With Millennials firmly planted in the work scene, Gen Z has begun infiltrating the workforce and they have some requests on creating work-friendly spaces for them.
Generation Z are those born from 1996 to 2010 and the oldest of the lot, who fall in the 18-24 age range, have begun entering the workplace. Employers should not confuse this group with their older counterparts, the Millennials (who have a reputation for being chronic job hoppers); Gen Z has different interests. Besides a competitive salary and benefits, here are the top items on Gen Z’s priorities list:
A smart building or digitalised office is a must for a Gen Z. As stated on Bizcommunity, “this is where human-centred design meets IoT (Internet of things) and building automation. The smart building enables personalised experiences such as connected furniture and smart lighting that adapts to the user.” Millennials have influenced the growing necessity for open-plan offices as this makes interaction between colleagues easier.
When it comes to communication, Gen Z also yearns for physical communication and values working in teams rather than silos. Ntswaki Mojela, who is about to enter the workplace, affirms that an open office is a necessity for her. “I prefer open-space offices where there is autonomy. I believe open offices are conducive for effective job performance and they lessen work-related stress,” says the 22-year-old. Mojela strongly believes that an open setup is also beneficial for the mental and physical health of employees, especially for those who work longer hours. They want to work in a relaxed environment which is designed to encourage a balance between social and labour.
Marketing and advertising agency MetropolitanRepublic has transformed its offices to fit the growing community of Gen Zs. “We are currently in beautifully open office spaces which we are still waiting to make our own because we had just moved in and the Covid-19 pandemic happened — but they include shared space and amenities (such as a wellness room, baristas, beer, kombucha and sparkling water on tap, and various lounges and decks,” says group HR Manager at MetropolitanRepublic Kathleen Fisher. She adds that the new building has five open levels; this accomplishes the flexibility and creative collaboration between employees.
According to Stats SA in the first quarter of 2019, 55.2% of the youth aged 15-24 years were unemployed in South Africa (and 31% were graduates). As a result, Gen Z has had to be creative about education and employment. This group is interested in skills development such as training programmes, learnerships and short online courses.
Skills development empowers employees and increases workplace engagement. According to UCT getsmarter: “Investing in your staff’s professional development is vital for team retention to the point that 94% of employees would stay at a company longer if it invested in their career development.”
How can employers invest in employee training and development programmes? Employers should first identify training needs for their employees, find out what skills they lack and focus on developing those. There should be an open dialogue with employees; this might unearth multiple interests and different learning methods.
Employers should decide between individual or group training. They could improve leadership and management skills for an individual or use team-building exercises to improve overall employee engagement.
Weigh the pros and cons of internal and outsourced training. Internal training is usually done by the employer in the workplace. It’s cost-effective, convenient and is customisable according to employee needs. However, hiring an external trainer is costly and it usually uses a general-purpose system but employees will get a qualified professional trainer.
“We have a philosophy, as long as the work gets done, we don’t care how you do it or where you are, as long as our clients are happy, our teams are happy, the work is brilliant, and deadlines are met,” Fisher says.
Gen Z is not here for those long hours at the office. In fact, we enjoy freelancing because it comes with the freedom to work at our desired time in our desired space. Thanks to technology, Gen Zs are able to do that effectively. This is an advantage for employers because it increases productivity and cost efficiency.
The balance between work and social life is important to Gen Z. Junior copywriter Busisiwe Malinga expresses that employers can provide a work-life balance to employees simply by giving them weekends off and respecting legal work hours. “Employers in the advertising industry like to exploit employees. You find creatives working until 2am in the office and it’s scary that it’s becoming a norm. Employers should understand the importance of employee wellbeing which works hand-in-hand with effective productivity,” she says.
How to ensure flexibility
Gen Z staff aren’t fans of the conventional 9-5 schedule, but there are programmes that could be implemented in the workplace that may signal flexibility for employees.
• Exercise. This could mean having a gym at the office or paying for gym membership fees for the staff.
• Permanent part-time positions. Employers are contracted permanently, but they are not required to work for the full week. It’s a win-win for everyone.
With the majority of Baby Boomers retiring and the oldest of the Millennials turning 40, the workplace should be preparing for the Gen Zs. It’s evident that remote working and freelancing will further increase when this group takes over. The biggest piece of advice to employers is that they should start investing in the ongoing learning of their Gen Z workforce.