Post written by Bobby Thakkar, Brand Manager, Entrepreneur, College Student & Noted Speaker
I was born in 2000. While still in high school, I gave TED Talks about entrepreneurship. (Looking back, I don’t always agree with them!) I attend the University of Texas at Dallas and recently launched a startup consulting company, Grupacity, which connects great young talent with companies that need their skills. I don’t pretend to speak for all of Gen Z, but I am of that generation, and I live the experience through my own life and through the people I work with every day.
In my experience connecting talent of my age with employers across industries, I have learned that when it comes to making the connection to Gen Z talent, employers need to know that relationships matter. Companies that make a concerted effort to understand what motivates people of our generation stand to have a tremendous advantage in finding and keeping great talent. And if there is one theme that applies to Gen Z and the companies that employ them, it is this: be amazing.
People of our generation, the top talent with the creativity, work ethic, and high level of skill that companies seek, want to be amazing. We want to work hard, save big, do great things, own the great things we do, and, if all works out well, retire early so we can then do more great things. There are many ways to frame the aspirations of our generation, but a simple theme is sometimes best. When looking at a potential employer, I see three things that Gen Z wants: to be a part of something bigger, to always be learning, and to be independent.
Our generation is becoming known for its independence and entrepreneurial spirit, but that doesn’t mean we want our work to be isolated. In fact, the opposite is true. Almost down to the last person, the Gen Z talent we present to companies as consultants want to work with an organization that is part of a great brand, or with a group that is part of a larger vision, or with a company that knows its influence and responsibility to the larger part of society beyond its employees and clients.
Or, they simply want to participate in something that is a collective experience. A company with great Corporate Social Responsibility initiatives is good. A great employer brand is also good. Picking strong talent out of an event, such as a hackathon where people show off their skills, is good. For employers, the goal is to be creative and commit to bringing talent into an experience that is larger than themselves.
We want to grow. In my consulting company, we’ve found that the people we place are less concerned with starting out with high pay and more concerned about what they will learn from the experience. Within my organization, we encourage vertical learning, and sometimes that learning can be a stretch. A graphic designer, for example, could learn user interface or user experience design. They are two different disciplines, but understanding each adds value to the total work being done.
As an employer, I want the people I work with to be learning. I know that makes them tick, and it makes our organization better. As an employer, I want the people I work with to become so valuable that I can’t fire them even if they disappoint or frustrate me.
Call it the nomad life, the freelance lifestyle, or gig economy. Whatever the name, independent work is growing, and if a company does not respect that choice, it will lose or miss out on employees. That’s one part of the independent nature we encounter among people in my generation: being independent while also acting independently in a way that contributes to the group.
Of course, we cannot always expect or allow complete independence because a company is a group, and work needs to get done in a coordinated fashion. But within employees’ field of responsibility, they should feel free to approach issues and the work to be done in their own way.
For an employer, acting on all the wants and needs of Gen Z is impossible simply because we are individuals. You can’t be all things to all people. But we can agree that if the top professionals in our generation want to be amazing, they also want to work for an employer that is amazing. For an employer, here are some basic ways to bring out our best.
Nothing makes a new Gen Z employee head for the exits faster than a terrible onboarding experience. Companies forget that onboarding truly sets up the relationship. It shows how much the company values the employee, and it sets the stage for how the employee views the company.
Communication is everything. Meeting the team is a big deal. Make sure employees know their teams and know what they are doing, not just the job in front of them but also how that job fits into the larger strategy. Finally, don’t forget about interns. They are the people a company needs in the near future, and the employer that fails to set them up for success today will lose them later.
Amazing things happen when great ideas are allowed to develop and come to life. This fact is the heart of the Gen Z experience. A culture that allows an employee to go to a manager with a better way of doing something will be the one that keeps its employees and grows as an organization.
Fostering a culture of new ideas is not easy, though. Can you dedicate the time of an employee to the pursuit of a new idea, even if it may fail? Google is known for this approach, but not every company has the same focus or priorities on innovation. But innovation can happen anywhere and with people of any age. For example, I know of a doctor who loved his job and went to his medical group with a new idea for a syringe labeling system. The group politely pushed his idea to the back burner every time he brought it up. Finally, he struck out on his own and successfully developed a product that worked. He remained at the group, as being a doctor was his first love, but the company missed out on the intellectual property. If you are an employer, listening to ideas is not enough. You must show your willingness to act on them when they are right.
Be flexible. Be understanding and open to change and new ideas. If an employer strives for these qualities as it engages Gen Z employees, it will build lasting and fruitful relationships with talented people. As a Gen Z entrepreneur, I know first-hand how we are looking for big things and how honest we are about what it takes to get there. In the end, the rules are simple. The companies that have faith in us, and respect for what we do, are the ones that will earn our loyalty.