Preparing for a new generation to enter the workplace is a lot like baby proofing your house. You spend a lot of time and money making sure this vulnerable creature, with very specific needs, has everything they need to play, grow and thrive in their new environment, without too many run ins with sharp objects that will inevitably lead to tears. But who are you future proofing for and how?
The challenge in 2018, is that your house has only just become Millennial proof. And yes, while it’s great that you’re so On Fleek with all the latest open office concepts, flexible working spaces, new internal communication channels and social media influencers that these hashtaggers thrive on, that aint gonna fly with the more independent multi-multitasking Gen Z, who will favour private enclaves and online collaborations with global teams and communities of influence. And what of Gen Alpha, the Google Glass generation who will view technology as a physical appendage and glass screens as their genuine, not virtual, reality?
The good news is that Gen Z, or iGen as they are commonly known for being weaned off milk with iPads, will pave the way for the even more self-sufficient, independent Gen Alpha. So, if you get the foundations right you can start building a generation-proof business that will stand you in good stead for the next 50 years, give or take.
The challenge with generation proofing is that we often spend all our time focusing on the hard, tangible stuff – the tech and spatial environment – and not enough on the soft issues that will actually help retain and motivate employees to not only stay and play but thrive and grow. And when we consider that Gen Z is heavily driven by career growth and is likely to have 17 jobs and 5 careers in a lifetime, we should be focusing a lot more on getting the work/culture balance right. In fact, engaging and retaining Gen Z will be a balancing act like no other, where two seemingly opposite needs play out in the workplace. Get it right and you win the prize – a loyal, integrated workforce that is connected on more levels than one.
Balancing career growth with the need for retention
Every generation is born into an era that shapes, motivates and influences their decisions. Gen Z’s world view may be largely shaped by technology, but they are also the product of economic uncertainty, having been born into a recession. So, it’s not surprising that they value financial security, job promotion and learning. As expert online collaborators who are also capable of working independently, companies would do well to embrace online learning as a powerful tool for mentorship, training and growth, especially one that promotes career promotion and professional advancement.
Balancing technology with the need for focus
Eight seconds – that’s how long the average attention span of a Gen Z employee will be. Gen Alpha will be even less. Immersed in technology from an early age, these serious multi-multi-taskers will work tirelessly across different technologies and will process information at the speed of light. The downside is that it’s going to be a challenge to keep their focus, even more so than Millennials. More than ever, companies will need to create multipurpose private spaces or pods, where these workers can retreat to in order to focus on the task at hand. These spaces should also support their need for blended face-to-face/online groups.
Balancing independence with the need for shared culture and meaning
Yes, this generation will be fiercely independent and shun micromanagement and a desk bound culture, but it will also crave meaningful work, regular interaction with management and opportunities to make a valuable contribution to society. Companies that only focus on creating opportunities for remote working and online collaborations, will miss the mark.
To retain this group, you need to focus on creating a shared corporate culture and opportunities for regular engagement. In this way internal communication will become a key driver in bridging the gap between a non-desk and desk-bound workforce and finding new ways to engage and inspire an increasingly disparate workforce.
Employee apps will become the most important channel in workplace communication bringing information, social connection and engagement together in a way that resonates with these digital natives.
Balancing privacy with the need for engagement
Internal communication will become a balancing act unto itself. How companies communicate with employees will become as important as how often and how much. Internal communication will need to move beyond intranet, SharePoint and ESN like Workplace and Yammer to embrace wearables, robotics, and virtual reality, all of which will not only reflect but drive the digital native.
As the vital link between company and employees, internal communication will need to engage employees through validated channels using curated content that not only drives the message but embeds the company’s shared values and brand ethos. And did we mention the maximum reading time should not exceed 10 minutes per day? Tough ask right?
Soft issues and hard tech. This is the balancing act facing corporates in the race to proof their workplaces to embrace Gen Z and the AI generations to follow. The mistake would be to focus only on the tangibles and neglect the soft issues that really drive retention and shape corporate culture. Making sure internal communications teams are properly trained, equipped and mandated to handle the enormous challenge, will be key to cracking the generational code and claiming your share of its human capital.