Let’s assume that the average Australian university graduate enters the workforce somewhere between the ages of 21 and 24, bringing with them a qualification (or two, or three), a fierce determination to establish a secure career, and a finely-tuned radar for what’s authentic and what’s fake news.
With the oldest Gen Zs turning 25 this year, Australian organisations already have several years’ exposure to working with the first digitally-native employee group and understand what engages and motivates the newest workplace generation to succeed.
Or perhaps the more likely scenario is that while we’re aware Gen Z will represent around 20% of the workforce by 2025 and nearly 35% by 2030, we’re only just starting to understand their behaviour, outlook and how differently they work from their millennial predecessors.
Harnessing the Gen Z talent pool is a strategic business imperative. And that presents an urgent question for leadership teams: how will today’s companies attract, retain and transform for tomorrow’s workforce, if we’ve only just met?
We know Gen Z have grown up with the world in their pocket – they were no more than 12 years old when the first iPhone launched. They’ve never lived without social media or ubiquitous internet access. Gen Z are self-serve learners and consume information as fast as they can access it with their fingertips. Because of this hunger for learning and growth, Gen Z also seek continuous feedback from their employers. We also know Gen Z will retire at a later age and seek work that fits around – and enriches - their lives.
Take a look around the office, can you see the growing influence of your youngest employees? Leaders can learn a lot about the future of work from engaging with future leaders. In just a few years, Gen Z will be our people managers, our emerging executive leaders and the cultural barometers of our workplaces.
ServiceNow recently canvassed over 1,000 Gen Zers across Australia about their career aspirations and expectations at work. Our research reveals that Gen Z’s values and perspectives are already placing entirely new demands on workplaces. The study also cements growing industry research that the employee experience is as critical as the customer experience.
So, what does Gen Z care about at work? Spoiler alert: while social responsibility is a priority for this generation who’ve grown up participating in global communities and amplifying their political voice through likes and shares, it’s not the first driver when they’re choosing a company to work for.
The research shows that Gen Z places most value on a great work environment.
For Gen Z, a great work environment uses technology to deliver a truly flexible employee experience and more control over how and where they get their work done. Flexibility necessitates mobile platforms, digital workflows, intelligent automation and intuitive systems and processes – all of which will evolve our perception of the work/life divide.
Defining the future of work
For Gen Z, at the heart of a great workplace is flexibility. While remuneration, culture and career path matter, 61% of Gen Z say that flexible work hours are important when they’re looking to join a company.
On the surface, this may seem like a relatively logical step along the flexibility continuum: progressive Australian workplaces have embraced flexi arrangements in recent years and watched employee engagement and performance measures track north as a result. It stands to reason that Gen Z have observed their parents and see flexibility as a right, not a benefit. In fact, nearly half say ‘it’s important I’m in control of my work/life balance, not my employer’.
In optimising the work/life balance, they say flexibility is not necessarily about more ‘home life’ but about the quality of ‘work life’. And they rank this above pay and career progression.
That’s an insight every leader should be exploring in 2020, because 42% of Gen Z say they would leave a company if they were spending too much time on administrative tasks (think: navigating clunky finance systems, completing timesheets, fulfilling repetitive HR and IT forms) rather than doing their actual job.
Gen Z are telling us that workplace technology is not simply about streamlining or efficiencies: it’s about the impact technology has on their broader work experience and its ability to minimise the menial so they can focus on the meaningful.
They expect work life to be more like real life: the simple, convenient, elegant apps and services we enjoy as consumers. If we can swipe to order dinner while standing in a bus queue, why can’t we swipe to approve a new team hire?
An obvious difference between generations is in ‘technology tolerance’. Most of the working generation are impressed by the intuitiveness of Netflix and Spotify knowing precisely what we’re looking for before we make a decision or splitting an Uber fare three ways with just one tap. For Gen Z, this just how life is - they have zero tolerance for tech that adds complexity instead of removing it.
Gen Z won’t adapt to enterprise tools; they assume workplace technology will have the same intelligence as the platforms they’ve grown up on. It’s a generational trait that will unlock the next wave of collaboration, innovation and productivity.
Ok, Boomer: Gen Z is listening
The next decade will see increasing pressure on Australian workplaces to accommodate employees choosing to work well into their 60’s. Today, our workforce comprises Baby Boomers, Gen X, Millennials and Gen Z. With Gen Z hitting their 30’s in 2025 and organisations embedding diversity at all levels, inclusive leadership teams will soon benefit from representation from across four generations.
One of the most surprising findings from ServiceNow’s research is that 79% of Gen Z think they work well together with older employees. That’s to say, Gen Z understand each generation have their own strengths to offer and believe there’s more to gain from peers with career and industry experience.
This is a particularly revealing insight from a cohort who are often generalised in the media as entitled and dismissive of the generations that precede them. In fact, we’re welcoming a new employee group into our workplaces who navigate change like they scroll their news feed and express a strong desire to work hard, learn from every generation and make a real impact.
Technology is the catalyst of change for the future of work in Australia
Organisations that acknowledge how fundamental technology is to Gen Z’s entire work/life ecosystem, will be ready to harness the enormous opportunity this brings.
There’s no question the employee experience is a key differentiator in the battle for talent and engagement, and that experience will be deeply influenced by an employees’ interaction with technology. It’s because of this, investment in great work foundations is essential.
Let’s enable employees in every role to get things done faster, more easily and more intuitively so they can focus on meaningful work and deliver the best possible business outcomes.
Technology is undoubtedly going to transform not just the way we work over the next decade, but the nature of work itself.