As distributors look to engage top talent, they must hone their value-added message to reach the latest generation entering the workforce. An authority on Generation Z, Corey Seemiller, Ph.D., has written four books on the generation: Generation Z: A Century in the Making, Generation Z Learns, Generation Z Leads, and Generation Z Goes to College. She spoke with MDM recently about how distributors are connecting with the generation and what they can do to improve.
MDM: Many experts say that one of the reasons why distributors struggle in recruiting next-generation, and specifically Gen Z, talent is because they do not have a culture of innovation. Do your findings support this?
Seemiller: Many in Generation Z view their careers as a way they can make a positive impact. This tends to go hand in hand with innovation, as many of these young workers want to feel connected to and be a part of something bigger … something that will change the world.
MDM: Are there other reasons why you think distributors and companies in other sectors are not connecting with Gen Z?
Seemiller: Two other factors related to the workplace that are essential for many in Generation Z include sustainability and social justice. Many of them want to work in an organization that is committed to environmental advocacy, as evidenced in their spending, products and organizational practices. In addition, many in Gen Z feel strongly that their workplaces should be accessible, inclusive and equitable for all people. Not only do many of them want their workplaces to embrace sustainability and social justice, but they want the organizations they work for to be explicit and public about their support for these ideals.
MDM: When discussing their future aspirations, were there any commonalities that surfaced during your research? Secondly, what can distributors take from this to help them create workplace cultures that are more attractive to Gen Z?
Seemiller: While it’s not surprising that they want to make a good salary so they don’t have to worry about money and paying their bills, a large share of those in Generation Z would not trade their happiness, passion and desire to make an impact for a big paycheck. Employers need to find ways to allow Gen Z employees to innovate, switch up responsibilities (if the employee is interested), give them a framework of expectations but then autonomy to do the work, provide opportunities for flexible schedules and workspaces, and connect their work explicitly to making a difference.
MDM: How important are internships to Gen Z?
Seemiller: One thing that continues to come up in the research is Generation Z students’ strong desire to participate in internships, sometimes two to three during college. They see internships as the key to integrate their values, passions, academic courses, community engagement and career aspirations into one experience.
MDM: Any final thoughts on Gen Z?
Seemiller: One thing that is important to note is that we are living in a freelance economy, where young people see that they can create their own career paths without having to work for anyone else. Although freelancing may not be as stable as working for an established organization, this generation has more options when it comes to their careers. For example, freelancing allows them flexible scheduling and the ability to engage in work that they are passionate about, that aligns with their values, and is on their own terms.
To recruit this generation into existing organizations, employers need to focus on the value-added message as to why a Gen Z prospective employee would want to work for that organization (especially rather than working for themselves). Employers should articulate the positive societal impact of their organization, how the day-to-day work can connect with Gen Z’s passions, and the organization’s commitment to sustainability and social justice. But, it’s more than just sharing these commitments; the organization needs to embody these commitments.