Suveer Bajaj
Guest Article

Gen Z and the future of work

We need to take a step back to see how Gen Z became a generation that prioritised ‘self’ above all else, says Suveer Bajaj, our guest author.

The first generation of ‘digital natives’ has stepped into the workforce and is challenging the status quo. Ambitious, driven with a strong sense of purpose, and more socially inclined than generations before them, we’re enthralled by the enigma known as Gen Z, and working with them means calling upon a possible reboot.

Contextual survival

Before we draw any conclusions on the ‘ethical’ dilemmas this firebrand generation has presented the workplace with, we need to take a step back to see how Gen Z became a generation that prioritised ‘self’ above all else.

Corporate India took its roots only 20-30 years ago. Back then, government jobs, amongst few others, were considered stable. People were governed by their individual quest for basic survival, ‘roti, kapda, makaan’. Spending conservatively was the norm, with a penchant to save money for a rainy day and, most importantly, for their children.

Boomers re-wrote the narrative for middle class India by focusing on first generation wealth creation through investments in various asset classes. The millennials moved the needle of corporate India, with many being the first generation studying abroad. They brought back with them the ‘hustle’ culture.

The urban Gen Z is representative of an entirely different era. If we refer to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, with all physiological needs taken care of, can the urban Gen Z really be faulted for indulgent expenses and indifference at the workplace?

There is still a quest for ‘survival’, but it’s to be the one with the most ‘social currency’. It translates into a notional sense of influence by elevating the individual over his/her peers. To be the one with the ‘coolest job’ with the most perks, or to be the one making woke statements and getting the most likes.

There is also an element of a changed sociological phenomenon attached to this. The millennials have created the social construct that is derivative of the elongated biological one. Gen Z is all about ‘maximising one’s youth’, as they don’t need to shoulder responsibility early on in life. Since they don’t have responsibilities, aren’t they at liberty to pursue their passions? How many ever that maybe?

Self-hierarchy

This is the mindset we now need to adapt in our workforce. Every individual is driven by his/her values. Every organisation is driven by its people. Our parents and teachers inculcate our basic values of honesty, hard work and respect. But organisational values come in later on in life. By then, these ethics are a derivative of an individual’s doctrines.

For most organisations and millennials, ‘self’ will feature amongst the top five priorities. It will be of equal significance with the company, their teams and business partners, imperative to the ecosystem, and the need to provide the best products/services. But Gen Z represents a slightly different pyramid, wherein ‘self’ takes precedence above all.

There are so many reasons that contribute to this, other than just upbringing. Exposure to a more experimental educational system, opportunities to take a year off and really pursue passions. Social media and other means of instant gratification play a defining role in what this generation prioritises, what they value and what they perceive is right and wrong.

With responsibilities at bay, they are at liberty to pursue their interests with a sense of purpose and are keen to join organisations that not only fulfill their passions, but are aligned with their values as well.

So, how can organisations adapt in the years to come?

In less than four years, 75 per cent of the global workplace will be millennials and Gen Z. Businesses are likely to become irrelevant if they don’t adapt. According to a recent study from The Workforce Institute at Kronos Inc., only one-third of Gen Z considers themselves to be the hardest working generation in the workforce. Employers need to embrace this and work towards creating an environment that challenges, inspires and motivates them. Contrary to popular belief, over-priced lattes may not be their only motivators.

Employer branding: In order to be an organisation of choice, businesses should look to improve their employer brand through social media, as well as managing their Glassdoor and Google reviews. With about 70 per cent of Gen Z employees looking at online reviews before applying for a role, how a company markets and brands itself is significant.

Authenticity is sacred: For the Gen Z with a strong sense of purpose, simply being a big player within your industry is likely to have little impact, if your business is not authentic. If employers wish to attract the best candidates, it is of paramount importance that they be honest about, not only the positive elements, but also the potential downsides. This generation values feedback on a frequent basis (this could also be in part due to the instant feedback on social media platforms). They value interpersonal relationships and prefer to have an equanimous relationship with their manager, where they can confidently share opposing opinions.

Focus on individual development: In addition to valuing independence and freedom at work, Gen Z prefers structure and direction in their day-to-day roles. There is an innate need to understand their roles, when tasks need to be completed and how their work impacts the business. One of the biggest motivators for Gen Z is workplaces focusing on professional growth that embraces a lifelong learning approach. With remote working and rapid adoption of technology, employees have the opportunity to not only continue their best at work, but also pursue their passions, which helps develop a sense of individuality and purpose.

Accountability: A Deloitte study shared that Gen Z expects to stay at a company for a lesser duration, than millennials. Their strong sense of self warrants self-learning, actualisation, achievement and independence in making their own financial decisions.

A Monster survey revealed that 76 per cent of Gen Z workers described themselves as personally responsible for their own career. As much as their motivators are individualistic in nature, they look forward to societal acceptance, appreciation and recognition from their employers.

Inclusivity: The Deloitte study corroborated that Gen Z emphasises strongly on the importance of diversity of gender, age, disability and education. Honesty and transparency in all aspects of work, including salaries, are appreciated by them. They are more likely to accept recruitment from a company that is inclusive in its hiring processes, in terms of gender and ethnicity.

A balanced lifestyle: With social interactions and social media playing a crucial role in their lives, Gen Z is more likely to promote an employer that advocates a sensible balance between work and self. They practise self-love by building interpersonal relationships.

It is equally important for them that the company promotes mental wellness and allows them the freedom for recreational activities, even at the workplace. The cultural acceptance of their lifestyle without an element of judgement is valued.

The world is your work desk: Remote or flexible working may have been a ‘corporate benefit’ for the previous generation, but it is sacrosanct for these digital nomads. For the first time, organisations may need to propose different rules and ways of working to accommodate the sentiments of its new workforce. While this is a widely contested ideology, resistance to these ideas will only alienate the next generation of competent employees.

While business owners have their hands full for the next few years, a re-evaluation is surely in order when Generation Alpha steps in, but we’ll cross that bridge when we get there.

The author is co-founder of Zoo Media and FoxyMoron.

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