Getting to know Gen Z: Your future workforce

The next generation of employees are entrepreneurial, focused on building a future and hungry to make a positive impact on the world through work. These digital natives will be knocking on your door for work shortly, and it’s important that employers understand the motivations and needs of Generation Z to help them flourish in the workplace. 

By 2025, three out of 10 Australian employees will be Gen Z. At the moment, 10 per cent of the workforce is made up of the cohort. Meanwhile, 61 per cent would rather be an entrepreneur rather than an employee, so it’s imperative that businesses work out how to tap in this mentality.

At the recent Inside Retail Academy held in Sydney, managing director Dr Rebecca Dare from the Australian Centre for Retail Studies at Monash University discussed the opportunities for retailers to attract and retain Gen Z recruits.

A new kind of meaning

According to Dare, since the ’60s, the world has not seen a demographic so focused on changing the world and addressing some of its biggest societal issues, from climate change to gun violence. After all, this demographic has grown up with world events such as 9/11, school shootings and terrorism.

“Last year, we saw thousands of school-aged people across multiple countries engaging in protests against gun violence, education and climate change,” says Dare. “We haven’t had protests on this scale in a long time. Gen Z is starting a conversation – they’re raising an awareness and mobilising across borders using technology.” 

Indeed, studies have shown that 90 per cent of Gen Z believe that it’s important that their careers help to contribute to societal change, and given the amount of instability and uncertainty that they have witnessed, they are particularly focused on creating stability.

“This desire to make a difference has translated to a desire to derive meaning from the work that they do. It used to be about loyalty, status perks, a title. Gen X is looking for flexibility and work-life balance, Gen Y is about collaborations and Gen Z is about meaning,” explains Dare. 

“Seventy-five per cent agree that work should have greater purpose than making money, which is more so than previous generations. They’re willing to make a trade-off for a societal growth with the work they do.

The definition of what constitutes as meaning has changed over generations. Gen X and Gen Y think of it in an individualistic sense, an opportunity for self-actualisation and self-development. But Gen Z considers meaningful work to be the kind that contributes to society and helps build a better world. Dare describe it as “very wide, inclusive, global view”.

Challenges and opportunities

Unfortunately for future-focused Generation Z jobseekers, retail is not generally seen as an appealing career option. It may be a large workforce in Australia, but turnover is high – 41 per cent compared to the 16 per cent average in other industries. 

However, there are a few areas that retailers can focus on to help attract Gen Z recruits, such as highlighting the fact that consumer choices have meaning and it’s something that they can contribute to by working in the industry.

“Through consumption, we communicate to others who we are, who we want to be and what we value. Retail is really important in this development of meaning because it’s the way stuff gets in our hands,” says Dare. “The experience you have with that can really influence the meaning you derive from it. It’s powerful and we shouldn’t forget it.” 

This particular demographic especially values the ability to gain new skills, so it’s important that employers show them a clearly defined career path and discuss the transferable skills that they can develop. Mentor programs and training workshops would also be highly appreciated by this cohort. 

Another opportunity is for businesses to tap into the entrepreneurial spirit of Gen Z. For example, some retailers such as Macy’s and Mecca have areas of the business where staff are given a platform to build on their own identities via social media to showcase their skills and expertise. 

Damian Madden, a tech executive who runs teams across a range of verticals believes that flexible working environments and conditions are key, as well as offering Gen Z the opportunity to think outside the box.

“In order to be effective you need to create a culture of innovation and that means building an environment in which they feel empowered to create and innovate,” he says.

Perhaps it’s because they grew up in a digital world that Gen Z truly values face-to-face interactions with management, so make it a priority to meet them in person regularly on the shop floor to build trust and stability. 

Lastly, be clear with this demographic about your company’s values, motivations and impact on society. “They’ll look for available evidence of this online and seek it from outside the company-controlled messages, so they’ll review what it’s like to work for your company on sites such as Glassdoor,” says Dare. 

Madden echoes Dare’s sentiments.

“Transparency. Communication. Development. They will expect all three. They are a lot more loyal and hardworking than people give them credit for but only if they feel that those three needs are being met,” he explains.

“Many businesses are focused solely on the customer. Believing customer experience is what sells. However, businesses need to pivot and understand that it is customer and employee experience that drives growth.”

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