Ideas to attract and retain Millennial and Gen-Z talent in the COVID-19 workplace

Profile picture for user ddpreez By Derek du Preez February 18, 2021 Audio version
Summary:
If Millennials and Gen-Z are the future of work, then workplace structures and principles need to adapt - particularly in this new COVID-19 economy.

Image of a person working on a laptop remotely
(Image by StartupStockPhotos from Pixabay )

Earlier this week I wrote about how COVID-19 has reinforced the view amongst Gen-Z and Millennials that the ‘system of work' is broken for them. Whilst the baby boomer generation seems more inclined to want to return to normal as the vaccine rollout takes shape, Gen-Z and Millennial workers have had a wake up call that change can in fact happen overnight and that a different future is possible. 

My earlier piece provided a lot of context for the problem, but didn't go as far to offer possible solutions - something that has been asked of me since by readers. As such, I'm going to attempt to list some possible ideas that business leaders should be considering when thinking about attracting and retaining Millennial and Gen-Z talent in the COVID-19 workplace. 

It's important to be thinking about this now, for a couple of reasons. Firstly, COVID-19 has forced companies to reassess their corporate strategies from top to bottom, and attracting talent should be a key component of that. Secondly, these younger generations are set to make up over 50% of the workforce by 2025. Thirdly, getting this right could put you at a competitive advantage - an organisation is nothing without its people.

To get this right, employers need to shift the focus from ‘you should be grateful to have a job' to ‘what can we do to invest in you?'. This list isn't comprehensive and there are likely dozens more that could be added - so feel free to comment with any I may have overlooked. But here are my initial thoughts.

Define a job by outcomes

Being a cog in the corporate wheel is unlikely going to satisfy the needs of Gen-Z and Millennial workers, who want to feel like they are doing impactful work. That doesn't mean that younger generations want to be given all the power from day one, they just want some autonomy over how they meet objectives. 

In other words, hiring talented young workers to sit and fulfil the same process day in day out will likely not fly with a generation that is increasingly used to automation and using technology to get things done quickly. Instead, align job roles tightly to your organisation's strategy, explain what you're hoping to achieve, and let your younger employees figure out how to get there. 

Investing in teams and letting them be creative in their approach, coupled with strong trust in them, is a much better way to build allegiance between Gen-Z/Millennial workers and your company. 

Provide a clear career path

This point shouldn't just be applied to younger workers, but it's increasingly relevant today. There is high anxiety amongst Gen-Z and Millennials about their future - having lived through a financial crisis and now a pandemic - and they want more certainty that they're on the right path. 

This age group are often less willing to just ride the wave and hope for the best, because many of the long-term benefits of doing so (home ownership, financial security) feel impossible. As such, Gen-Z and Millennial employees want a clear understanding of a career path through a company, how they can get to where they want to be and for personal development opportunities to be ample. Invest in this.

What are your principles? 

The younger generations *really* care about people and the world around them. Studies have shown that social and corporate responsibility is high up on the agenda for candidates considering job roles. And access to a wide variety of information online also means that this generation won't be fooled by PR and spin - they will do their research. 

Companies really need to be thinking about what they stand for and to invest in these principles beyond a tagline or a press conference. What actual money and commitments are being put into diversity and inclusion? Building better communities? Helping the environment? These things matter and companies need a real plan for them. 

Flexibility

The office may not be entirely dead just yet, as companies figure out how they can possibly move to a hybrid world. But one thing I would argue that is pretty certain is that mandated time in the office is going to be a non-starter for companies that want to attract and retain the best talent. Some Gen-Z workers will have started their careers over this time having *never* worked in an office. 

What's key is that employees are offered full flexibility without any strings attached. If job roles are really defined by outcomes, as the above point described, then you also need to trust your employees to get the job done when, where and how they see fit. This will no doubt have practical implications for your company, but any decent organisation should already be thinking about these for the long-term. 

Build empathy in

Expecting a significant eye-roll from some boomers reading this, but for Gen-Z and Millennials, empathy matters. These generations don't just care about money or power, they care about people (if you can allow me to talk in broad strokes here). You only have to take a look at social media on a weekly basis to see the impact these generations can have on a company's brand, if they don't feel like an organisation is treating their employees/customers properly. 

Building empathy into your organisation isn't easy, as it's not often something that can be measured. The way the workforce has changed over the past couple of decades means that the needs of employees are far more diverse than they ever used to be. Understanding and accommodating the needs of a single parent, a person of colour, an LGBTQ+ person, a person with a disability, all matter beyond platitudes. This understanding needs to be extended into process and made easy for people to work effectively and live their lives. 

Provide opportunities beyond the ‘job'

This ties into many of the points made above, but Millennials and Gen-Z want to feel like they are working for more than just a pay cheque. They want to feel like their job is meaningful, but that the job itself provides them opportunities to pursue interests outside of the organisation's four walls. 

One example of this is providing employees the opportunity to take time out of work to volunteer with a local charity once a month. Another example I heard recently was from a company that allowed one of their employees to take some time off each month to pursue their interest in an art. 

Whilst these may sound mad to the corporate overlords, I'd ask the following question: how many of your employees over time have quit because they rashly decided they want to pursue something else and/or aren't happy with their job? Give people the time to experiment and explore and allow them to come back to the organisation happier. Happy employees = productive employees. 

Provide modern tools

I won't dwell on this point too much, as it's a staple for diginomica readers, but needless to say that a generation brought up on smartphones and the internet aren't going to have the patience to deal with ageing applications that need to be used on-site and take an hour in the morning to load. Sort it out. 

Listen

This should be something that's applied regardless of age, but companies could do well to listen more to their employees. There are different models for this (mass surveys, regular meets with leaders, town halls) - but listening and taking action will build your organisation a lot of trust. It's not easy, but it's critical.