My son is Gen Z, born between 1995 and 2012. As employers, what do we know about Gen Z in the workforce? Not a lot so far, but I know how he spends his time in school, how he experiences, and what he’s grown used to:
- He has a chrome book instead of text books.
- He turns in his homework online, not on paper.
- He doesn’t know how to write in cursive but can type faster than many people 2 and 3 times his age.
- He has customized assignments and instruction tailored to his educational needs.
- I had more records for diagnostics, assessments and analytics on his achievement opportunities in my hand before he entered middle school than I remember having my entire life through college.
- When he’s stuck, he rarely asks me for help, instead, he finishes his homework by maximizing online references, educational sites and subscriptions to “school approved” materials.
- With help from an official geek, he built his own gaming computer because off the shelf computers “just didn’t cut it.”
- If he doesn’t know something, if he wants something, or if he needs to communicate, he goes online, chats, texts or snapchats and receives instant knowledge or gratification via a community of friends. He reeks of internet savvy.
- He expects to learn and work the same way he keeps himself entertained – online.
- His generation and some of the generation before his has grown up with highly sophisticated media while my parents still don’t know how to use the TV remote.
Why am I telling you this? What can this possibly mean for the small business community? Well, it’s just a little insight into what it will take to improve and maintain the “employee experience” of the future, and your HR services better get with the program.
Wait. What? My HR services? How? Why?
Simply put, the workplace is evolving to one that gets shopped around like a brand-new TV.
Consider how his expectations play out for HR: What are your benefits? Can I do some work remotely? Can I get answers on my medical carrier at 8 pm? If I took a class, where and when can I pull the materials as a refresher? I can’t sleep, can I pull my career development program down to review at 2 am? I need to take FMLA, can I get policy information and forms on a Saturday? What’s the point of awesome benefits when I can’t access them as soon as I need them?
Companies need to start providing the tools and technologies necessary to enable these employees to be productive in settings they are familiar with, else they will miss out on the potential of this workforce.
Now this does NOT mean that employers need to turn away from the “human” in Human Resources. Quite the opposite. HR at the small business level needs to be leveraging online resources, mobile and social technologies, and data so that they can more effectively personalize employee development and experiences. They need to spend the time they are no longer spending on administrative and informational tasks by strategically interacting with and leveraging an employee’s abilities.
Intranet-based interaction systems are now the norm for many larger businesses that see improved performance results by engaging their employees through internally managed social platforms. Small businesses are now in need of catching up.
The new objective for small business is to create a seamless experience for current employees and potential employees. This doesn’t mean organizations need to invest in the design and creation of expensive customized systems, rather many niche organizations provide these services to small and large organizations for everything from benefits to payroll or timekeeping & HR forms administration, from legal compliance issues to record keeping and documentation, from training to career development. Online, 24/7.
There really isn’t a reason that employees can’t apply for jobs online, clock in and out with apps, can receive important documents electronically, and can’t have a consistent hiring, onboarding and career experience by streamlining through technology.
Let’s put Gen Z aside for a moment and let’s step into a reality where this is already overdue: IBM tells us that more than 22% of millennials expect a response within 10 minutes of reaching out to a brand via social media, according to a recent Desk.com study. In addition to this, 52% will abandon online purchases if they can’t find a quick answer.
This generation has already responded to your job postings and moved on to companies who provided them job offers before you finished reading their resume. You’re too late, you lost out and when Gen Z fully arrives on the scene, it’s not going to get better.
Okay, I automated everything from my hiring process to on-boarding to internal project management to general communication, what do I do with the time it has freed up on administrative management?
The first thing is to work on a personalized relationship with your employees. Larger HR departments are now turning to research principles, such as design thinking and sentiment analysis to better understand and serve the needs of the 2020 workforce. In English, this simply means taking a human centered approach to solving business problems. For small businesses this means stop doing all the hard work at the top, and start asking your employees for input and ideas to make the workplace and their experiences better. IBM used social media to invite employees to ideate on a better performance management system (design thinking). They then used a tool they called Social Pulse to gauge responses and alignment or disagreement from other online uses (sentiment analysis).
How exactly does this work when you’re a company management team of 1?
- Talk to your employees, often. Have you always hated the annual performance review process? Well, guess what? If you have on-going feedback sessions where you listen and provide feedback consistently, and you take a little time to document as you go, you can ditch the annual review. What you gain in exchange for a form you hated and never looked at again once it was signed, is an engaged employee who is not only loyal, but keeps you in touch with all aspects of the business because you actually know how to have conversations and share information with respect.
- Have team meetings on important challenges or changes. Having a group meeting to discuss ideas and problems (brainstorming) and choosing the most feasible (research) and engaging option (polling) is just the old-fashioned way to perform sentiment analysis. And having a forum where everyone is sharing information together ensures buy-in. When you’re just sharing information, it gives a sense of community. When you can level up to AI and chatbots, congratulations! But don’t miss out on the present.
- Put your ego aside. Yes, you completed college while they were still in diapers. Yes, you did your time in corporate America. Yes, you boldly endeavored to start your own business and successfully built it from the ground up. But no, you don’t know everything, and the success of your business will be partially reliant on your employees. Hence, you have to accept that they will have good ideas that might conflict with your past, but also better align with your present and will move you into the future, faster. Millennials have already been in your face with this, so beware, Gen Z will do so even more. The risk if you don’t? Gen Z will shop for a new place to work; one that engages in design thinking and sentiment analysis to ensure they are being heard.
- Cooperate and align with federal and state labor laws. Why is THIS here? Because nothing will break trust and erode all your efforts to attract and retain top talent than the impression that someone is not being paid correctly, is being treated unfairly, that you’re not taking their complaints seriously, or that they are not safe at work, physically or mentally. The worst employer offenders are those who don’t know they are breaking a law and defend their actions without listening and bothering to check in with their HR resources or free state / federal resources online or over phone. I can’t tell you how times I have heard that someone has instantly shopped around because they believed their employer wasn’t paying them correctly, and left before the employer realized they were in the wrong. That turnover adds up, and comes right off your bottom line in the thousands for hiring and training costs. For what? $38.00 that you improperly didn’t pay for a mandatory meeting? If technology is saving you some time to showcase your internal services and documents, spend your new-found freedom on a holistic approach to employee wellness and engagement that includes doing things ethically and legally.
- Be able to share your values and culture: We know that more so than previous generations, millennials and Gen Z want to work with employers they believe in and align with. It’s right out of the consumer playbook: “Do I buy from a small business and made in America? Do I eat farm to table or internationally sourced? Do I invest domestically or globally?” When an employee is motivated as an employment “consumer”, you’ll need to be able to articulate who your organization is, which means you’ll have to live and breathe a vision. For candidates to shop your place of business, you’ll need to project your culture on your social media page, in your job postings, within internal communications, and enforce it in your business practices.
What have we learned?
With less face to face interaction during varying schedules, organizations will need to level up delivery of internal information, HR administration, and quick access to FAQs so they can better glean productivity and engagement from employees who are not distracted by avoidable inefficiencies and frustration. Employees now expect or need information that affects their personal lives at their fingertips, at all hours.
We are the generations that have been gifted with innovation, efficiency and technology, but we still struggle with communication. The newest generations in the workplace have grown up with options, and are more mobile, more willing to move around to find a place where they fit in. This does not mean they are less loyal, they perhaps just practice more self-care in their careers and will leave when they find something that makes them happier.
So it’s time for us to be better service providers of HR basics to these very important consumers who could, ultimately, make our businesses stronger.