India is now home to the world’s largest youth population, with about 600 million people below the age of 25. And this new generation that’s entering the workforce wants more out of their jobs than just fair pay. Whether it’s in response to social movements, or because of a shift of priorities through the pandemic, Gen Z – defined as those born between 1997 and 2012 – want jobs that also provide a good work-life balance and a sense of purpose. And, eager to work with this tech-savvy generation that will dominate the workforce in the next decade, companies are reimagining their recruitment and employee engagement strategies.
That’s been the experience of Mumbai resident, Kimaya Hemdev, who worked with upGrad as head of marketing of its B2B arm from 2019 to 2020, and with Capgemini in the US from 2018 to 2019. Now, the 26-year-old juggles three jobs: she designs apparel, works with an NGO called The Pink Thread to empower women in corporate India and also works with a film distribution company. It’s not to earn more money. The collective responsibilities of these roles allow her to apply her creative bent of mind while experiencing a sense of purpose, aspects that are as important to Hemdev as a good paycheck and flexible work hours.
Salary alone isn’t satisfying
‘I’ve always wanted to work in education and to give back [to the community]. But I am also ambitious and I didn’t want to go down the not-for-profit route,’ says Hemdev. She was introduced to upGrad during short stints with Teach for India and other NGOs. ‘What was interesting to me was that upGrad was helping people to upskill and to learn more about themselves. Besides, working with the company allowed me to get involved in a non-traditional, exciting form of education,’ Hemdev says.
While the sense of purpose was what drew her to the job, what Hemdev loved was the organisation’s meritocratic approach to advancement. ‘I was the youngest person on their leadership committee,’ she says, adding that she also appreciated that the work culture was a refreshing departure from the norm. ‘Unlike many traditional organisations in India, upGrad has an open-door policy. And, even before the pandemic, I was allowed to work from home at times,’ Hemdev recalls, ‘Not only did I have the freedom to create my own work hours, I was empowered to take important decisions. Of course, with that, came greater accountability but the room they gave me allowed me to really grow as an individual and excel.’
Her choices exemplify what others of her generation want out of their jobs. According to Microsoft’s Great Expectations: Making Hybrid Work Work report, top priorities for this generation include good work culture, mental health/ wellbeing benefits, a sense of purpose, positive feedback and recognition and flexible work hours.
For managers the challenge is, therefore, not just to attract and retain young talent, but to find ways to engage these employees, whose ambitions are defined by an entirely different set of markers.
Rolling out the red carpet for Gen Z
Organisations are stepping up. One reason for this may be that they have no choice. Millennials – defined by Pew Research as those born between 1981 and 1996 – currently dominate the workforce. But those on the upper end of that age bracket are now pushing 40, meaning it’s only a matter of time until workplaces come to be naturally dominated by the next generation. Their demands notwithstanding, the influx of Gen Z employees has many benefits for employers, too. Remember, this is a generation that has grown up surrounded by technology, and that gives it an edge when it comes to understanding and using new tools. Besides, the group’s awareness of social issues and determination to work towards the betterment of society provides an opportunity to foster a healthier, more inclusive work culture.
‘People are our most valuable asset and how you treat them and motivate them is really important. If you can channel the energy of younger workers the right way, you can build a great culture and attract good people. If your employees are thinking about ways in which they can make the product/service or company more impactful, that’s a win-win’ – Prashant Mehta, Partner, Lightbox Ventures
Companies that understand this are doing their bit to court this class of employees. Lincoln Falcao, director and head of human resources at ESR India, the local arm of the Asia-Pacific focused industrial and logistics real estate platform, says the company’s Gen Z recruits appreciate that transparency and open communication have been at the heart of the company’s culture. ‘We also have a non-monetary reward and recognition programme to show young recruits they’re appreciated, more so when their achievements are aligned with the values of the company.’
Other policies that appeal to Gen Z employees are ESR India’s output-oriented approach vis-a-vis task orientation. ‘We also recognise the need for employee engagement and a focus on their health and well-being,’ Falcao adds, sharing that events like cricket and bowling competitions and weekly get-togethers are hosted to make work fun while encouraging inter-departmental collaboration.
Post-Covid, the company amped up its focus on health and well-being – another big draw for Gen Zs, according to Deloitte’s 2022 Gen Z and Millennial Survey, which reflects the responses of 14,808 Generation Zs from 46 countries across North America, Latin America, Western Europe, Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and Asia-Pacific. Recognising rising levels of stress thanks to factors like global political and economic turmoil and the climate crisis, ESR India tied up with a digital health service aggregator to provide access to medical consultations across 23 specialities including psychological counselling. ‘For our employees, the tie-up also means discounts on medicines and medical check-ups,’ Falcao says.
Multinational IT and consulting services company, Capgemini, on the other hand, offers employees a host of personal development, training and career management programmes. These support the evolving goals and needs of this generation, from global competency frameworks – which help identify and measure the attributes and skills of individuals against the competencies required for roles – to learning technology. MyLearning, the group’s online learning management system, can be accessed by all employees anywhere and anytime, including through mobile devices.
These are some companies that recognise the advantages of investing in their workforce. Attrition, after all, involves administrative expenses, payments towards severance, costs to hire and train new recruits, all of which increase the operating costs of organisations. It’s in the interest of companies, therefore, to work towards drafting employee value propositions that meet employee needs and boost talent attraction and retention. But what does an EVP geared to appeal to Gen Z include?
In its Global 2022 Gen Z and Millennial Survey, Deloitte lists the following issues as key determinants of Gen Z’s career choices.
- Pay is the No. 1 reason why Gen Z workers and millennials left a role in the last two years. However, good work/life balance and learning/development opportunities were the top priorities when choosing an employer.
- Aligning with the values of Gen Z and millennials is also key. Nearly two in five said they had rejected a job or assignment because it did not align with their values. Meanwhile, those who were satisfied with their employers’ societal and environmental impact, and their efforts to create a diverse and inclusive culture, said they were more likely to want to stay with their employer for more than five years.
- There is also a clear demand for more flexible working: currently, 49 per cent of Gen Z employees and 45 per cent of millennials work remotely at least some of the time, while three-quarters say this would be their preferred mode of working. That this translates into savings — on expenses like commuting — is one of the top reasons that many Gen Z employees and millennials prefer hybrid or remote work.
- Long-term financial futures and day-to-day finances continue to be top stress drivers for both, Gen Zs and millennials. Burnout is very high among both generations, and signals a major retention issue for employers: 44% of Gen Zs and 43% of millennials say many people have recently left their organisations due to workload pressure. Workplace well-being and mental health must, thus, be given due importance.
It’s a long list, but leaders, like Prashant Mehta, partner, Lightbox Ventures, believe it’s worthwhile to consider these points. Mehta’s Mumbai-based venture capital firm has a number of Gen Z employees, and Mehta and his partners also engage deeply with their founders – startups like Rebel Foods, Dunzo, Furlenco, Noire Women’s Wellness and so on – through activities like recruitment, motivation, incentivisation and so on. In fact, a lot of Mehta’s experience with Gen Z is from observations of Lightbox’s portfolio.
‘People are our most valuable asset and how you treat them and motivate them is really important,’ says Mehta. ‘If you can channel the energy of younger workers the right way, it can actually be fantastic – you can build a great culture and attract good people. If your employees are thinking about ways in which they can make the product/service or company more impactful, that’s a win-win,’ he says.
Roadblocks and the way around them
The problem is that companies may not have the resources to accommodate these demands. Microsoft’s Great Expectations: Making Hybrid Work Work report states that over half of managers (54 per cent) feel leadership at their company is out of touch with employee expectations. And 74 per cent of leaders surveyed said they don’t have the influence or resources they need to make changes on behalf of their team.
Mehta appreciates that it’s a really tough job to balance the demands of employees against resources, but he believes that leaders who actively engage with young employees and communicate effectively are able to work around some key challenges. ‘Young employees are able to recognise a genuine commitment towards creating a better work culture, and towards causes like inclusivity and sustainability. But in order for them to gauge this, leaders and managers need to invest time and energy to engage with young workers,’ says Mehta, recognising that this can be frustrating for leaders who, at times, are dealing with other issues which could be about the technology they rely on, about revenue or investors – which young employees may not be aware of.
‘As a leader, you have to be resilient, and you have to find a way to not let other challenges prevent you from paying due attention to and developing the young cohort. Good leaders know that they have to invest time in nurturing their leadership team and, at the very least, also the team that operates one level below. There has to be a lot of engagement and communication – and also clarity about expectations,’ says Mehta.
Gen Z is a bunch of aware and alert citizens who like to rally behind environmental causes that impact nature. Their conviction and analytical way of looking at things, if honed well, can be an asset for an organisation.