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What HR Leaders Need to Know About Generation Z

These digital natives want it all — along with a competitive paycheck.

By Sarah Fister Gale

T

he first wave of Generation Z is entering the workplace, and companies may be surprised by how much they differ from millennials. They care more about things like technology, diversity and money than the last generation, and employers will need to adapt to win them over.

“They are the first generation of true digital natives,” said Rachel Harris-Russell, global head of corporate strategy and marketing for Allegis Group a staffing and recruiting company in Hanover, Maryland. “They have a built-in expectation for immediate access to information, and seamless employee interfaces that match their consumer experience.”

They are also more ambitious, socially conscious and diverse than their elder peers. Almost half of this generation in the U.S. identify as non-Caucasian according to the U.S. Census Bureau, so diversity and inclusion efforts have to be more than lip service, Harris-Russell said. “If a company talks about its D&I commitment but doesn’t match that profile, it will put them at a disadvantage with this generation.”

The same goes for corporate social responsibility. Fully 82 percent of Gen Zs consider CSR a major factor when deciding where to work, and 66 percent would take a pay cut to work for a more socially responsible company. “They want their work to have a larger world purpose,” she said. “The more companies embrace this, the more they will attract Gen Z.”

But don’t be fooled. This generation — more than millennials — also cares about money and career development, and they will be more loyal than millennials because of what they lived through during the Great Recession, said Penny Queller, senior vice president and general manager for enterprise talent solutions at Monster. “Seeing their parents get laid off [during the Great Recession] made an impression,” she said. “It caused them to value financial security more than other generations.”

Companies should view all of these expectations as opportunities — not problems. This generation could actually solve the attraction and retention issue so many companies struggle with by bringing a new way of working to the workplace, Harris-Russell said. But companies have to embrace the ideas they bring to the table. “It’s easy to dismiss a younger generation’s ideas as naive, but that would be short-sighted.”

Instead, she suggests companies use their Gen Z workers and interns to help evolve their recruiting and retention efforts. “It may change the way you look at old problems.”

Her team works with a big tech firm in San Francisco that regularly assigns new Gen Z staff age-old tech problems to solve — without telling them that no one has been able to crack the code. “They bring a fresh perspective, and 52 percent of the time, they find solutions that deliver a massive step forward,” she said.

Deloitte is taking a similar tack with its Gen Z employees and interns, said Heidi Soltis-Berner, managing director of Deloitte University and workforce talent leader. The company has started recruiting interns as early as freshman year both to engage them before other companies make contact, and offer training to bolster their skills. “This generation has great technical skills, but they also need critical thinking, problem solving and analytical skills,” Soltis-Berner said.

Part of the training includes presenting teams with a real life client problem to solve (with no names) to see how they collaborate and adapt to curve balls. “It’s a safe environment to test what they can do,” she said.

They are also developing a series of digital and virtual reality tools to engage them earlier and more completely in the recruiting process. Last year, Deloitte began building a virtual reality experience for campus recruiting, using Gen Z interns’ feedback to shape the content. At campus recruiting fairs, students can don VR headsets and tour the company on their phones.

“It showcases the Deloitte culture while also giving them a great recruiting experience using technology,” Soltis-Berner said. The company also added an “Explore Your Fit” tool to the website that gives students a sense of the career paths they could follow at Deloitte and how to get there. The tool was initially used only to promote the brand, though Deloitte is starting to use it as a funnel for new recruits.

These kinds of technology-driven tools and branded digital experiences are vital to attract Gen Z, Harris-Russell said. “The idea that recruiting has to be a human-to-human experience is outdated. This generation will find their jobs online.” She urges companies to start refining their recruiting messages and platforms to personalize the brand to this generation.

That includes promoting the brand through YouTube, Facebook and other social spaces that showcase real employees and authentic content showcasing how your company invests in the community, technology, and employee development.