The term “War for Talents” was first brought to life in 1997. At that time, many non-believers (and a majority were from Fortune 500 companies) just shook their heads, boldly and naively proclaiming that they would always have an endless supply of qualified applicants who would be honored to work for them.
Fast-forward 25 years later, and the war for talent is now full-fledged, spanning the globe and hitting every industry. Adding fuel to the fire in this post-Covid working environment come the changing expectations and needs of Gen Z (born between 1997 – 2013), who are now entering the workforce in droves. By the year 2025, they will make up a quarter of the population.
Recruiters, head hunters, and leaders are reacting to these changing needs and expectations. What if you were to stop reacting and start acting purposely and with a plan to recruit and keep the most promising talent under your roof? Here are three facts and suggested measures that may help you do just that:
Fact #1: Gen Z are the least likely to have any work experience of any generation entering the workforce before its time.
In 1979, 60% of teens held a job. In 2023, that number has dropped to 30%. What’s behind those numbers? Gen Zers grew up in households with higher median household incomes, and there is less need to work. In addition, competition to get into top-notch high education means more extracurricular and summer academic camps. Due to this lack of work experience, Gen Zers have unrealistic expectations of work, leading to a drop in commitment and a rise in turnover.
Solution 1#: Provide new employees with a very realistic job preview, which accentuates the positive aspects, the challenges of the job, and the top positive and negative aspects of working for the manager. This preview should also include essential job responsibilities and clear expectations about hours worked, travel, and working conditions (such as remote, on-site, or hybrid options).
Success in a new role is joint responsibility: New employees and organizations need to make a psychological contract with each other. This psychological contract lays out mutual expectations such as payment, performance, succession & development opportunities, and feedback. When asked what they wanted from a workplace, 42% of Gen Zers stated a positive attitude, followed by clear targets at 17%. On the other hand, 42% of Millenials (often in the leadership role of a Gen Zer) stated they offer clear communication, only 33% offer a positive attitude, and 31% set clear targets. A gap can easily be patched if leaders are aware of this.
Clarifying these expectations while onboarding them will improve employees’ performance, satisfaction, and commitment, which decreases the chance they will quit. Onboarding needs to include the following:
- providing a checklist of clear timelines, goals, responsibilities, and support available for the first day, week, and month – up to three months.
- facilitating communication that integrates and involves them with key staff, HR, their manager, and co-workers.
- a sense of purpose and meaning for the work they do.
Fact #2: Gen Z is more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety than any previous generation.
Gen Zers are significantly more likely to report their mental health as fair or poor compared to other generations. They also have the highest rate of diagnosed depression, followed by anxiety. Over 67% of Gen Zers in the US and 85% worldwide state that this stress prevents them from taking on leadership positions. Companies, therefore, are well advised to invest more in health and wellbeing programs.
Solution #2: Studies show that (although well-meaning) a culture of overprotective parenting has reduced Gen Zers’ chance to learn valuable life skills. Fostering autonomy and the ability to feel comfortable with ambiguity now need to be taught on the job. Leaders can do this by showing trust and supporting employees in making and taking ownership of decisions. In Germany, the term is referred to as a Fehler-Kultur. This translates literally to a “mistake culture” and means a culture of people feeling safe to make and learn from mistakes. There is no fear of being laughed at or mocked. The leader slips into the role of a coach and reflects with an employee on lessons learned as they take on roles in projects, manage their own time, and decide how they complete jobs.
This Fehler-Kultur also cultivates a Growth Mindset, based on the research of Carol Dweck. While a Fixed Mindset leads to finger-pointing, blaming others, taking feedback as an attack, and throwing in the towel early on. A Growth Mindset does just the opposite: being open to feedback, seeing setbacks as setups for the future, and persevering despite adversity. Leaders can cultivate a Growth Mindset by learning how to give and receive effective feedback (this is a learned competency) and walking their talk (owning up to their own mistakes and sharing learning experiences from their early years).
Fact: Gen Z is more achievement-oriented and highly educated than any generation.
Gen Zers are, academically speaking, the most highly educated generation to enter the workforce. They are digital natives and have grown up in the eras of smartphones, social media, and the internet. The downside to this upbringing is that many of their communication skills have been built on short text messages and other forms of digital communication. Because most lack any hands-on job experience, they also lack social effectiveness skills. They often struggle with reading, understanding, and gauging social interactions.
Solution #3: Foster new hires’ understanding of communication effectiveness. Show them why depending on e-communication is not always the best choice and help them learn the types of communication mediums and when to best use them. Such skills increase their self-esteem, self-confidence, autonomy, and ability to cope with stress. This, in turn, reduces frustration, depression, and the chance they will quit.
The War for Talents has become even more challenging as Gen Zers enter the workforce. While highly-educated, racially diverse, and achievement-oriented, several facets of Gen Zers deserve attention. With little to no previous job experience, they enter the workforce with unrealistic expectations and fewer social effectiveness skills. A realistic job preview and a psychological contract help clarify mutual expectations, and social skills can be improved with training. A word of caution: Learning social skills works both ways. Gen Zers are digital natives and bring openness and curiosity to technology with them.
More experienced employees, on the other hand, better understand the nuances of facial expressions, tone of voice, and body language. Setting up a work environment where generations learn from each other creates a win-win for everyone involved. Autonomy, a Fehler-Kultur, and feeling comfortable with ambiguity can be fostered by cultivating a Growth Mindset in which a healthy feedback culture builds trust and creates opportunities for personal and professional growth.
Written by Whitney Breer.
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