How Do We Keep Gen Z Truly Happy In The Workplace?

by Matt Webb / June 24, 2021

Recently, Ben Barton and Matt Webb had a call to discuss the next generation, and tried to provide an answer to the question, ‘How do we keep Gen Z truly happy in the workplace?’

Matt Webb = MW

Ben Barton = BB

MW: We're going to have a conversation today around what do people look for in a role? What do they look for from employers these days? And is that any different depending upon your age, or generation, is there any difference at all? So, Ben, how are you?

BB: I'm very well, Matt, how are you?

MW: Yeah, good. This message and this topic is very interesting to me. I'm always looking to understand more around what is it that attracts an individual into an organisation?

What is it that that really fuels their furnace when you're looking at your day-to-day job, or who you want to work for, or why you want to work for them?

So, I'm really excited to just explore this a little bit more with you. Let's start off with a simple question... What is it that's important to you, Ben, when you think about the choices you make in your career?

BB: I think what we're seeing more and more is that younger people don't just want a job, or even a career; what they want is something that carries with it a sense of purpose or a sense of fulfilment.

Those can be quite ambiguous terms that can mean lots of different things. But I think if I was going to boil it down, generally speaking, younger people want a job that ensures what they're doing matters, but I think they also want what they do to matter to them.

I know for myself, I place a lot of value on what I’m able to contribute, as I think most people do. I think there's been a mentality shift away from “I must get a job to provide”, which of course, is still important. I think there's less emphasis now on that immediate need of ‘I must get a job, I must put food on the table’ to ‘I can find something that carries that sense of purpose and that sense of fulfilment.’

MW: So, what I'm hearing from you, Ben, is that you want to make sure that what you're doing within a role has a wider remit, a wider purpose, for the wider community and those who you're not directly working with – there needs to be that connection between the what and the why. Would that be a fair summation?

BB: Yeah, absolutely. When we're talking about jobs and careers, we're traditionally talking about providing and making money. There is absolutely a practical purpose to those things, but there's a greater emphasis now on an emotional purpose or a societal purpose.

What has become interesting is the conversation that we now have around mental health and specifically mental health in the workplace. Businesses have started talking about coming down to a four-day workweek, we’re talking about the culture around paid time off, and how you take it and asking things like ‘Do you actually need to explain why you’re taking the day off?’ Having days where actually mental health is a valid reason to call in sick.

The culture around mental health is shifting and that filtrates into the workplace. When you encourage this culture, you're making younger people feel free – but that will filter to every age group as well.

There's more space to have those conversations around, ‘Is what I'm doing important to me, and am I making a difference?’

MW: I think to a degree, it's always been there a little bit where you think about the legacy that you bring in, the stamp or the fingerprint you leave on the world. What I'm hearing from you is for your generation - whilst what you're saying resonates, certainly with some of my values, I don't think it's just your generation - I do think, there is a bigger aspect of how you make your choices now, who you work with, what you do, and what that will bring in a wider context.

So, let's bring this down to a micro level. Would you share some of your examples and experiences where you have felt really purposeful, and moments that you've been really proud of, in your career so far?

BB: I remember the first job I ever got, was working at H&M as a shop floor assistant. The bit that really resonated with me was actually when I was working on the tills dealing with customers, and processing all of that and dealing with returns and complaints. I learned very quickly that the people focus for me has always been important, it’s my driving factor.

In a similar standpoint, in the role I am in now where I’m adding value, getting readers and website visitors to where they want to go, that in a similar way brings me a lot of satisfaction and pride. When I’m creating B2B content, I’m doing that with the idea that the content I’m creating enriches people's lives in some way, whether it's through our services or knowledge share. Regardless of what you're doing, you're making a positive difference to somebody somewhere. The constant thread here, is people.

MW: This is really good insight that you're sharing. I think the last 12 months have really highlighted the need for community. To bring this back round to where we started, one of the key factors for your generation around who they choose to work for is, has the employer given enough due consideration to the outside in perspective, rather than inside out perspective?

What I mean by that is… We should always be thinking about the people or the group, or the community that we are affecting through what we do, rather than how we do that. In terms of the inside out thinking, would that be fair?

BB: Absolutely. I think that the people focus comes from that. It goes to that micro level of the interaction between the business and the customer, and the business and the community in that sense, but also goes all the way down to employer and employee connections, as well.

I think that my generation now are much less likely to be a cog in a machine. In other words, they don't just want to be another piece of the puzzle of putting things together and pushing out something. Coming back to that value discussion, we want to know that what we're doing is making a difference to ourselves and to people broadly.

MW: I think there's never been a more important time for businesses and for organisations to be very clear, and quite loud about their values. Loud, in terms of how they communicate them, don’t just display them, back it up with action. Do you live them? Or do they live on the wall? To your employees, to your shareholders, to your customers, but also is there a lasting legacy to the broader community overall?

BB: With the way information is processed now, the way that data is consumed, now more than ever, you're seeing people becoming aware where there is that disconnect. It's easier than ever to see when there's that disconnect between where the values are lived out, or whether they're just as you said, lived on the wall. Largely speaking there has been a positive shift to make sure that the values are lived out and actually embodied.

MW: That would be our challenge to you through the areas we’ve discussed today.

Think about your organisation as a leader within business. Are your values lived out? Is your purpose being communicated clearly internally to your organisation, but also externally? Do you live through an inside out mentality or an outside in mentality?

Are you attracting the right talent, the right people, to your business who are going to stay with you for the appropriate time? To use the cliche, are the people in your business and the people you’re attracting to your business ready to go on that journey with you?

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Matt Webb

Matt Webb

Matt is a business consultant at Mentor Group, specialising in sales transformation and increasing the productivity and performance of sales organisations