Eliza is an historian, lecturer and corporate advisor on the evolution of generations and how people’s values and behaviours are changing and the implications for work, politics, consumption, society and economics.
Q: Professional development of staff who then leave wastes time and resources. Given the Millennial and Gen Z preference for diverse experiences, are employers fighting a losing battle to retain staff?
A: This pinpoints the major challenge companies have in thinking they have got to retain their talent over a substantial period of their working life. For a Millennial to do the same thing for longer than 8 years is seen by them as a failure. They want diversity of experiences. The trend is not just towards diversity within a career but multiple careers.
A great analogy here is TV channels; Baby Boomers grew up with 3 terrestrial channels, whereas Millennials and Gen Z’s have had the ability to create their own channel. This reflects how they see their careers. Companies will struggle to keep this generation of talent. But there are certainly things they can do to stop them leaving.
Developing a training programme that doesn’t just stop after the graduate programme is important. Companies need to offer a working environment and training that is bespoke for the individual to flourish in the organisation.
Supporting them working in different locations; travel to Millennials is what the company car was to baby boomers. There is more status attached to going to work in New York for six months than a pay rise.
I knew a Millennial employee who worked in a large telecommunications firm for eight years with 10 different jobs across departments. She was given diversity of experience, roles and skills but then wanted to leave sector altogether. She liked the company and appreciated the lengths they had gone to, but she wanted to work in a different country, in a different sector: tech not communications. I don’t think she is unusual for her generation.
Q: What do companies need to think about to attract both Millennials and Gen Z’s to an organisation as they are so different?
Firstly, it’s important to know the difference. Millennials are not young anymore. They have caring responsibilities; over 50% are already parents and many more will need to care for their parents. Respecting and understanding their care and responsibilities is important. They want an employer who is inclusive; not just about shared parental leave but in a family-friendly environment with a flexible learning and development culture. Also, even though they are in their mid-20s to mid-30s, they don’t want to stop learning.
To attract Gen Z’s, you really need to talk their language and reach out to them via their mediums which is primarily video. They are also a politically switched on activist generation and see employment as a two-way contract.
As an employer, you really need to ask are your values aligned with theirs. Gen Z are savvy and sophisticated and won’t buy into false advertising in any way. The interview process needs to shift from not what employee can bring to company but to a dialogue and 2-way assessment as to whether the fit is right.
They are the most ethnically diverse, gender diverse and politically diverse generation there has ever been.
Employers can also retain them for longer by enabling them to be an entrepreneur within the business. Let them be successful disruptors within your business.
Q: Can it be ok for people to leave? If companies invest in alumni networks might staff return later having learned and grown even more?
A: Yes, there are some brilliant programs out there where staff are supported as they leave and then come back with more information and experience. The mentoring programme is geared towards getting you out if that is right for the individual. Which is fascinating. It’s like parenting; push them out of the house for them to flourish and then they will come back as a better version!
If you try to restrain them in to the corporate straitjacket you will lose them before you need to. There is something to be said for a very different form of leadership and management which focuses on the person as an individual and what they are interested in.
This is a natural consequence of a transactional economy. Nothing is forever. Jobs are not for life. My mum worked for John Lewis for 55 years. I’ve had three careers before I’m 40.
Q: Do differences in generations apply across cultures and countries?
A: There is a major difference between east and west. In India and China, the Millennials are like baby boomers in the west. They want stability, life insurance, savings, assets and to follow the path of standards and respectability as baby boomers did in their 20s and 30s.
Gen Z’s are much more similar around the globe than previous generations were. Technology has allowed common touchpoints such as downloading Ariana Grande or following influencers. There is a globalised youth culture which Millennials didn’t have. Travel and international study has changed.
Q: How can company leaders communicate with different generations in an accessible way?
A: There are four generations in the workplace for the first time. There needs to be generational understanding not just generalisations.
This means truly understand what they are influenced by. It is a reciprocal two-way dialogue. Baby boomers are still clinging on to their traditional ways. But we’re moving beyond the lanyard years and a silo-driven culture. We’ve gone from a generation who wants to be siloed to a generation who wants to create.
Gen Z’s can’t understand why you pick up the phone and can’t just email or why everyone sits in formal hierarchal structures.
Understanding must happen first. Then skill swap. Reverse mentoring is also important. You can also add Millennials to the board. Encouraging generational diversity can only be a good thing.