How prepared are employers for Generation Z?

Amidst the chaos and disruption brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, the first members of Generation Z graduated from university. 

Gen Z’s are now the youngest constituents of the workforce, following the millennial generation. They were born in the late 1990s to early 2010s, with the eldest currently aged around 24/25 years. This generation is the workforce of the foreseeable future.

According to recent studies, Gen Z and millennials currently make up approximately 38% of the global workforce and this percentage will rise to about 58% by 2030. For a country like Uganda where 75% of the population are below 30, Gen Z’s comprise the country’s human capital asset to a remarkable extent.

What does this mean for employers and how can they make the most of this generation?

First, it is important to contextualise Gen Z since all generations are shaped by the events that define their times. For example, the so-called Greatest Generation, born during World War II up until the 1940s developed attributes such as patriotism and frugality and have a strong value system characterised by loyalty and perseverance. In Africa, the same can be said of those who lived through the post-independence upheaval of the 1970-80s that was characterised by wars and scarcity of basic commodities. For the millennials and their immediate predecessors, 9/11 and the 2007/2008 economic crisis were defining events as the effects of terrorism and a global recession reverberated throughout the world.

For Gen Z’s who are just now entering the workforce, their outlook is defined by the disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. As the pandemic took its toll, some businesses froze hiring. Others that did recruit were forced to let people go, as business came to a standstill. Employees lucky enough to hold down a job have had to grapple with remote working and missing out on the hands-on mentoring, training, orientation and assimilation that in-person work provides. With schools closed or operating remotely, the daily interactions and assurances that school provides are limited. For this generation, it can seem as if disruption is the new normal.

Employers need to keep this context in mind as they interact with and empower Gen Z workers, who also have qualities and attributes now that make them well-suited to dynamic, fast-changing environments, opportunities and challenges.

For example, as a generation that has grown up in the digital and information age, Gen Z’s tend to be adept with technology, even viewing certain platforms and applications as “extensions of themselves”. Much more than “digital natives”, their digital and analogue experiences may not have defined boundaries. They may have a culturally diverse mindset, with broad horizons, but they have experienced diversity from the confines of recent lock-downs – at least in part.

Studies have also shown that Gen Z’s list workplace flexibility as the number-one employee benefit that they seek. Therefore, while remote working maybe a challenge for older generations, members of Gen Z may adapt more quickly to this new way of working.

The current remote working culture limits workplace interactions and so structured mentoring is key to ensuring that new hires are coached and guided to internalize the organisation’s culture. Digitally enhanced learning opportunities and intentional mentorships between younger and more senior employees will help Gen Z’s to adjust.

This learning should be a two-way process; as more senior employees mentor Gen Z’s, they too can benefit from these interactions and the adaptability and digital fluency common amongst Gen Z employees.

Remote working may or may not be here to stay, but there is no doubt that a greater degree of flexibility will help to attract and retain the next generation. Many organisations have already adopted technologies that facilitate greater flexibility and remote working, as well as the expectations and accountability that enhance the working-from-home experience. For example, KPIs associated with quality of output rather than quantity of hours can help to build trust and achieve sustained outcomes.

Members of Gen Z can also suffer from loneliness and mental health challenges – just like every other generation. However, Gen Z’s may not readily cultivate meaningful in-person relationships or respond to feedback the way that other generations do. Their responses to stress and anxiety may include low morale and absenteeism, contributing ultimately to attrition. Individually, their behaviour can be greatly influenced by their peers – some of whom they may never have met in person.

Employers need to provide effective, tailored mental health awareness and wellness programmes and support to help Gen Z’s manage stress proactively. Gen Z’s may not exhibit the same signals or cues demonstrating that they need help – but that does not mean they aren’t struggling.

Ultimately, how well businesses engage with Gen Z will depend on their appreciation of this generation’s strengths and gifts, and also their unique vulnerabilities and challenges. Learning from this highly mobile, curious and technologically adept generation is a tremendous opportunity. Likewise, Gen Z can also be mentored and shown what other generations have learned and experienced. By focusing on the benefits that different generations bring to the workplace, organisations can build a stronger, more successful, multi-generational and inclusive workplace.

Crystal Kabajwara is an Associate Director with PwC Uganda’s tax practice.

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Doreen Mugisha

Doreen Mugisha

Manager - Clients and Markets Development, PwC Uganda

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