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Generation Z & Letting the elastic go

Insight • By FIONA SCOTT • 11 August 2016

As the mother of a 15-year-old in the midst of the teenage years of messy rooms, party invites and even (gulp) trips away, I recently signed up to a workshop to help parents navigate these choppy waters.

Led by Alicia Drummond, author of Why Every Teenager Needs a Parrot, one idea that really chimed was that parents should visualise teenagers as being on elastic. Our job is to watch it stretch and, ultimately, let go when the time comes.

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This analogy is something businesses could really learn from. While the oldest of Gen Z are still only teenagers, there’s lots we already know about them. This is a generation that’s smart, savvy and set to be our most entrepreneurial cohort yet. Some 62 per cent are keen to start their own business; and 89 per cent would rather spend time being productive than idly hanging out.

Growing up in the digital space means Gen Z also wants authenticity, access and transparency. Multi skills and experiences are just as important as scaling the linear career path of their predecessors. This ambition, coupled with huge social conscience and self-awareness, means Gen Z knows their personal worth – and won’t be afraid to demand rapid progression and good pay.

There’s no doubt their arrival into the workplace will shake things up. The following six points outline how businesses can let go of the elastic and get the most from this exceptional age group.

Culture is key

Gen Z needs to buy into a culture and purpose that are much more than just working for an organisation turning out great work to make money. Businesses have to paint a vision that inspires Gen Z to go above and beyond.

Whether it’s Google’s office slides, Airbnb’s annual £2,000 travel fund for each employee or Twitter’s exceptional health and well-being plan, businesses need to think creatively to retain Gen Z. Flexibility is crucial, too.

From programmes that help graduates learn wider skill-sets to setting them up in an environment that permits breathing space, businesses need to encourage elastic ways of working and keep people on the move.

Get out of the way

As my former boss Michael Baulk of ad agency Abbott Meade Vickers used to say, you need to hire people and then get out of the way. Organisations have become too bureaucratic. Millennials, for instance, have really had to do their time to rise through the ranks. This needs to change.

Businesses need to give Gen Z clear avenues to advance and promote them when they are on the cusp of being ready, not make them sit it out. That’s not abdicating responsibility, it’s about making a leap of faith and letting Gen Z take risks. While it might not always go to plan, they will grow from it – and so will the businesses they work for.

Offering a fun, creative and collaborative environment will work wonders for you in the long run.

Make it fun

Many people aren’t lucky enough to turn their hobby into a job, but businesses can maximise the fun for Gen Z. We need to spend time working out what makes each individual Gen Z tick and help them to harness the most enjoyable aspects of their day job.

At PSONA, we have a young staffer who runs her own business, The Cooking Shed, on the side. Her gain is business experience and personal fulfilment, ours is entrepreneurial spirit.

Let them create

Gen Z thrives on creativity. It’s our job to forge avenues for them to create things for us, particularly in the area of technology. Businesses need to look at the ways Gen Z uses existing tools in unexpected ways.

Snapchat, for instance, provides exciting potential to tell stories – so how might this translate in a work context? We must create a culture where change and innovation is the norm, while using Gen Z’s knowledge to develop new products and ways of communicating.

Reinvigorate comms to increase collaboration

Think much less about monthly or annual meetings and keep up the conversation every day, every minute, across every platform. Allowing Gen Z to help create these channels is the first step, but it’s also about giving all employees the confidence to have a voice and the tools to listen. Once businesses have achieved this openness, a collaborative work environment will follow.

Give back

Businesses need to radically rethink compensation packages, and might even consider going as far as to offer top talent a stake in the business (we could learn some lessons from John Lewis here). However, thought also needs to be given to softer, day-to-day benefits.

As business leaders, we are sometimes guilty of not wanting to let go, and of controlling the process. Creativity and inspiration comes from dismantling barriers, encouraging an open culture and allowing new ideas to surface regardless of job titles or departments. Every generation is different, and we need to re-evaluate our approach when it comes to hiring and retaining Gen Z.

So, grasp that imaginary elastic, let it stretch and realise the potential of this exciting generation. They may even invite us to the party.

This article was written for RealBusiness, read the article here