Understanding the Needs and Priorities of Gen Z and Young Millennials in the Workplace
Although past cohorts may be remembered for their youthful resistance to "the man" and their attempts to drop out of society's expectations, Gen Z and younger millennials are less angry and more lost.
Gen Z and younger millennials are slightly more likely than more senior coworkers to be ambivalent about their workplace (i.e., "not engaged" at work). Fifty-four percent are not engaged, a little higher than other generations. But they are also less likely to be actively disengaged. Most young workers don't feel a close connection to their coworkers, manager or employer.
Employers and managers play an important role in connecting new and early-career employees to their organisation. On the other hand, an employee's stage of life may play a role as well. Younger employees may be less willing to "settle" for a less-than-ideal company as they keep an eye out for something better.
But that doesn't mean that younger workers are slacking off.
Younger employees report more overall stress and work-related burnout than older generations. Sixty-eight percent of Gen Z and younger millennials report feeling stress a lot of the time. This should concern leaders. Stress and burnout influence job performanceand long-term career growth. In addition, burnout is correlated with physical health risks and poor personal relationships. Employees who experience burnout a lot of the time are more likely to leave their job -- another factor in young employees "job hopping."
So, if Gen Z and younger millennial workers are looking for an ideal employer, what do they want most?
Sixty-five percent of millennials rate greater work-life balance and better personal wellbeing as "very important" when considering a new job. Millennials' desire for work-life balance and wellbeing is almost as significant as their desire for an increase in pay or benefits.
And there's the rub: Younger employees highly value career growth and flexibility that benefits their wellbeing. Compared with older generations, millennials are more likely to look for career development (by 17 percentage points) and more likely to seek remote work (by eight percentage points) and greater work-life balance and better wellbeing (by seven percentage points).
Young people crave career growth. They also want flexibility and independence -- they recognise its value for their personal wellbeing. If they aren't burned out themselves, they've seen generations before them burn out. And they don't want that to be their future.
Leading Younger Employees: Considerations and Questions
Many employees desire flexibility, but it can be a double-edged sword for those early in their career. Young employees may not know the value of eating lunch with coworkers, asking for feedback or simply being available to volunteer for extra projects.
To be successful, young workers need to work alongside experienced peers, informal mentors and coaches. They also need to be exposed to other departments and levels of their organisation. They may be entering the workforce with a narrow view of "success," and those unexpected interactions at work may provide new opportunities they didn't know were possible.
Of course, simply being in the office doesn't guarantee developmental encounters. Organisations and managers still need to mindfully shape experiences that will set new employees up for success over the long term.
What's more, it's sometimes easy to forget that development takes time. It can take a year or two for someone to fully inhabit their role -- especially for employees early in their career.
Another truth that gets lost in the shuffle is this: Career advancement is part of wellbeing, too. When we think of wellbeing, we may think of going on a bike ride, having dinner with friends or taking a vacation. But there's more to it. Gallup research shows that enjoying what you do at work is also a factor in overall wellbeing. And, of course, increasing income and healthcare and retirement benefits also support long-term overall wellbeing.
It's a lot for leaders to consider. Just remember that today's young workers are tomorrow's leaders. Organisations need to meet their own needs and the developmental needs of their employees at the same time, in a way that makes sense for them. Ask yourself:
What key experiences do young leaders need to have to be successful later in their careers?
How do we provide those opportunities in a way that makes sense to younger employees?
Ben Wigert and Sangeeta Agrawal contributed to this article.
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