Recruiting Gen Z and Retaining Diverse Teams
Updated: Apr 16, 2020
It’s old news—unemployment rates are low, there are a lot of opportunities out there, and the competition for talent is tougher than ever. Some are predicting a financial crisis by 2020, but whether or not this comes to pass, your business will fail unless you have the right people driving it. The savvy are using this time to hunker down and build their teams, and those who work smarter when it comes to talent attraction will come out on top. This means developing strategies for attracting the newest entrants to the labor market: the digital natives.
Attracting Generation Z is a hot topic in the recruitment world.
We know that Millennials like to play hard, we know they like collaborative workspaces, and I’ve spent most of my working life coaching companies on how to attract and retain them. But times are changing and Gen Z is different. Understanding why is fundamental to knowing how to make your business attractive to the best young talent. And knowing how to incorporate them into a flexible, personalized, culture is the key to building and retaining diverse teams.
The differences between generational cohorts are real—we’re all impacted by what happens in the world during our formative years. Economic and social events shape how we see the world and our place in it. It’s worth a quick look at the generations preceding Gen Z.
Baby Boomers: Born just post-World War 2, they experienced huge improvement in living standards compared to their parents. Extremely hard working and goal-oriented, they tend to be career-focused and have a strong sense of self. And rightly so—work hard and yours was a job for life.
Generation X: This generation didn’t live through the hardships of the post-war period, and as such they tend towards a healthier work-life balance and a more optimistic outlook than their workaholic parents. They are more willing to hedge their bets and move between jobs to get ahead. Gen X are the original “work hard, play hard” cohort.
Millennials: We’ve been getting a lot of stick in recent years … but is it really our fault? (Classic Millennial, right?!) Born to Baby Boomer or Gen X parents, we were told we could have it all if we just worked hard enough. We were special—the world was (is?) our oyster. But we entered the workforce in the midst of a financial crisis and it felt like we’d been misled. It left a bitter taste and we quickly learned to question authority, preferring to work collaboratively in flatter hierarchies. Millennials often struggle to settle, questioning what else is out there and looking for something bigger and better—enter the job hopper.
So what about Generation Z? They have seen their parents’ net worth fall and experienced an economic crisis and a breakdown in global politics during their critical adolescent years. They have grown up in an entirely digital world, navigating and branding themselves on social media from a young age, and instinctively learning to synthesize information fast from multiple competing sources at their fingertips. They are pragmatic and highly competitive when it comes to work—call it a survival instinct combined with the self-belief that comes from having built a strong personal brand. They also have an overwhelming desire to change the world (60% of Gen Z vs. 39% of Millennials actually take action on climate change). They expect highly customized digital processes. They expect diversity in the workplace. They expect independence and the freedom to do their own thing.
Economic and social insecurities, combined with an ability to quickly process and critically evaluate information, plus a desire to change the world, means Gen Z differ from previous generations in four key areas when it comes to the world of work.
1. Salary and equity options are more important for Gen Z than they have been for Millennials.
For the first time in my recruitment career I am starting to see salary as the number one motivator for candidates—but not the OTE potential, they need to see clear evidence that earnings are achievable, fast. In the past we would usually find that salary was rarely in a candidate’s top three motivating factors. Now, it’s often the most important factor in candidate decision making. You will also struggle to attract any candidate in hotspot markets to any startup business without an attractive equity plan. My colleague recently wrote about the link between a startup’s funding source and their recruitment efforts, which is worth a read (https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/does-funding-impact-recruitment-jeremy-macleod/). Of course we still get candidates who are more or less risk averse, but generally Gen Z want to see cash returns faster. It’s not just that they have the ability to command big salaries in a candidate’s market, it’s that they have the self-belief to ask for them.
CALL TO ACTION:
Make sure you understand how your candidates are motivated—there will be differences in how they perceive the importance of base salary vs bonus vs equity, so be in a position to be flexible with each offer you make. Don’t be scared to talk about the money upfront, it’s no longer a faux pas.
2. Gen Z expect independence and place less emphasis on company culture
For a long time now there has been a focus on company culture, led by the Googles, Facebooks, and Microsofts of the world. Millennials don’t want to be dictated to by the generations that created the financial crisis; they want to feel part of a collaborative team. But evident in my more junior employees, and in the candidates we’re recruiting, collaborative working and a “work hard, play hard” culture is less attractive than it used to be. Forget the company wide trips and alcohol fueled parties, there is far more emphasis now on the desire to work remotely in individual contributor roles with flexible working locations and hours. And flexible working can deliver results: I recently read a report on a pilot scheme at Microsoft in Japan where a four day working week led to a 40% increase in productivity.
Are Gen Z so used to interacting with screens that they need space, away from real people, in order to focus? Or are they just better at juggling different inputs and know that they can manage their time and attention to deliver away from the office? I’m not sure, but it’s clear companies need to accommodate flexible working in order to attract Gen Z candidates. That said, I’d warn against a one-size-fits-all approach.
A candidate and friend recently talked to me about her experience of working at a well-known enterprise business directory service. She joined the business in her late twenties and was attracted to the collaborative work environment. Soon after the company were acquired they began recruiting more and more younger people, and the culture changed. It became less fun and more results-driven; the teams she had enjoyed working collaboratively with became more dispersed. She left. We placed her in a Series A company more focused on culture and she’s much happier. Her employer lost a mid-career high-potential talent with loads more to give. The key will be finding ways to incorporate Gen Z, without alienating Millennials.
It’s worth noting that Gen Z tend to have more respect for the hierarchy too. Unlike Millennials, they really want to learn from those senior to them rather than take an ‘out with the old’ approach. While they want independence they also want access to your knowledge and experience. Give it to them and they’ll repay you.
CALL TO ACTION:
Take a more flexible approach to workplace practices, rather than trying to fit square candidates into round holes. Change how you work, not just how you recruit. But don’t forget about your Millennials and Gen Xs—they still have a lot to give and are active in the marketplace, particularly for your more senior roles (there are not enough Gen Z’s or Millennials to fill the boots of your Traditionalist and Baby Boomer employees when they leave!) The ultimate goal is to be able to offer highly customized solutions.
3. Gen Z expect consistently high-quality digital processes, which extends to branding and storytelling across digital and social platforms
Gen X and Millennials witnessed the creation of a digital world, but Gen Z know only a digital landscape (did anyone see the clip on Ellen DeGeneres of a young woman trying to work a typewriter?!) and, as a result, expect slick digital workflows and processes, especially when it comes to recruitment. They are used to a digital world that is highly personalized, where standing out from competition is paramount, and they’ve been building their personal brand from a young age. When it comes to recruitment, we need to embrace this customization. Concentrating on out-of-date fixed processes, and relying on résumés and cover letters, may leave you behind when it comes to attracting Gen Z candidates.
And it’s not just your recruitment processes. Gen Z know how to synthesize and filter a lot of digital input very quickly. Every outing you make on social media, every process they interact with, will inform their impression of you as a company and an employer. Inconsistencies or recruitment campaigns that don’t follow through in to the way you really work will be spotted a mile off.
CALL TO ACTION:
Tell the right stories and be consistent. Every time your company goes out into the world, whether it’s the real world or the digital world (and Gen Z don’t differentiate), you are telling a story that forms part of your recruitment effort. You need to look (and be) comfortable in a digital world. But don’t forget older approaches too—you need diverse teams and that means still reaching out to Millennials and Gen Xers in more traditional ways. Flex and personalize your recruitment processes.
4. Gen Z can multitask and will have side hustles
It’s no longer shameful to be moonlighting, in fact, it is pretty standard for Gen Z. They have come of age in a world of immediacy, where you can get a website, register a business, and be ready to operate in 24–48 hours. Gen Z are always looking for ways to build their side hustle. They saw their parents lose jobs and homes during the 2008 financial crisis and they know they can’t always rely on a single income stream. Employers often hesitate to hire someone with a side-hustle, but they shouldn’t. A successful side hustle indicates potential and drive.
My colleague Christina has a side-hustle. She has created a CBD oil and in her free time she researches and markets it (as a CBD skeptic I was worried until I tried it, this stuff is incredible, but that’s another story). My point is, as her employer it scared me that one day a top performer may leave to work full time on her own thing. But in reality, I’d rather that than lose her to another business. We will all grow and develop, and Christina has proved she can juggle a full time job and a side-hustle, and not only that, she is highly successful at both.
CALL TO ACTION:
Don’t let a side-hustle put you off a candidate and in fact, allow side-hustles and encourage participation in social action. You will find that Gen Z are motivated by having this independence and will repay you by working harder. Most people are not passionate about only one thing and building a personal business as well as working a full time job elsewhere may allow them to explore multiple, creating a much happier employee.
Diversity and inclusion is a hot topic, and while we often talk about race, gender and disability, we shouldn’t forget that age inclusivity is important too. As I say to my clients who are focused on these initiatives, if you continue to look for candidates in the same place and in the same way you will recruit the same people you always have done. Diverse teams are more successful, and if you want to recruit new, young talent (while retaining your more experienced employees) you need to understand why they are the way they are, and find ways of integrating their expectations in order to harness their potential. Learn from them, and they will be more than willing to learn from you.
Reference for the Microsoft Japan statistic: LINK