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How should organizations adapt to fully realize the potential of Gen Z?

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(Image credit: Shutterstock.com / Pressmaster)

As organizations plan for the post-pandemic world, they must decide which lessons and experiences they should carry across, and to what extent they should influence the hybrid future. One impactful change is the ongoing demographic shift, which is likely to see around 75 percent of the workforce become composite of both millennials and Gen Z by 2025. Businesses of all sizes should realize that a dramatic infusion of young talent can help them remain adaptable, resilient and relevant going forward, and even challenge outdated working values. If encouraged in the right environment, Gen Z has the potential to be a positive, disruptive force for the future of work. 

Gen Z: a flexible, resilient generation

Initially, companies must evaluate their approaches to upskilling and reskilling their workforce. Studies have found that Gen Z tends to be more interested in flexible, skill-based work whilst taking a leading role in their own development. In response, companies have an opportunity to re-organize their approach to hiring. organizations could offer a more tailored approach to development and training in the workplace by reaching out to applicants without traditional qualifications. They could then focus upon developing skills that unlock the value and outcomes they are trying to achieve, rather than emulating outdated, unproductive values or practices which may clash with the sensibilities of Gen Z.

Gen Z has also become accustomed to learning, working remotely, and managing their own time and progress in unique and challenging settings. Companies must match the expected flexibility by providing Gen Z with some autonomy over their careers and introducing mechanisms that allow them to add value to the company while delivering results for their teams. These changes are important because Gen Z has matured and entered the workplace in a unique context of remote, isolated living. 

This generation has already embraced a learning and entrepreneurial culture. They have seen global empires being built from bedrooms, leveraging new technologies and adapting to changes, successfully connecting and driving value from a global, diverse audience. They adapted to remote experiences with ease, as it was an extension of the world they already enjoyed. If enabled and empowered, this experience can benefit both employer and employee with unique perspectives and solutions to tasks, projects, and problems.

Managing mental health and wellbeing

Despite the flexibility and resilience of Gen Z, stress and anxiety concerns are increasingly becoming a problem, heightened by the nearly constant digital engagement of our time. Positive mental health and wellbeing are important for maintaining quality performance in the workplace. This engagement has been exacerbated further by the pandemic, which has blurred the lines between home and working life. 

Deloitte has found that Gen Z in particular have felt an increase to their stress and anxiety levels since the pandemic began. The study also demonstrated that a stigma still endures around these issues within the workplace, leading some to feel as though they cannot approach management to seek the help and understanding they may require to perform their roles effectively. 

Outdated views and lingering stigmas may prevent incoming talent from realizing their potential, which in turn impedes working performance. According to a body of research by the World Health Organization, depression and anxiety cost the global economy around one trillion dollars annually due to lost productivity. The same report outlines the financial cost benefits of developing programs that help employees with their mental health. For every one dollar spent on treatment of mental health issues, there is a return of four dollars in improved health and productivity. 

Increasingly, Gen Z expects employers to engage with their needs directly and to provide mechanisms and provisions which mediate this increasingly important issue. Specifically, Gen Z brings with them an expectation for their employers and management to lead the way and demonstrate a healthy work-life balance. If employers find that balance and provide the correct environment for their employees to thrive, Gen Z can be more productive and consistent within the workplace, fulfilling their desire to take ownership of their mental health and wellbeing.

Driving potential and innovation through trust

Organizations must also consider the cultural complexities of the generation. Well before the pandemic, Gen Z experienced unprecedented social, political and environmental complexity, and studies show they have less trust in formal institutions as a result. Because of these external circumstances, they are overwhelmingly focused upon equity and fairness. Companies should demonstrate an active commitment to a range of diversity, inclusion and belonging initiatives, being ready to address issues that are important to their workforce. Matching the social conscience of Gen Z is not strictly a matter of appearing ‘woke’, a term used to describe alertness to social injustice. Rather, it is an opportunity to stay in touch, remain resilient, forward-thinking, and relevant.

As Gen Z brings their diversity and social conscience, companies must cultivate a natural, organic relationship that keeps them interested, engaged, and gives them a stronger sense of purpose. By championing such values, Gen Z can become exceptional drivers of value and output because their employment aligns with their sense of purpose. Additionally, organizations can break down the outdated and almost adversarial working paradigm of employer vs employee – the traditional us (employees) vs them (management) dynamic – which studies have argued to be an impediment to progress, resilience and adaptability. With this approach, hierarchical structures become collaborative networks, focused upon results rather than simply reporting to a manager.

Technology’s role in the future of work

For Gen Z, learning, development, and work, are all synonymous with technology. Mobile and digital working experiences are unquestionable necessities that increase productivity and allow access to the information required in order to excel. organizations looking for the best Gen Z talent must be ready to provide similar consumer-like employee experiences to unlock their productive potential and innovate the workplace. 

With the circumstances of the pandemic and the rise of Gen Z, employers have the opportunity to recalibrate how they build and maintain traditional working relationships and revise the metrics they use to measure success. By focusing upon these values and approaches, we can fully maximize the potential of Gen Z and allow them to impact the workplace in a range of positive ways.

Nerys Mutlow, Evangelist in the Chief Innovation Office, ServiceNow

Nerys Mutlow is an evangelist in the chief innovation office at ServiceNow, covering Europe, Middle East, and Africa.