the main driving force behind these dramatically different reactions. Having seen their parents struggle, Millennials grew up sceptical that career ladders built and climbed in one organisation were the answer, in other words “a job for life.” But with thisese group increasingly struggling to own property, indeed even coming out of university with record levels of debt, it does put a question mark over the “job for life” strategy. They are questioning their parents’ commitment to that career ladder and years of loyalty to just one or two companies. Their allegiance is to themselves, and that’s not surprising, as they will have had, on average between 15-20 different jobs in as many companies by the time they actually retire. Deferred gratification is becoming a thing of the past, and Millennials are actually more motivated by purpose and quality of life now and are not afraid to change jobs or career direction to achieve this.

Gen Z, on the other hand, has had experience and observed the impact of recent recessions on family life, and the financial and emotional stress that this generates.  As a result, they want to prepare themselves for their future and protect themselves from fickle employers and developing relevance in an uncertain job market. Motivated by career independence and financial security, they have a thirst for self development, wanting to acquire skills, knowledge and experience that they can take with them as they grow and build their personal brands and careers.

It may appear that the requirements of both of these groups are too vastly opposed for any employer to consider, and that appealing to everyone to ensure all available talent can access a role will be difficult to achieve. But actually, what they are both looking for is the same: an open dialogue with their employer, that gives them control over current and future roles, whether that’s for reasons of job security or core values and personal development. 

To recruit Gen Zers or Millennials, understanding their personal motivations and offering genuine support in their career development, allowing them to build and take control of their career is essential to both groups. Showing them future career options that they can develop into will meet the aspirations of longer term security sought by the Gen Zers, but will also inspire Millennials as they seek their purpose and personal fulfilment.

What happens in the workplace?

Once you have attracted Gen Z or Millennials into the organisation, it is important to maximise their employee value. However, there is a subtle difference between the way they work. Millennials are commonly regarded as collaborative and digitally sociable, lending themselves well to team working. On the other hand, experts regard Gen Zers as more independent and competitive. They are likely to prefer working alone, marking their progression rather than celebrating team success. It comes from the need to create security, and as both desire feedback and acknowledgement, understanding their true, core motivations will certainly help managers develop both generations into valuable and productive employees.

There is another area of commonality between these two generations that HR can support. The strong need to develop. For Millennials, this means developing new skills so they can grow and for Gen Zers it’s about becoming more relevant.  Giving them insight and feedback on how they are performing, progressing and developing, and enabling them to capture both what they have achieved, and their ambitions, in a truly meaningful way, will be exceptionally powerful and valued by both. And it’s also something they can take forward with them into their careers. 

Recording and exchanging this kind of feedback is often perceived as a time-consuming commitment with little value to the organisation. But for these individuals, it creates an environment of trust, achievement and confidence which in turn rewards the organisation with engagement, loyalty and productivity. 

Indeed, if we don’t give them a chance to become their full selves, regardless of motivation, they are more prone to finding that fulfilment elsewhere. And whilst churn can be perceived as good, it can also deliver higher total people costs as new recruits often come with higher wage bills, as well as recruitment costs, and of course, the disruption to the workplace. 

A changing attitude

We know that Millennials have led the way in the digital savvy age, but it is the Gen Zers who have grown up with this technology as a natural extension of how they conduct their day to day tasks.  So it’s interesting to see that despite them being surrounded by digital assets, they do seek out face-to-face communication and value this just as much in the workplace. Their natural relationship with all things digital means that they don’t distinguish as much as past generations between different aspects of their life, being much more able to have several projects running at once, and working on these fluidly between home, work and travel.  

They are also more entrepreneurial and independent than their elders. According to in its article on “Meet Generation Z” –  over 72% of high school students want to start their own business. It’s important for organisations to respect this entrepreneurial spirit and capture the natural drive and disruptive spirit, in order for companies to benefit from it too. 

Key to achieving this, is by helping both Millennials and Gen Zers to develop their own personal brand within the organisation. Giving them visibility, capturing their achievements, experiences and skills, and ultimately their value. Doing this effectively and at the same time to the organisation’s benefit is one of the significant challenges HR faces in working with Millennials and Gen Zers. But the payback is huge since they will be working hard for themselves and their future, and ultimately for the organisation.

So, for HR it is clear there are marked differences in the motivations and expectations between Millennials and Gen Z workers. They are both equally important groups, bringing hard work, new ideas, eagerness to succeed and ambition to learn and grow into the organisation. But what they need back from an employer is not that different. They both want to have a “voice” and visibility, they don’t want to be overlooked for a stretch role or a path to something higher. They want to be offered opportunities to advance within a company on the merit of their own performance, whether individually or in a team. They want to understand their value within the organisation now, but also in the future and how they can develop to achieve it. But most of all, they want this opportunity with control, so that they have a say in what happens now and in the future. This is where most organisations can struggle – maintaining a balance that achieves business goals and objectives and supports sustainable workforce planning, whilst giving equal input to employees. If you would like more information about how we can help with this…… [contact details?]

Teresa Fox
Post author:Teresa Fox

Teresa Fox is a Co-CEO and Founder of Optunli.

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