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How businesses can engage their Millennial and Gen Z workforce

In a world where it’s increasingly difficult to find high quality talent, the balance is shifting to become less about what employees can offer the workplace and more about what the workplace can offer them. Organisations that can improve the millennial and Gen Z experience, both within and outside the workplace, have a lot to gain.

Generation disrupted

Unsurprisingly, in this year’s Deloitte Global Millennial Survey, millennials and Gen Z are expressing uneasiness and pessimism about their careers, their lives and the world around them. They’re described as having high expectations and being difficult for organisations to understand and please; a workforce characterised by a lack of trust in traditional institutions, concern about the world around them, scepticism about online safety and a complicated relationship with social media.

Increasingly businesses are paying attention to the fact that young people’s values affect consumer relationships, changing their willingness to transact with an organisation based on their ethical behaviour, environmental impact, political positions and treatment of personal data. Millennials and Gen Z judge their relationships with their employers on much the same criteria.

More millennials than ever – 49% of those surveyed - would, if they had a choice, quit their jobs in the next two years. Encouragingly, however, the survey showed strong correlations between those who plan to stay in their current jobs and those whose workplaces delivered best on financial performance, community impact, talent development and diversity and inclusion.

Act as responsible corporate citizens - and do it with conviction

48% of New Zealand millennials have an ambition to make a positive impact on the community at large. This comes in just behind buying a home, travelling the world and earning a high salary. Climate change tops the list of challenges that millennials and Gen Z care about, joined by income inequality, personal safety, diversity and equal opportunity, and healthcare.

This creates both challenges and opportunities for business leaders. Only 37% of millennials believe business leaders make a positive impact on the world, and more than a quarter said they don’t trust business leaders as sources of reliable and accurate information. However, companies do seem to be taking notice: in a 2019 Deloitte Global survey of CXOs, 73% said their organisations had changed or developed products or services in the past year to generate positive societal impact. In the 2019 Human Capital Trends Report, we talk about this as a movement towards the ‘social enterprise’, meaning organisations that respond to both their external and internal environments and where societal priorities are woven throughout the organisation’s strategy and operations.

It stands to reason that if millennials are willing to go out of their way to change their spending habits based on societal and environmental factors, then decisions about whether to work for these organisations are going to be equally influenced. Somehow, though, we don’t seem to be responding to the needs of millennial and Gen Z employees like we are to millennial and Gen Z customers.

Becoming a social enterprise in the internal sense means investing in the whole employee experience. It’s about asking employees what matters to them and redesigning work, the workforce and the workplace to match those expectations. It’s about supporting millennials in achieving their ambitions; understanding that travel opportunities are important and that employees need competitive remuneration and benefits, clear progression opportunities and flexible working arrangements. Job descriptions need to show a connection between the role and the benefit to the community, and employees need to be empowered to steer their own careers.

Prepare us for a volatile digital future

Millennials and Gen Z are gearing up for a future where it will be more difficult to find work and to remain relevant. 53% of New Zealand millennials believe that Industry 4.0 will make it harder to get or change a job in the future – some of us are using technology that didn’t even exist when we began our careers, and in some sectors artificial intelligence is performing tasks that previously defined certain jobs, forcing people in those jobs to reskill. However, over half of New Zealand millennials remain optimistic that there are no barriers preventing them personally from reaching their career ambitions – and 80% of millennials in New Zealand who are employed full or part time believe they have all or some of the required skills and knowledge to survive in the future of work.

There are some differences between the generations. Millennials say that business has the most responsibility for preparing workers for Industry 4.0; Gen Zs put the onus on educators. Concurrently, many young New Zealanders (85%) are considering joining the gig economy. 35% of millennials and 33% of Gen Z globally cite lack of opportunities to advance as the second top reason for near-term exits, followed by a lack of learning and development opportunities. What this suggests is that millennials are looking to businesses to prepare them for future disruption, but are more likely to miss out on this development as alternative workforce arrangements increase in popularity. This is not just an issue for young employees – employers are also grappling with challenges in retaining and upskilling Gen Y employees as those in senior positions begin to retire and new technology is introduced.

The key to this is building an employee experience that places development opportunities and continuous learning at the centre. An organisation who shows these generations an avenue for self-improvement and development stands to gain trust and loyalty.

Walk the walk

Millennials and Gen Z want your talk on purpose to become meaningful action. As employers, leaders should:

  1. Open a dialogue with your younger employees and strive to understand why certain issues matter to them.
  2. Ask how you can better support people to realise their personal ambitions.
  3. Provide training and tools that prepare them for the changes coming to your industry.
  4. Take visible, vocal and impactful stances on meaningful societal issues.