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Career Development, 2021 Style: Learning How to Learn

Think back to your first day of work with your first major employer.

You probably arrived early on your first day, ID card ready, and experienced a week full of inductions, walk-throughs, and hand-shaking introductions.

Now imagine if your first day took place in April 2020.

Your first day would probably be spent in your bedroom, opening a laptop and trying to figure out how to log on to Microsoft Teams or Google Workspace.

In a similar fashion, your mentors were also coming to terms with new technologies, new processes, and the dramatic events unfolding all around them.

It’s almost as if they were experiencing their first day in a new job, too.

The extraordinary nature of the COVID-19 pandemic impacted everybody.

But most notably, it had a profound effect on the career development of younger generations and those entering the workforce for the first time.

Focus on Young Workers

Grappling with personal concerns and anxieties during a global health crisis is one thing, yet young workers also had to cope with:

  • Organizational learning taking a back seat, with leaders focusing on surviving the crisis rather than integrating new workers or transferring skills
  • Lack of authentic relationships; communicating with and meeting coworkers and mentors took place virtually, without the benefit of in-person interactions
  • Absorbing a diluted, online version of company culture, without the benefit of informal coffee, lunch, or hallway chats
  • Learning to work with new platforms and systems without in-person support
  • Working from challenging environments–such as shared housing or in a multigenerational household

By concentrating on learning and career development, business leaders can help workforce entrants find their place within organizations and focus on building their skills for the future.

Organizational Learning

Why is organizational learning important for career development?

An organization that empowers people to learn will drive personal growth, job satisfaction, and loyalty. In turn, this leads to greater performance and in-house skills.

Indeed, at a time when employees are choosing to quit their jobs rather than go back to the office, organizations must find more effective ways to find and retain talent.

(Let’s not forget, this also comes at the time of a global health crisis, the worst recession since the Great Depression, and a dire skills shortage.)

That’s why it’s crucial to invest in learning and development in your organization, but this doesn’t just refer to hard skills.

The Need for Soft Skills in 2021

Organizational learning comes in many different forms. Developing soft skills is arguably the top priority during this unprecedented moment in history.

But, the soft skills required now are markedly different from those of just five years ago.

The World Economic Forum’s top skills for 2020 places complex problem-solving at the top of the list, followed by critical thinking and creativity.

In 2015, the top three included skills related to in-person interaction, such as coordinating with others and people management.

“Employers overwhelmingly agree that young employees need soft skills, such as communication, creative problem-solving and entrepreneurial thinking,” according to the World Economic Forum.

Positively, all of these skills can be learned. The key difference is that in-person learning has, for the most part, been replaced by distance learning.

This may be new for many workers, particularly those working remotely for the first time.

That’s where the process of re-learning comes in, or “learning how to learn.”

Learning How to Learn

In 2018, Ulrich Boser, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, explained how to become better at learning, tackle skills gaps, and enable career development.

“A growing body of research is making it clear that learners are made, not born … In short, we can all get better at getting better,” Boser says.

Boser outlined three key behaviors to help workers focus on learning:

  1. Organize your goals: First, set achievable goals and plan each stage. This strategized approach will help to strengthen the commitment to tasks while minimizing feelings of self-doubt. “By setting targets, people can manage their feelings more easily and achieve progress with their learning.”
  2. Think about thinking: Also known as metacognition, “thinking about thinking” is the process of being more inspective. How do you know what you know? Could you explain it to a friend? Do you need more practice or clearer goals? Push yourself to really think about what you’re learning.
  3. Reflect on your learning: Have you ever noticed that when you step away from a problem, you achieve greater clarity? This process of reflection and focused deliberation is crucial for understanding. This cognitive quiet, says Boser, also helps explain why it’s so difficult to gain skills when we’re stressed or angry or lonely: “… for us to gain any sort of understanding, there needs to be some state of mental ease.”

Learning Starts Now

Young workers are the next generation of leaders in your workforce.

The sooner you can integrate them into your organization through a process of organizational learning and career development, the sooner they will become embedded in your culture and a part of your company’s future.

Consider the benefit of providing a virtual office membership to your remote employees and leveraging coworking options for future in-person collaboration. Investing in the well-being of your employees is investing in your company.

While nobody could have predicted the health crisis or its legacy, a positive outcome is that we can turn it into a process of constructive learning and equip young workers with a unique and invaluable set of skills for the future.

HR’s New Responsibility: Addressing Social Injustice

The last year and a half has been a reckoning for workplaces; companies addressed the paradigm-shattering COVID-19 crisis, while also addressing issues of social injustice inside and outside the office.

Now that many companies are getting ready to welcome their employees back to the office, more employees are putting pressure on companies for better treatment. Or they’re simply walking away from their jobs in search of companies that share their values.

Human resources departments across the United States have been busy, to say the least!

So, is HR expected to manage payroll, benefits, recruiting… and address social injustice in current events, too?

The answer is yes. Here’s why.

Millennials expect to bring their whole selves to work.

Millennials, who are set to comprise up to 75 percent of the total U.S. workforce by 2025, fundamentally define diversity and inclusion differently than their older counterparts. They don’t believe in the well-intentioned but misguided “colorblindness” approach of yore.

Deloitte’s report, The Radical Transformation of Diversity and Inclusion: The Millennial Influence, “found that in defining diversity, millennials move well beyond the integration of demographic differences. They more commonly cite diversity as the blending of unique perspectives within a team, known as cognitive diversity.”

Millennials strongly believe that their unique perspectives cannot be separated from their success. In other words, they refuse to check their identities at the door because they believe that identities bring value to business outcomes.

And if current events threaten that sense of identity, these employees expect organizations to understand the cognitive load of social injustice.

“Businesses that don’t expand their notions of diversity and inclusion will increasingly lose their millennials and certainly won’t retain Generation Z … who are even less focused on traditional diversity than their older brothers and sisters and are even more engaged in socially collaborative platforms,” according to the Deloitte report.

Mental wellness impacts employee engagement.

When Millennials and Gen-Z bring their whole selves to work, this also includes their mental wellness. Morra Aarons-Mele said it succinctly in Harvard Business Review: “As we recognize neurological and emotional diversity in all of its forms, workplace cultures need to make room for the wide range of emotions we experience.”

Bonusly, an employee engagement software, also found this to be true in their survey of employees during the COVID-19 pandemic. Unsurprisingly, employees are much more stressed about work and at work than in years previous. But as it turns out, Bonusly also found that “highly engaged employees are 3.2 times more likely to be on a team that encourages open discussion of anxiety and stress at work than actively disengaged employees.”

So when incidents like the murder of George Floyd, the Atlanta spa shootings, or the January 6 Capitol riot occur, the best thing you can do for your employees is to acknowledge what’s going on. Let them know that you see and hear their concerns.

Be cognizant that current events impact your employees’ mental wellness. Also, recognize that you, as an HR professional, have the ability to thoughtfully address your team in a way that helps them feel valued and purposeful.

Crafting your employee experience and building purpose

We talk often about making sure employees feel valued as a crucial part of their employee experience. Recognize millennials and Gen Z for their diversity of experiences because that is what they need to feel appreciated. This requires a tailored approach from HR.

Consider this. HR is the department responsible for crafting and supporting the entire employee experience. So that responsibility extends to supporting employees’ well-being in times of social unrest.

Also, this is an opportunity to foster inclusion and a sense of purpose.

“Employees now want more from their employer than a paycheck. They want a sense of pride and fulfillment from their work, a purpose, and importantly a company whose values match their own,” said Jeanne Meister in her Forbes piece.

The subject of continued social injustice can be complex for companies to address. But it’s your responsibility as an HR professional to facilitate those conversations productively.

Do the work to understand your employees’ unique perspectives. Be aware of what can impact their well-being. This creates an inclusive and equitable environment for all workers.

You might have some difficult conversations, but it’ll pay off in time. After all, 83 percent of millennials are actively engaged when they believe the organization fosters an inclusive culture. And world events impact employees greatly. Addressing those issues is the compassionate, empathetic thing to do.

Photo: Markus Winkler

Speaking Emoji: The New Language of Working

Emojis are both a language and a technology. Cultivate’s recent study into just how we use them shows how creatively we’ve adapted to this hybrid form of communication. In just over 20 years, emojis have evolved from the province of teens to an accepted part of business conversation. Influenced heavily by the presence of Gen Z and millennials, emojis have become a standard way to communicate — faster, more effective, and also, enabling us to communicate with more empathy

After 6 months of studying communications over Slack at four enterprise companies — including a total of 83,055 messages that used 101,134 emojis, Cultivate found some interesting trends. 30% of messages used Thumbs Up, while 27% used Mask Face

Emoji usage also differs by company: each has their own visual vocabulary based on company culture. And each generation has their preferences. Baby boomers enjoy receiving business texts with emojis, but only in the right context. Gen X appreciates informal channels like Facebook that can still be written professionally. Clearly, the majority of Gen Y (millennials) are obsessed with emojis and quick, digital-first communications like IMs or DMs. And Gen Z loves video formats, apps and mobile-only approaches with filters and emojis. 

In terms of how we use emojis, 16.3% of ad hoc requests were most typically answered with Thumbs Up, 1.31% with Okay Hand and 1.29% with Coffee.  14.64% of responses to completing tasks were followed by the highest-ranking Thumbs Up emoji and 1.13% were followed by the lowest-ranking Prayer Hands emoji 1.13%. 

The study also found that managers speak their own language: the top five emojis used by managers were different from the top five used by employees. The top emojis used by managers include Thumbs Up (in 4.63% of messages), Clapping (in 1.80%), Party Popper (0.88%), Smiley Face (0.53%), and Heart Eyes (0.39%). The top used team member emojis were Check Mark (in 1.83% of messages), Heart (1.35%), Laughing Crying (1.23%), Eyes (0.64%), and Heavy Plus Sign (0.54%).

Moreover, Cultivate found that managers and employees each tend to stick to the same emojis. As a language, emojis create a sense of connection — no matter the age or rank. And they add a personal touch along with a business personality that sets the tone for the work culture. 

Emojis also offer context to a message by bridging understanding with a reaction/emotion, especially for women, as recent research done by psychologists at Southwestern University found women tend to use twice as many emojis as compared to men. They use more emojis in particular to communicate and express emotions to family, friends and colleagues. Of course it depends on who we’re emoji-ing: you may not want to throw a line of crazy faces to your manager in an email. Then again, it might garner a Thumbs Up.

Photo: Erik Mclean

After COVID-19: Improving Your Employee Wellness Program

The impacts of COVID-19 and the measures governments and organizations are taking to contain it right now are unprecedented. The hourly breaking news headlines of outbreaks and cancellations have our heads spinning. They have also kept the wellness of our families, friends, and co-workers top of mind. Companies like Google led the way in implementing work-from-home policies to keep their employees safe; now remote work is mandatory as part of stay-home, stay-safe policies.

Organizations should certainly follow CDC guidelines to keep their employees safe and prevent the virus from spreading. It’s imperative that companies stay cognizant of the risks the virus brings. We must also heed the short-term precautions that need to occur to keep employees healthy. But after this health crisis passes, think about how your company can keep employees healthy into the future.

Millennials — now the largest generation in the American workforce, and Gen Z are health-conscious employees who are choosing to work at companies that care about their well-being. That’s not going to change after the COVID-19 crisis is over; it will only intensify. These generations are more open and aware of mental and physical health: too many watched their parents sacrifice personal time, missing end-of-year recitals and Friday-night games due to job commitments.

Young professionals are willing to work hard, of course. But they want their employers to understand that there’s life outside of the 9-to-5 grind. They prefer to exchange their energy, education, and expertise for modern benefits — including company-based wellness programs. Organizations have taken notice, but many executives question which wellness program initiatives will offer the strongest return on investment.

Here are six possibilities that can have far-reaching positive effects.

1. On- and Off-Site Fitness Accessibility

Once we’re done with stay-at-home and social-distancing measures, everyone is going to need to move. Younger generations know that the couch potato lifestyle isn’t a winning choice. Businesses that offer on-site wellness centers or access to personal trainers or group fitness classes illustrate to young workers that they see them as people, not numbers.

If on-site facilities aren’t possible? Consider partnering with a local fitness center. Perhaps offer free or reduced-cost memberships for your employees. Or you can secure a corporate rate for ClassPass. That way, employees can choose the location and activity, such as spin class, yoga, boxing, and more. If you do end up partnering with a gym? Make sure it operates outside of traditional business hours. Otherwise, employees probably won’t take advantage of this corporate wellness program benefit.

And for a no-cost option, create a company walking club and set a day and time during the week for folks to participate.

2. Wellness Challenges

Most young workers are accustomed to socializing with coworkers , and wellness challenges allow them to collectively march toward a common goal. What’s more, according to a study of the Blue Zones, which are the world’s healthiest regions, feeling like you belong to a community is critical to long-term health.  We’re seeing that play out right now in an explosion of online exercise classes and social media challenges. A return to normal will mean a return to community wellness. 

Create wellness challenges around healthy living — for instance, ask participants to record how many ounces of water they drink each day or clock the miles that their walking group racks up in a week.

Make sure to publicize progress and give a shout-out to winners on your internal landing page, intranet, or other private communication channels. As you drum up excitement, you’ll see more people join in for upcoming challenges. Take it a step further and highlight employees who participate in 5Ks, marathons, triathlons, and other challenges in your monthly newsletter.

3. Flexible Hours

There are countless predictions about how we’ll return to work, and many posit that remote and flexible working will become the norm. Flextime should be considered part of a company’s wellness program. Research confirms that employees who are empowered to balance their personal and professional expectations are more productive, less stressed, and have a greater sense of well-being.

 Before you roll out flexible work options, however, sit down with your leadership team to develop an intentional strategy. This will ensure you address any questions or concerns beforehand. Together, you can construct clear guardrails around the initiative, including defining the boundaries of flextime for employees. If you’re still unsure about flexible hours, test it with a small group of employees first. This way, you’ll have time to work out any kinks before rolling it out on a company-wide level.

4. Healthy Snacks

Everyone needs to eat, and free snacks and drinks are a great benefit that employees can see and enjoy immediately. Perhaps that’s why 32% of companies already offer this benefit, according to a report by SHRM. The wrong foods, however, can lead to a workforce that’s prone to energy crashes and food comas.

Skip the soda and chips and, instead, provide treats that taste great but don’t include added sugars, saturated fats, or excessive sodium. Consider having fresh fruit, vegetables, and an assortment of nuts delivered to the office weekly and placed in the lunchroom. Offering free healthy food also dovetails nicely with other elements of your wellness program — like gym memberships or personal training.

5. In-Office Preventive Health Screenings

Too many people put their personal health on the back burner so they can juggle busy work schedules and family obligations. A 2019 poll found that nearly 40% of American adults weren’t planning on getting a flu shot, and a national survey of 1,200 adults found that 45% of those between the ages of 18 and 29 did not have a primary care physician — an alarming issue when it comes to getting care during a health crisis. 

It doesn’t have to be this way. To streamline preventive measures that may be covered by your corporate health insurance, invite medical professionals into the office once or twice a year to give flu shots and perform biometric screenings. Not only will doing so make life easier for employees, but it will also reduce the likelihood of employees getting the flu — which will save you a lot in illness-related lost productivity costs.

6. Mindfulness Meetings

Teaching your team members meditation techniques — such as how to breathe deeply and clear their heads — can have widespread corporate wellness program benefits. Practicing mindfulness can help workers lower anxiety and remain more present. One study even discovered a connection between meditation and how willing people are to help others. 

If you’re unsure where to start, check out YouTube, where you’ll find hundreds of beginner tutorials and walk-throughs. After some simple research, you can reasonably self-direct mindfulness workshops. Or you can have a brown bag meeting and bring in a yoga instructor to teach people about breathing techniques and meditation. Additionally, there are numerous meditation apps on the market, including Calm and Headspace.

The popularity of wellness programs continues to rise among companies of all sizes — probably because more employees expect their employers to respect and care about their well-being. Of course you are doing everything right now to keep employees safe. But once this crisis is over, commit to offering long-term solutions to help your people stay healthy.

What Generation Z Expects from the Candidate Experience

Generation Z is moving into the workforce, causing more disruption in the job market. They’ve arrived during record-low unemployment and when the search for talent at all levels is extremely competitive.

These workers, the oldest of whom were born in the mid-1990s, may be the first digital natives your company hires, and the role of technology during their candidate experience will be crucial. It’s also something that many employers get wrong.

“When thinking about what Gen Z expects from the candidate experience, the first thing that comes to mind is ‘not much,’ ” says Kendall Hill, co-founder of Job Society. “I know that sounds kind of odd because we’re told that they hope for a lot and expect a lot. But what they’ve experienced so far is telling them to set their bar very low.”

The impersonal reality that these candidates are facing is the opposite of what they’re asking for when it comes to applying for open positions.

Struggling with Application Tech

One chief concern is the overabundance of automation in the application process. A reliance on keyword filters, extensive lists of requirements and other elements that treat applicants like a checklist are making the process feel unwelcoming.

“We see this across generations, from boomers to Gen Z candidates,” says Stephanie Ranno, director of enterprise business development at TorchLight Hire. “When you’re applying online using an applicant tracking system or going through an aggregator, it’s easy to apply to massive amounts of jobs and even easier to hear nothing back.”

Unfortunately, some of Generation Z’s tech expectations can compound this concern. This generation mostly grew up with a smartphone or tablet in their hands, so they expect the application process and the candidate experience will be mobile-friendly.

Looking for Connection and Confirmation

As with applicants from previous generations, members of Generation Z are hoping to hear from a live human within the first few steps of an application. As the process drags on to multiple rounds of emails — or recent trends like having candidates record a video of themselves answering interview questions — Gen Z candidates can get frustrated and drop out of the running for that position.

“I’ve talked with candidates who have applied to more than 100 jobs in a few weeks, but they only hear back from two. The fact that they’re excited just to get an auto-response is telling of how employers are treating job seekers,” Hill says.

This desire for personal interaction speaks to the values that members of Gen Z hold and of what they want from an employer.

“They want to believe in your company’s mission and find the work meaningful,” Ranno says. “More than catered lunches and more than foosball tables, Gen Z is asking ‘What do I get as a person and how will I receive it from my employer?’ ”

Interviewing You Too

In past tight job markets, recruiters and staffing agencies were often able to place candidates sight-unseen. Companies needed help and candidates were just happy to have found work. While the market is hot today, Gen Z candidates are pushing back against this trend.

“They’re not willing to take just any position, even temporary assignments, without having a vote and evaluating the company just as much as the company is evaluating them,” Hill says. “They don’t want to be treated like a commodity.”

That shift is found across demographics and is viewed as a reaction to the employer-driven candidate experience of the past recession. However, for many members of Generation Z, it’s the only job environment they’ve known.

“Gen Z is used to Yelping everything. Do their friends like something? Do strangers like it? What do past employees say? They’re reference-checking you during the job hunt,” Ranno says.

Learning About Paying Their Dues

According to Pew research, Generation Z is on a path to being the most diverse and best-educated generation ever. That’s already bleeding into the workplace in a way that can frustrate both job seekers and employers.

“This might be limited to Washington, D.C., and other major markets, but we see many in Gen Z move here with unrealistic expectations about what roles their education can allow them to take right away,” Hill says. “Education isn’t a golden ticket to the best job a company has, and we need to teach Gen Z that it’s OK to walk in and secure a more entry-level position.”

These perspectives build interestingly on Glassdoor’s list of the jobs that Gen Z is applying to most:
1. Software engineer
2. Software developer
3. Sales associate
4. Mechanical engineer
5. Data analyst
6. Business analyst
7. Engineer
8. Receptionist
9. Investment banking analyst
10. Financial analyst

The majority of these positions require significant education qualifications, even in entry-level positions. Employers may need to work with job seekers and justify the reason for intense requirements in job descriptions or during the interview process. However, that type of discussion and reasoning could be a positive way for a company to create the personal connection applicants desire.

Finding Respect Together

The underlying theme of Generation Z’s expectations for the candidate experience is also something that hiring managers seek out during the hiring process: respect.

“Gen Z candidates want a little more, and look for a mutual relationship,” Ranno says. “Social media defines the way they interact, and companies need to recognize this. The customer-facing work they do also shows what kind of employees they want and sets how these employees expect to be treated.”

One of the most significant hurdles facing both employer and applicant is learning how to be respectful in a changing business setting, Hill says. “Many Gen Z workers are still learning professionalism, office etiquette and what makes a professional email different than a text message. Employers need to be willing to help educate and support them as they get over these hurdles,” he says.

#WorkTrends: Advice for the Next Generation at Work

Karyn Schoenbart

When NPD Group CEO Karyn Schoenbart’s daughter Danielle was 6 years old, she and a friend asked if they could have a sleepover. Instead of saying “yes” or “no,” Schoenbart asked them to give a presentation on why they should have a sleepover.

When your mom is a CEO, sometimes things run a little bit differently. So it’s no wonder that when Danielle entered the advertising industry, she often found herself advising co-workers on how to navigate office politics. She christened her education an MBA — Mom.B.A., that is.

Now Karyn Schoenbart has collected that wisdom in her best-selling book “Mom.B.A.: Essential Business Advice from One Generation to the Next.” Our conversation was enormously enlightening, with insights that any professional can use.

Listen to the full conversation or read the recap below. Subscribe so you never miss an episode.

The Importance of Networking

The first bit of advice Schoenbart says she offers young workers is to be sure that they are networking during their early career. However, workers also need to remember that the worth of your Rolodex — to use an older generation’s term — isn’t based on its size; it’s based on the quality of the contacts that you make. “If you can make a few authentic connections, those can serve you well,” she says.

Of course, putting theory into practice is an another matter entirely. A lot of people dislike networking events, believing them to be exercises in small talk and empty promises. But Schoenbart says that’s the wrong way to approach such events. “It doesn’t have to be small talk,” she says. “It could be thoughtful talk.”

To ensure thoughtful chit-chat, prepare for the event like it’s a job interview. Try to research who will attend. Prepare interesting questions you can ask. They don’t have to be complicated — just asking someone what they’re working on breaks a lot more ice than you’d expect.

Finally, make sure your follow-up is even more thoughtful. “One of my pet peeves is when people follow up on LinkedIn with the generic ‘Let’s connect,’ ” Schoenbart says. Take the time to personalize your message — and never be afraid to ask what you can do for someone. “You never know,” she says. “Sometimes it won’t pay back, but many times it will.”

Rethink the Labels for ‘Good’ and ‘Bad’ Bosses

We’ve all seen “Office Space” and had bosses who are ineffective and frustrating.

But Schoenbart wonders if our definitions aren’t a bit skewed. “We don’t always realize who’s a good boss and who’s a bad boss,” she says. She cites her first boss as a classic “good boss.” “My boss was incredibly nurturing,” she says, but notes that as she grew in the position his approach actually began to feel stifling. “I ended up having to leave the company because I felt I couldn’t grow.”

At Schoenbart’s second job, her boss was much more emotionally distant. He “could barely give me the time of day,” she says. But the experience ultimately provided a valuable learning experience because it forced her to learn to stand up for herself, become self-motivated and evaluate the quality of her work without the presence of feedback. “Looking back,” she asks, “who was the better boss?”

She says her experience under that second boss provided a foundational lesson that she passed on to her daughter and to the readers of her book: Grow and absorb the lessons you learn working underneath your bosses — all of them. The only way you will grow and prepare yourself for leadership positions is to get out of your comfort zone.

You Never Outgrow Impostor Syndrome

You know that feeling where you think you’re underqualified for whatever it is you’re doing? It’s called impostor syndrome. Even someone as successful as Schoenbart feels it!

The sad reality is that even as we get older, impostor syndrome is one thing that doesn’t fade. Thankfully, Schoenbart has a few suggestions to prove to ourselves that we really do belong.

First, resist the urge to compare yourself to others. “You’re unique,” Schoenbart says.

Second, remember that uniqueness when you think about yourself. Most people are very aware of their weaknesses, but it’s also important to focus on your strengths. “What you’re really good at is also going to be most likely what you love,” she says. “If you can be even better at [them], you can be the best at it then, and that can help propel your career.”

Finally, start a fan file. Whenever you do great work on a project or receive a compliment from a boss or client, put it in the file. Not only will it help cheer you up when you’re feeling down, but it can help you work your way up the ladder. “If there’s an opportunity or a promotion … you can pull out your file and use that to help build your case,” Schoenbart says.

Resources Mentioned in This Episode

Recruiting Gen Z: A Whole New Ballgame

Move over, Millennials: Recruiters need to prepare for Generation Z, and that’s going to take a whole new mindset. Gen Z is the newest generation—born after the mid-90s—and its oldest members are set to enter the workforce.

Raised post 9/11 in a steady recession economy, this second generation of digital natives has faint—if any—memories of the boom years. They’re more pragmatic and less dependent on their parents, putting them more in line with the Silent Generation—than their Millennial peers. Here’s a look at some of the key qualities that make Gen Z unique.

They Aren’t as Close to Their Parents

After years of lamenting the rise of the helicopter parent and their impact on America’s best and brightest, surveys suggest the trend may be coming to an end. In fact, parents of Generation Z have backed away from the smothering and coddling that Millennials have had to endure. As a result, Gen Z is self-directed and accustomed to accessing answers and inspiration from the internet and their peers.

This is the first generation born in the golden age of the Internet; they aren’t tech savvy, they’re tech-immersed. They can’t remember a time without a home computer or Internet access. The rise of social media means they are always engaging in a digital narrative and global community. Gen Z tends to rely on peer influence—even those whom they’ve never met in person.

They’re Value Oriented 

According to a survey conducted by marketing firm Sparks & Honey, more than a third of Generation Z wants to “invent something that will change the world.” Further, two-thirds of this group would rather be entrepreneurs than employees. This emerging generation seems more focused on following passions and values than making money.

In some ways, this is a characteristic that puts them in line with the Silent Generation. Born between 1925 and 1945, the Silent Generation was plagued by economic instability from the Great Depression and World War II. Members of Gen Z grew up in the middle of the war on terror and spent many of their formative years hearing about mass shootings and gun violence.

However, there’s a notable difference between these two generations: The Silent Generation drifted into complacency in the 1950s under the threat of McCarthyism. Generation Z means to change the world.

They’re Not Totally Tech Driven

Popular culture likes to paint this group, the children of Instagram, as a narcissistic demographic scarcely capable of one-on-one conversation. However, while much of this generation can barely remember a time without a smartphone in hand, research suggests Gen Zers are more than just tech-driven automatons. In one workplace survey, research group Millennial Branding found 53 percent of Gen Z respondents prefer face-to-face communication over tech tools like email (16 percent) and messaging (11 percent).

Recruiting Generation Z

For recruiters dealing with the already tight competition for talent, a new approach is in order—one that speaks to the characteristics and motivations that define Gen Z. Here are three ways to refine your Generation Z recruitment strategy.

  1. Consider the Way You Work 

The notion of the 9-to-5 workday is already disappearing; by the time the last of Generation Z arrives on the scene, it may be gone altogether. While members of Gen Z are pragmatic enough to want stability, they’re used to mobility and will demand communication and working styles that suit their nomadic nature. As a recruiter, counsel employers on what the new generation of employees will expect: They’ll work remotely—even more than Generation Y—and will keep hours that flex to accommodate their other interests and commitments.

  1. Examine the Career Options You Have to Offer 

As Generation Y and members before them, the members of Generation Z will be hard to retain for the long term. Imbued with an entrepreneurial spirit, they won’t like playing the passive employee. With their focus more on passion than money, it will be hard for recruiters to find a quality Gen Z candidate who will be content to work toward someone else’s dream; they want to have a purpose. Work with your employers to create a clear path to leadership, and encourage “intraprenuerial” roles within your company. Give members of Generation Z something they crave: A career they can actually love.

  1. Look at How You Communicate

Honesty is the quality Generation Z desires values above all others. Raised in an era of obfuscation and “too big to fail” myths, Gen Z demands transparency from any organization they do business with—whether it’s where their food comes from or a company’s reputation for engaging in ethical practices. As such, they’ll expect management to be honest with them in every aspect of their jobs. If you place value in this and engage them with clear communication and expectations, you’ll attract and keep loyal employees.

This is the first time in history where so many generations—the Silent Generation, Boomers, Gen X, Millennials, and now—have shared a work environment. There’s no doubt that makes your job as a recruiter an adventure. If you try to play by the old rules, your employers will struggle to keep up; changing your strategy now to anticipate Gen Z will create a workplace that attracts the youngest generation as they start their careers. What are you doing to prepare? I’d love to hear about it.

photo credit: Keyboard via photopin (license)

What Gen Z’s Arrival In The Workforce Means For Recruiters

Generation Z’s arrival in the workforce means some changes are on the horizon for recruiters. This cohort, born roughly from the mid 90s to approximately 2010, will be entering the workforce in four short years, and you can bet recruiters and employers are already paying close attention to them.

This past fall, the first group of Gen Z youth began entering university. As Boomers continue to work well past traditional retirement age, four or five years from now, we’ll have an American workplace comprised of five generations.

Marketers and researchers have been obsessed with Millennials for over a decade; they are the most studied generation in history, and at 80 million strong they are an economic force to be reckoned with. HR pros have also been focused on all things related to attracting, motivating, mentoring, and retaining Millennials and now, once Gen Z is part of the workforce, recruiters will have to shift gears and also learn to work with this new, lesser-known generation. What are the important points they’ll need to know?

Northeastern University led the way with an extensive survey on Gen Z in late 2014 that included 16 through 19 year-olds and shed some light on key traits–-here are a few points from that study that recruiters should pay special attention to:

  • In general, the Generation Z cohort tends to be comprised of self starters who have a strong desire to be autonomous. 63 percent of them report that they want colleges to teach them about being an entrepreneur.
  • 42 percent of them expect to be self-employed later in life, and this percentage was higher among minorities.
  • Despite the high cost of higher education, 81 percent of Generation Z members surveyed believe going to college is extremely important.
  • Generation Z has a lot of anxiety around debt, not only student loan debt, and they report they are very interested in being well-educated about finances.
  • Interpersonal interaction is highly important to Gen Z; just as Millennials before them, communicating via technology, including social media, is far less valuable to them than face-to-face communication.

Of course Gen Z is still very young, and their opinions as they relate to future employment may well change. For example, reality is that only 6.6 percent of the American workforce is self-employed, making it likely that only a small percentage of those expecting to be self-employed will be as well. The future in that respect is uncertain, and this group has a lot of learning to do and experiences yet ahead of them. However, when it comes to recruiting them, here are some things that might be helpful.

Generation Z Is Constantly Connected

Like Millennials, Gen Z is a cohort of digital natives; they have had technology and the many forms of communication that affords since birth. They are used to instant access to information and, like their older Gen Y counterparts, they are continually processing information (Hyperink here to MB Managing Millennial CEO post). Like Millennials, they prefer to solve their own problems, and will turn to YouTube or other video platforms for tutorials and to troubleshoot before asking for help. They also place great value on the reviews of their peers.

For recruiters, that means being ready to communicate on a wide variety of platforms on a continual basis. In order to recruit the top talent, you will have to be as connected as they are. You’ll need to keep up with their preferred networks, which will likely always be changing, and you’ll need to be transparent about what you want, as this generation is just as skeptical of marketing as the previous one.

Flexible Schedules Will Continue To Grow In Importance

With the growth of part time and contract workers, Gen Z will more than likely assume the same attitude their Millennial predecessors did when it comes to career expectations; they will not expect to remain with the same company for more than a few years. Flexible schedules will be a big part of their world as they move farther away from the traditional 9 to 5 job structure as work becomes more about life and less about work, and they’ll likely take on a variety of part time roles.

This preference for flexible work schedules means that business will happen outside of traditional work hours, and recruiters’ own work hours will, therefore, have to be just as flexible as their Gen Z targets’ schedule are. Companies will also have to examine what are in many cases decades old policies on acceptable work hours and business norms as they seek to not only attract, but to hire and retain this workforce with wholly different preferences than the ones that came before them. In many instances this is already happening, but I believe we will see this continue to evolve in the coming years.

Echoing The Silent Generation

Unlike Millennials, Gen Z came of age during difficult economic times; older Millennials were raised in the boom years. As Alex Williams points out in his recent New York Times piece, there’s an argument to be made that Generation Z is similar in attitude to the Silent Generation, growing up in a time of recession means they are more pragmatic and skeptical than their slightly older peers.

So how will this impact their behavior and desires as job candidates? Most of them are the product of Gen X parents, and stability will likely be very important to them. They may be both hard-working and fiscally savvy.

Sparks & Honey, in their much quoted slideshare on Gen Z, puts the number of high-schooler students who felt pressured by their parents to get jobs at 55 percent. Income and earning your keep are likely to be a big motivation for GenZ. Due to the recession, they also share the experience of living in multi-generational households, which may help considerably as they navigate a workplace comprised of several generations.

We Don’t Have All The Answers

With its youngest members not yet in double digits, Gen Z is still maturing. There is obviously still a lot that we don’t know. This generation may have the opposite experience from the Millennials before them, where the older members experienced the booming economy, with some even getting a career foothold, before the collapse in 2008. Gen Z’s younger members may get to see a resurgent economy as they make their way out of college. Those younger members are still forming their personalities and views of the world; we would be presumptuous to think we have all of the answers already.

Generational analysis is part research, but also part theory testing. What we do know is that this second generation of digital natives, with its adaption of technology and comfort with the fast-paced changing world, will leave its mark on the American workforce as it makes its way in. As a result, everything about HR will change, in a big way. I wrote a post for my Forbes column recently where I said, “To recruit in this environment is like being part wizard, part astronaut, part diplomat, part guidance counselor” and that’s very true. As someone who loves change, there has never been a more exciting time to be immersed in both the HR and the technology space. How do you feel about what’s on the horizon as it relates to the future of work and the impending arrival of Generation Z? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Image: Bigstock

Age at Work: Moving Beyond Birthdays

“How old are you?”

What do you feel, think, and say when you hear that question in the workplace? Do you suddenly get tense, wondering how others will perceive your answer? You’re not alone.

No matter when you were born or what kind of upbringing you’ve had, you’ve likely dealt with some sort of label. And regardless of the situation, we can all agree that no one likes to be unfairly stereotyped. Despite attempts by organizational leaders and HR to reduce discrimination and adversity, it still lingers in some forms. Not surprisingly, age-related stereotyping is on the rise, now that more organizations have a multigenerational workforce.

Generational Generalizations

As recent studies illustrate, every generation is affected by damaging biases. For example, do profiles like this sound familiar?

  • Baby Boomers = materialistic, technologically illiterate micro-managers
  • Generation Xers = cynical, disloyal and skeptical of authority
  • Generation Y “Millennials” = lazy, entitled and self-serving

Although these generalizations may have emerged for a reason, why should we assume that they are widely applicable or even relevant? Perhaps some high-profile individuals have displayed these characteristics, but their actions shouldn’t be the basis for defining a whole generation.

The Price of Stereotypes

More often than not, typecasting like this comes from lack of awareness, communication or understanding. It’s important to identify this issue quickly and bridge the gap, before it destroys our talent pools. Otherwise, organizations are at risk of missing out on the strongest talent — internally or externally.

What Can Individuals Do?

As I continue to progress in my career and become more involved in networking opportunities, I make it a point to avoid conversation about my age. Quite frankly, it’s not important. And, as a Millennial, the last thing I want others to do is marginalize my capabilities upfront. I don’t want them to presume I am a lazy or cynical person — I want them to evaluate me for my skills, abilities, goals and accomplishments. Isn’t that how it should be?

The workplace is rapidly developing into a collaborative environment, where everyone is expected to step up and contribute toward common goals. To do this effectively, employees must avoid animosity toward one another that starts with preconceived notions about age. We need to let go of misplaced biases and instead focus on the thing that matters — an individual’s capacity to contribute something valuable to the team and to the organization.

I look forward to engaging the TalentCulture community in a dialogue about this topic — not just at this week’s #TChat Twitter forum, but beyond. It’s important to every one of us. So, I ask you to consider one simple question:

How are you creating a “no labels” workplace?

(Editor’s Note: Want to hear more from Ashley? She was a featured guest last night on #TChat Radio “The No Labels Workforce.” Listen on-demand, anytime. She also moderated #TChat Twitter this week. To read the full recap of this week’s events, see “The Best-of-All-Ages Workplace #TChat Recap”)

Image Credit: Pixabay

The State of the Multigenerational World of Work: #TChat Preview

Here’s an interesting people factoid: At least three generations are playing in the workplace sandbox today, with a fourth set to join soon. The Boomers, Gen X and Gen Y are about to welcome Gen Z, sometimes called Gen 9/11. And we have more expected to arrive in the next decade.

While the entrance of a new generation into the workplace often signals the exit of another, we don’t expect Boomers to move on to retirement as quickly as anticipated. Longer lifespans, better healthcare and a failing economy are creating unusual pressure on would-be retirees, keeping many in the workplace — and skewing the demand curve for younger workers. Plus, Boomers are a populous generation, and their sheer numbers constitute a variable contributing to these circumstances.

All of this puts enormous pressure on leadership and HR. What some may miss, however, is how much pressure it puts on workers in the multigenerational workplace. Older workers may fear layoffs designed to bring in younger, cheaper labor. They are scrambling to keep skills current. Young workers may be exasperated by mature workers who are perceived as less hip to social technologies, yet the younger ones may lack the ability and seasoning to be strategic and make good decisions.

So how do HR professionals, their leadership and other business leaders keep the peace in the multigenerational workforce? And how do they keep pace? Fresh blood needs to be coming in — even when there’s a hiring freeze. How can you ensure that everyone has access to the training necessary to keep skills current? How do you keep talent motivated for that training? A mixed team must pull in the same direction. That’s a challenge.

Join us Wednesday for “#TChat, The World of Work,” when we’ll be looking at the impact of the multigenerational workplace on leadership, HR and recruiting. Here are this week’s questions:

Q1: There are fewer jobs today for all generations, so what are we to do?
Q2: How do the generations adapt their skill sets to what’s needed today in business?
Q3: Who are we loyal to today? The employer, the brand, the work and/or the team? And why?
Q4: What generation are you and what kind of communication and collaboration tech do you use for work? And why?
Q5: How do business leaders best marshal the talents of a multigenerational team?

Again, that’s #TChat on Wednesday, May 30, from 7-8 pm ET (6-7 pm CT, 4-5 pm PT, or wherever you are). Please join us to talk about the multigenerational workforce. Marla Gottschalk, a friend of mine who happens to be an industrial & organizational psychologist specializing in corporate culture, innovation strategies and organizational change, will be your moderator, backed up by me (@MeghanMBiro) and Kevin W. Grossman (@KevinWGrossman). Supporting us as we all field and respond to your many tweets will be Sean Charles (@SocialMediaSean), Salima Nathoo (@SocialSalima) and Brent Skinner (@BrentSkinner). We’ve got multiple generations on our minds, so join us. See you there!

image credit: Generation Gap, by xflickrx

Gen Z in the Workplace

There was a great discussion, and at times, debate, on #TChat last week, all about Generation Z and the workplace.  It feels like we just learned about Gen Y and how to engage them in the workplace, and it’s already time to prepare for Gen Z!

Most people consider Gen Z, also called “Digital Natives”, to be those young people born around the mid 1990s to the mid 2000s.  They are the first generation to be born into a completely digital age, hence the name “digital natives”.

Before I get into some research and predictions around this next generation, let me say this: I don’t believe in generalizing an entire generation.  I have worked with amazing Gen Yers who had work ethic in spades, with Gen Xers who weren’t latchkey kids who depended on mom for many things, and with Boomers who know more about computers than I ever will (I’m a Gen Xer).  However, there are bound to be some trends as different generations are brought up through such different social, economic, and technological times.

Intro to Gen Z

Gen Z’s most formative years have seen America attacked by terrorists, people losing jobs and homes in a severe economic recession, and the first black President of the United States. They have seen the power of social media in creating superstars and taking down governments. They have computers in their classrooms and many have their own websites or at least Facebook pages by age 10. Gen Zers have a benefit that Gen Yers missed: Their parents – mostly Gen X – were already adept at navigating social media, had seen mistakes made, and are more prepared to coach their kids through that space strategically.

Now for a few predictions and suggestions for the workplace.

Recruitment Efforts

If you’re not going social, you’re not going to get the best talent. Building a community around your brand and its values will help to engage these new workers. They were born on Facebook, quite literally. Use Youtube, use humour, go viral with your recruitment efforts.

Organizational Culture

Posting your company culture statement on the wall and preaching it to your employees never worked, but as time goes on, it continues to be less and less effective. Your employees, your customers, your business partners, are all talking about you. Publicly. If you’re not living up to the words on your poster, they will know. It will become more and more important for companies to build positive, transparent, and trusted cultures in order to attract talent.

Types of Jobs

By 2019, when Gen Zers are hitting the workplace, they will be working jobs that we never heard of or could imagine, even in the year 2011.  Contract work will be the new normal.  Multi-tasking will also be more prevalent – and more productive. Gen Y is the first generation who actually can multitask effectively, as shown in recent studies. Gen Z will be even more adept at paying attention and working productively at more than one thing at a time. They will expect it, and will be bored if they don’t get it.

Diversity

It will finally be time to do away with Diversity departments and initiatives. For these workers, Diversity is a given. If you have to focus on it, you don’t get it yet. And they won’t get you. Gen Z will expect that everyone has a voice regardless of opinion, socio-economic background, or race.

Collaboration

Gen Zers don’t quite have the entitlement mentality often associated with Gen Y. Their parents, while protective and micro-managing, saw the effects of the Trophy generation and are trying to resist it. But Gen Zers will still expect to be involved. They see sharing and collaboration everywhere, from social media sharing to Taylor Swift partnering with T-Pain.

Social and Technology at Work

By 2019, forms of social networking for collaboration on projects and recognition will be a given. HR needs to get involved now, or be left in the dust. Innovative companies are employing internal blogs, newsfeeds, e-recognition, and socially networked performance management to align everyone towards the same goals. Check out companies and applications like Rypple, TribeHR, Careerify, Yammer and Achievers for examples of this type of technology. Email is not as popular with this generation. Texting, IM’ing, and Facebook is how they communicate.

Learning

Learning will need to be byte-sized and bite-sized. I picture Gen Zers with the iPhone 23S, scanning QR codes to watch a bite-sized video of learning they need, just in time to complete work. I picture them collaborating in building training, adding to Wikis to build content.

Communication

Gen Zers are used to communicating by text and in status updates on Facebook profiles. They are used to brevity. They may need additional training and coaching in business communication and grammar. Some say their propensity to blog will make them better at written communication, but I have to disagree. The form of communication in a blog is often not grammatically correct, and often times may not be entirely appropriate in business. Although, by the time Gen Zers are running the business world, that will likely change too.

It’s hard to say whether these predictions will come to fruition. We’ll know in about 10 years. In any case, I’m excited to see the impact Gen Z will have, and how the workplace will change. What do you think?

Do Generations Matter At Work?: #TChat Preview

Originally posted by Matt Charneyone of #TChat’s moderators, on MonsterThinking Blog

In 2012, the first members of Gen Y turn 30.  And while thought leaders and academics continue to depict millennials as this strange, unprecedented breed to be studied and analyzed (Bieber fever being an obvious symptom), that generation’s cutting edge has been busy acclimating into the workforce, where they’ve been for over 5 years.

Of course, this potentially disruptive force on the workplace entered a market where the workplace was already disrupted by forces far stronger than helicopter parents and socialized narcissism.

Contrary to popular myth, it’s not Gen Y who’s changing the workplace; it’s the workplace that’s changing Gen Y.  Those lucky enough to get the paucity of jobs are no longer naïve idealists, but battle hardened survivors.

While some Gen X and Boomers struggle with being overqualified, most of Gen Y haven’t had the chance to pick up those qualifications.  This new world of work, of virtual offices and inter-connectivity and contract gigs, looks a lot like the kind of impact Gen Y workers were supposed to have made. Instead, they’ve inherited what’s become their – and our – collective reality.

They call Gen Y digital natives, but in fact, most of those millennials in the workforce remember life without an internet; those who can’t remember life without social media are still in diapers.  When those true “digital natives” enter the workforce, the millennials of today are going to look a lot like Gen Xers do now.  Who’ll look a lot like Boomers today.

For Gen Y, home ownership is likely a dream that will never be realized; so too is the possibility of a defined and linear career path, job security, employer benefits, pensions or a gold watch at retirement.  Even retirement itself looks iffy.

So, it  turns out that generations in the workplace share more in common than a workplace.

We’re all just trying to do the best we can, while learning as much as we can along the way.  And aspiration is a trait that transcends generations.  We’re hoping to do the same with tonight’s #TChat, where the topic tonight is: “Do Generations Matter At Work?”

Do Generations Matter at Work?  – #TChat Questions and Recommended Reading (3.1.11)

Whether you’re a Boomer, a Gen Xer, a Millennial or an “other,” we hope you can join the #TChat conversation about generations at work tonight at 8 PM ET.

Here are the questions we’ll be discussing, along with some recommended reading to help inform, and inspire, your understanding of tonight’s topic of generations in the workplace.

Q1)  What myths exist about workplace generational dynamics? Generational realities?

Read: Age Ain’t Nothing But A Number by Matt Charney

Q2)  Are there emerging personality traits, skill sets for hiring GenY, GenX, Baby Boomers, etc.?

Read: The Non-Generational Talent of American Workers by Peter Weddle

Q3)  Who is currently the most “invisible” generation in the workplace and why? Most “visible”?

Read: Just Shut Up and Listen to What Younger Workers Have to Say by Ron Thomas

Q4) How do savvy workplace cultures recruit, engage, manage and lead all generations?

Read:A Modern Perspective on Generations and Engagement by Ryan Estis

Q5) How does new media and global connectivity help/hinder generational gaps in the workplace?

Read: The Aging Workforce and Gen Y: Bridge the Social Media Generation Gap by Rob Salkowitz

Q6) How can inter-generational workforces spark innovation and evolve culture?

Read: The ‘Whys’ for Gen Y: Workplace Culture Considerations by Heather Huhman

Q7) How does the term “reverse mentoring” help bridge generational divides in the workplace?

Read: Manager’s Tips to Mend Intergenerational Communication by Kate Wildrick

Visit www.talentculture.com for more great information on #TChat and resources on culture fatigue and how to overcome it!

Our Monster social media team supports the effort behind #TChat and its mission of sharing “ideas to help your business and your career accelerate – the right people, the right ideas, at the right time.”

We’ll be joining the conversation live every Tuesday night as co-hosts with Kevin Grossman and Meghan M. Biro from 8-9 PM E.T. via @monster_works and @MonsterWW.  Hope to see you tonight at 8 PM ET for #TChat!