Gen Y vs. Gen Z: How to Engage, Collaborate and Retain These Employees
Most recruiters and human resources departments have developed a certain ability to be predictive, looking beyond today’s challenges when creating strategies to recruit and retain members of the next generation workforce. Our experiences with our memberships in other generations groups, including baby boomers, and Gen Xers, has made us feel like generational subject matter experts by default.
We’re workplace leaders and, while we rarely stay with the same company through retirement like previous generations, we know what we bring to the table and how to accommodate our peers. Since many of our peers would be considered millennials, we’ve also had experience working side-by-side with the demographic we’re trying to recruit.
Understanding Your Millennial and Generation Z Workforce
Even millennials, as they’re entering higher-level positions in human resources, are seeking ideas on how to recruit their own peers, as well as the generations that follow.
Since we’re all looking ahead to recruiting the next generation of candidates, it’s particularly important to understand who our next-gen candidates are.
Millennials, or Gen Y, were born during the 1980s and early 1990s. Members of this generation are often referred to as "echo boomers" because they are the children of parents born during the baby boom (the "baby boomers"). Because children born during this time period have had constant access to technology (computers, cell phones) in their youth, they have required many employers to update their hiring strategy in order to incorporate updated forms of technology.
More than one-in-three American labor force participants (35%) are millennials, making them the largest generation in the U.S. labor force, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data.
As of 2017 – the most recent year for which data are available – 56 million millennials (those ages 21 to 36 in 2017) were working or looking for work. That was more than the 53 million Generation Xers, who accounted for a third of the labor forc, and it was well ahead of the 41 million baby boomers, who represented a quarter of the total. Millennials surpassed Gen Xers in 2016.
Meanwhile, Generation Z, the oldest members of the post-millennial generation are now of working age. Last year, 9 million Gen Z members (those who have reached working age, 16 to 20) were employed or looking for work, comprising 5% of the labor force.
Born beginning in 1995, Gen Z is on the cusp of entering the workforce in a big way, and research shows that they differ in surprising ways from their millennial predecessors. Understanding this group’s attitudes toward work and life is a must for companies preparing to recruit the next generation. Gen Z makes up the largest segment of the U.S. population (26 percent), and is characterized as being the most diverse U.S. generation in history, having the shortest attention span (8 seconds) and being the world’s first true digital natives.
Adapting for a Next Generation Workforce
While attracting and retaining millennials is still a hot topic among recruiting and human resources professionals, the first wave of Gen Z is beginning to enter the workforce. Most millennials are now in their late 20s and 30s, and many are well past junior level roles. The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) predicts that "millennial" has passed as the workplace buzzword, and instead employers will turn their attention to the recent college graduates of Gen Z. There are many similarities in the two generations, but there are also some significant differences.
Millennials have infinitely more opportunities than previous generations entering the workplace. As the first generation presented with an extremely low rate of unemployment and more opportunities to work independently as contractors, millennials have challenged employers to improve what they offer in order to recruit and retain them. Prime value is placed on autonomy, learning and development, and individual contribution to a company’s mission and values. Milennials tend to take more time when considering job opportunities, and are more likely to become entrepreneurs.
Millennials also would consider joining the workforce right out of high school, according to new research from Universum, which surveyed approximately 50,000 respondents across 46 countries born between 1996 and 2000. While only 15 percent said that they would welcome the idea outright, another 47 percent said they would consider it, and 60 percent said they would be open to employers offering education in their field in lieu of a college degree.
Entrepreneurship. Employers must be able to capitalize on Gen Z’s desire to take their success into their own hands by offering competitive work environments and opportunities for individuals to understand how their contributions impact the company’s overall success. Creating a culture of learning and development is something that has been important for millennials and remains important for Gen Z. They don’t just want to know what you can do for them today, but also what plans you have for investing in their future skills and career development. Opportunities for career and professional development is one area where millennials and Gen Z absolutely align.
Social appeal. While millennials are the “always on” generation, Gen Z is the first true generation of digital natives. Millennials are early adopters, comfortable with online communication, including Facebook, and all things digital. Gen Z likely had Instagram and Snapchat accounts before they were teens, are not fans of Facebook, and are less likely to respond to recruiter interaction on social channels. However, they are a generation that is accustomed to being marketed to and are highly visual, so don’t throw your social strategy out with the bathwater. Consider adding more visual alternatives to traditional job ads, like YouTube videos, active Snapchat accounts, and Instagram stories that first give Gen Z a look into what it’s like to work for your company, then sell the specific position based on its contribution to your industry. Text messaging should be an integral part of your recruiting outreach strategy. Gen Z is more inclined to respond to SMS than a phone message. While you can still get phone calls returned by millennials, they’re more and more inclined to join the Gen Zers in their preference for text messaging.
Meaningful work. This is where millennials and Gen Z blend when it comes to preferences and expectations from their jobs. In a near-zero unemployment economy, both generations have had more options than previous generations. They’re less concerned about stability and more focused on opportunities for innovation, flexibility, and making a meaningful impact on the world. They respect transparency and want to work for companies that place a priority on making a positive impact on society. Other career goals for this generation include autonomy, leadership opportunities, dedication to a cause, and the chance to be creative. Focus on helping millennials and Gen Z align their personal drive, technology talents, brand awareness, and desire for a purpose to the mission of the company, profitability, and operations.
Combining Generations in the Workplace
The final issue that we must address after recruiting for millennials and Gen Z is how to work together in an environment that consists of Gen Z, millennials, Gen X and boomers. How do we keep everyone excited about the work and their performance at our companies?
As more boomers work past retirement age and as tech-savvy members of Gen Z continue to graduate and enter the workforce, the stark differences in the values, communication styles and work habits of each generation are becoming increasingly pronounced.
The difference between older and younger generations in preferred communication styles has almost become a cliché: Gen Zers are the second generation of digital natives. They prefer to communicate via text messages, tweets, instant messages and gifs, while boomers and older Gen Xers tend to prefer phone calls and emails. Add to that the fact that younger workers tend to use abbreviations, informal language, and colloquialisms, and you've got a recipe for serious communication breakdowns.
While there has been much reporting about boomers and Gen Z being more reluctant to adopt new technologies, it’s not as prevalent as you’d think. Today’s technologies give companies the opportunity to increase employee engagement through programs like Skype or Facetime, which are highly visual, as well as Slack and inter-office chat programs. They’re necessary for companies who want to maintain a certain level of engagement with a remote workforce, but they're also tools all generations are likely to adopt, even if boomers and Gen Xers still prefer phone calls, emails, or face-to-face communication.
The key to multi-generational adoption of these methods of communication lies within company leadership. If leaders support employees with training, encouragement, and - most importantly - positive role modeling, an organization is more likely to have better communication overall. When senior leadership engages in internal networks, company-wide adoption is considerably higher.
Finally, having many generations in the workplace can actually be more positive than negative. Companies who create mentor programs and opportunities for cross-generational peer networking have fewer generational conflicts. They present boomers and Gen X employees as experienced work partners, and millennials and Gen Z can take advantage of training and mentoring opportunities to close a skills gap. Giving boomers and Gen X employees the role of experts in their particular roles, and next generation employees a similar role of experts in new technologies, can go a long way to breaking down generational barriers in the workplace.
Jessica Miller-Merrell is a workplace change agent and author focused on human resources and talent acquisition. She lives in Austin, TX and is recognized by Forbes as a top 50 social media influencer. She's the founder of Workology.