How to effectively integrate youth into your business
Reciprocal mentoring is key: older generations embody the experience to guide youths, who, in turn, push for openness to new ideas.
More than half of SA’s youth are unemployed, and the official unemployment rate is steadily increasing. The government’s stated goal of creating 300 000 jobs a year feels unattainable, especially since 237 000 people lost their jobs in the first quarter of 2019.
The private sector needs to step up. But to make an impact, there are some things we need to understand about young people, especially Generation Z, also known as Gen-Z, who are entering adulthood (the oldest are now 24) and the working world. They have little to no experience and radical (often unrealistic) ideas about work.
Here are a few things to know about Gen-Z in the workplace, and ideas about how to effectively integrate them into your business.
1. Social media makes them happy and productive.
Generation Z has a considerable digital footprint. They’re constantly connected and many are addicted to their phones. Banning them from using their phones and accessing social media is likely to affect their productivity. Balance is key and the end goal should be a happy, productive workforce.
Monitor social media usage during work time alongside performance, objectives and key results. If an employee consistently meets deadlines and delivers good work, does it matter how often they check Instagram? If their social media usage is disproportionately high, consider giving them more responsibility. But remember: aim for happy and productive, not overworked and stressed out.
2. They expect technology to work for them, not the other way around.
Generation Z live their lives through apps and juggle five screens at once. Everything is instantly accessible in a few clicks and they expect this same experience with workplace technology. If they’re not getting it, they might find workarounds, through shadow IT.
Keep an open mind. Yes, shadow IT exposes the business to security risk, but if it gets the job done faster and smarter, it’s worth considering.
Don’t discount new solutions completely; adopt a collaborative, controlled approach. If someone finds a better solution using a different tool, hear them out, consider the tool’s value, and if it works, figure out how to securely integrate it into your systems and processes.
But be clear: if you have not authorised a certain tool, employees must understand the consequences if they decide to use it regardless.
3. They have short(er) attention spans.
Yes, even shorter than Millennials. Gen-Z has an eight-second attention span, compared to 12 seconds for Millennials. They have little patience for mundane, repetitive tasks; long, unfocused meetings; and desk-bound office jobs. Businesses will need to change how they do things, if they want to attract and retain top young talent.
Here are some ideas:
- Standing, shorter meetings. Ditch the chairs, set an agenda, and end off with go-forward tasks for everyone.
- Flexible working systems. Allow staff to work remotely, at times that best suit their productivity. Unless they need to be available during office hours (eg in customer support), move away from the 9-to-5 model to one that requires staff to log a certain number of hours, regardless of when. Consider flexi-time on a case-by-case basis. Again, if someone delivers consistently high-quality work, who cares when they work; clearly, something is working. Empower employees to work when they feel most productive and energised, and you’re guaranteed to see results.
4. They have a lot to learn, but they learn quickly.
Don’t expect good writing and communication skills from Gen-Z. They communicate in gifs, emojis, and within character limitations.
But interestingly, more than 90% of Gen-Z prefer a human element to their teams. And their most important factors at work are "supportive leadership" and "positive relationships at work". This suggests that they’re ready to learn, and we suggest starting with softer skills, like engaging with customers and writing clear e-mails.
Encourage micro-, on-the-job learning and get them to share their learnings with their colleagues.
5. We have a lot to learn from them.
Gen-Z are familiar with collaboration tools and already have a herd mentality, which means they could be good team players. They’re fast thinkers, problem-solvers, and have different perspectives; all essential skills in the workplace. They’re not afraid to take risks, fail, and learn from their mistakes.
This might make older generations, who value stability, uncomfortable. But when we appreciate that we can learn something from anyone, we can build stronger, more resilient organisations.
Older generations embody wisdom and experience that can guide younger generations, who might want to dive into something without considering the consequences. At the same time, younger generations will force Baby Boomers out of their comfort zones and push them to try new things and to be open to new ideas. This is reciprocal mentoring and it brings out the best in everybody.
While offering work experience to one or two youths won’t make a massive difference in the grand scheme of things, it makes a massive difference to those two people; people who otherwise might have been forced into a life of poverty and crime. We’re excited to feed off the energy and ideas of the youth. If more businesses give just one person an opportunity, I have no doubt that we can drive meaningful change.