Until a few months ago, I worked at a hip, millennial marketing agency. Located downtown in a refurbished historic property, we had the requisite bar with beer on tap, an open floor plan with collaborative areas and a speaker system that serenaded the space with age-appropriate genres like contemporary country and 90’s pop. Today, we still have the bar with the taps, the open layout and, yes, even the jams, but we’ve quickly become a multi-generational agency with the hiring of four members of Generation Z. These young people have already made a large impact on the quality of our creative work and the value we provide to clients, and by 2020, they’ll make up 40% of the workforce, so employers should prepare now.
The oldest members of Gen Z, sometimes called post-millenials, iGen and the Deltas for their embrace of change, were born in 1997, and the key distinction between their generation and previous generations is that members of Gen Z have never lived in a world without the modern, interactive internet. Most have had access to home computers with high-speed connections, social media networks and smartphones since they were children, which is why they’re often called “digital natives.” These individuals are often described as driven, pragmatic and strong influences on the purchase decisions of their Gen X parents. And for employers who need to recruit and retain the workforce of tomorrow, it’s time to start thinking about how to cater to this competitive group.
Employer Branding on Gen Z’s Terms
One of the first challenges that employers face with Gen Z is in recruiting the best possible talent. Employer branding, as compared to broad corporate branding, focuses on an employer’s reputation as a place to work, and the value proposition that it offers to employees. For companies that finally feel confident in the employer branding changes that were made to appeal to millennials, a newer and larger employee group can feel daunting. But, Guillermo Echarte, a senior solutions manager at LinkedIn and a frequent speaker on employer branding, warns employers to ignore the valuable Gen Z recruitment market at their own peril.
“The oldest of the Gen Z army are currently 22. That means this generation is spilling into the workforce and, surprise, they’re different from millennials. Companies who are branding and expressing themselves in the same ways in the same places to this cohort are going to have an uphill battle. Specifically, where most of us grew up reading books, Gen Zers grew up on feeds (online social that is), so you better have a social strategy that speaks to what they care about, such as purpose and impact, technology, redefining work-life balance, and do so in a couple of seconds.”
While Gen Z is more comfortable moving between communication channels, most of its members are just as focused on an employer’s authenticity as the millennials that preceded them. For this reason, and because Gen Zers use several sources to acquire information about a prospective employer, it’s vital to be authentic and consistent in the way that your employer brand looks and feels. Finally, it’s important to seal the deal with high-value engagements, such as internships, lunch and learns or pints with prospects.
Connect the Dots
Raised by parents who suffered the brunt of the Great Recession, Gen Z is, on average, much more pragmatic than their passionate and idealistic millennial elders. They carry a higher student loan burden and recognize the need to start saving in their 20s for retirement. When shopping for jobs, security is high on Gen Z’s list of employer qualifications. To better communicate that sense of security in job offers, be ready to clearly identify how your company’s position connects to the growth of your organization and the opportunities for advancement that exist within your organization. Salary remains important, but don’t be afraid to use your location as an advantage. Show how an area’s cost of living can stretch a lower starting salary as compared to more expensive locations. Finally, nontraditional benefits, such as contributions toward gym memberships or student loans, can help contextualize salary offers by connecting an offer to its practical use.
For Killian Miller, a graphic designer and videographer, a local employer with high-quality production was the most attractive option because it was the most pragmatic. “The reason I wanted to work at 502 was the quality of work and the type of work that is produced in-house, mainly video, and that it was already a relatively young company. Most importantly, I did not have to move to work with a high-quality agency, and the office and workplace culture have been fantastic!”
Gen Z consumes, on average, 10 hours of digital content per day on phones and laptops, and because YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat and TikTok are the norm, many members of Gen Z prefer face-to-face conversations for performance check-ins and feedback. Prepare to move beyond the annual or biannual performance review because this generation prefers weekly, if not daily, feedback on performance and opportunities for development. Gen Z is not only pragmatic when it comes to finances, either. When preparing feedback, specific, tangible and measurable indicators, preferably tracked over time, are the best way to illustrate points related to performance.
Maybe because many millennials were raised to believe that they could accomplish anything, many—32% in a study by London-based educational charity Teach First—feel that their careers are burdened by a fear of failure. Gen Z seems a bit more courageous. In a poll at EY’s 22nd annual International Intern Leadership Conference, 80% of Gen Z attendees believe that embracing failure at work can increase their innovation and 17% believe that it will help them be more comfortable with future risks. Looking at the poll, Natasha Stough, EY Americas campus recruiting leader says, “With the next generation of our workforce not afraid to fail in order to grow and innovate, organizations should create an environment that allows them to bring their ideas forward, fail fast and then learn from that failure.”
With this view of failure, it’s not surprising that Gen Z values an open and curious mindset in the workplace over expertise in a specific skill set, according to EY. Collaborative, team-oriented environments that clearly define opportunities to share ideas and receive feedback will keep Gen Z employees engaged and growing in their professional capacities.
On the topic of culture, Regan Mousley, a production designer, says, “I look for a company that is going to encourage collaboration and real relationships within the workplace. I want a place that will foster new growth opportunities as technology and communication continue to shift.” Growth is also vital for Topanga McBride, an account manager with an agricultural focus and a growth-oriented litmus test. “Does the culture cultivate growth at both an individual level and company-wide level?” says McBride.
Beyond Work-Life Balance
For baby boomers, Gen X and some of the oldest millennials, there was a time when leaving the office meant leaving work. Today, work and workplace communications are always accessible, thanks to messaging apps such as Slack and Snapchat, both of which our agency uses to communicate work and play, and work-specific apps for project management, client management and collaboration, not to mention text messages and emails. Even though we know that this always-on workplace leads to high burnout rates, it’s hard to resist notifications regardless of the time of day. Who better to help guide organizations as they strive to offer balance than Gen Z, a generation that has never known a less connected world?
When compared to millennials, whom are known for challenging the 9-to-5 traditional work engagement, the importance of a flexible work schedule nearly doubled to close to 80 percent of Gen Z respondents in one 2014 survey of 14-year-olds to 18-year-olds, indicating that work-life integration could soon become the new reality. To engage this workforce, be prepared to schedule around exercise classes and social engagements, and don’t simply assume that showing up for work before 9 a.m. is the status quo. When onboarding Gen Z, the name of the game is overcommunication.
McBride says, “For me, it’s the workplace culture that attracts me and keeps me at a place. Do the employees feel like they have work-life balance, and that it’s a priority from leadership?” For Alec Dean, an account executive, that work-life balance equation also includes a quality of place assessment: “I think a ton of Gen Z kids are really attracted by the allure of a big city or at least a place that is very active with a lot to do in their social life. Smaller towns just don’t have as many activities or the busy urban centers. Places that can support high-tech, modern establishments to grab a bite and drinks are rising. Thankfully, Aggieville is attempting to alleviate this issue over the next six years.”
Branding as a Gen Z Employer of Choice
With over 60 million members, Gen Z has surpassed millennials to become the largest generation. Determined, resilient, diverse, tech-savvy and practical, firms that ignore this valuable talent pool today will certainly feel workplace pains tomorrow. As companies evaluate their employer branding, it will be important to tailor communications to Gen Z’s preference for video content, their increased social awareness and their need to see their own diversity represented. Gen Z is very aware of the generational workforce divide that millennials experienced when they first came on the scene, which is why there is a strong preference for millennial managers and demonstrated intergenerational cooperation. To compete for the next generation of talent, it’s vital that your employer brand communicates the ways in which Gen Z employees will thrive.
Josh Brewer is the agency marketing director at 502, a strategic marketing agency in downtown Manhattan, Kansas.