Brace yourselves: the first cohorts of Generation Z are about to march into your office. Born after 1995, Gen Z are graduating this summer and will be finding their feet in work places up and down the country not long after. The question is, are businesses prepared for their arrival?
Gen Z as a collective is often talked about in less than favourable terms: their attention spans are limited to 140 characters, they don't look up from their mobile phones at dinner, they communicate online and only through emojis, and they think the idea of a book with actual paper pages should be consigned to the dustbin of history.
Like most generalisations, these are unfounded. Gen Z might prove to be more promising and commercial than their predecessor millennials. According to research the most defining aspect of Generation Z is their entrepreneurialism and desire to work for themselves. They are determined to be more than just another cog in the wheel. Gen Z also grew up in politically and economically unstable times, so despite their entrepreneurialism, are also concerned about job security and are hardworking and conscientious. Finally, and not unsurprisingly: Gen Z place more importance in green credentials than any other generation; they are willing to alter the way they live to help protect the environment.
They are, then, an interesting prospect for businesses. Hard-working self-starters are exactly the kind of individuals employers want to attract, although businesses may have difficulty hiring those who have a strong desire to build their own. As the first truly digital natives, Gen Z may be the only generation to really understand the nature of the digital revolution, and able to harness its power. One need only look at the online subculture they have developed to appreciate the fact that they understand the platforms and their potential far better than anyone else.
My profession, the legal sector, is unfortunately woefully underprepared for their recruitment. The industry offers so very little of what Gen Z is looking for I believe it will struggle to attract the best and brightest. Gen Z want control, flexibility and transparency - why would they enter a profession where they will be expected to work 50-60 hour weeks for at least a decade in order to be made a partner in their law firm?
The same obstacles hold true in other areas too. So, what do businesses do to attract Gen Z? Gen Z want to feel empowered in having a say in how things are run and incorporating this aspect will be key for businesses looking to hire them. Take Google as an example, often voted as one of the top employers in the world. Google holds weekly Q&A meetings with its founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, where "everything is up for question and debate". This kind of transparency, voice and information sharing will be key in attracting Gen Z.
Another important factor would be to offer a level of flexibility in working practices. This is not just about a work/life balance which is of course important, but there are two additional factors. Firstly, Gen Z is looking for a diverse career and flexibility enables them to have that. And secondly, they work in a global environment which requires longer hours. Flexibility is an essential part of enabling them to be able to achieve their aims.
Succession is vital for any business, and business leaders, regardless of the sector they are in, will soon find that they cannot put in place proper succession plans without taking into account the wants and needs of this new generation. However, it is not just about succession, it is also about hiring the best talent and understanding what Gen Z are looking for is essential. Working out who they are and what makes them tick is just the first step in the process of ensuring we are recognising and maximising all that they have to offer, and to ensure our businesses flourish in the future.