With Gen Z and Millennial Expectations Shifting, Is Nurturing Happy Employees the Latest HR Mandate?
People are resilient. This became clear early on during the global crisis. They have also been incredibly adaptive, learning to cope with so many unknowns during the past two years. It’s a fact that CEOs around the world have come to realize.
This agility, however, has led to new behaviors and expectations as evidenced by the ongoing Great Resignation. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 4.4 million Americans left their jobs in February, a figure that remains near record levels and almost 1 million more than recorded a year earlier. After the existential threat of COVID, it’s understandable people are seeking more meaning and purpose in their lives and jobs.
At the same time, it’s no secret that happier employees are more productive employees. More than ever, companies are looking to deliver a better workplace experience to improve talent attraction and workforce retention. Leaders know in today’s extremely competitive labor market, salaries alone aren’t enough to win great people. They need a corporate culture that offers flexibility, inclusion and empowerment.
Younger workers are less compromising when it comes to happiness
In its simplest form, what people seek now is an opportunity to be happy. The latest Randstad Workmonitor research found this is especially true among younger generations. A significant number of Gen Z and Millennials say they prioritize happiness over a larger paycheck.
The survey, conducted earlier this year with 35,000 working adults in 34 markets worldwide, shows that workers 18 to 24 are the most insistent that work should not interfere with their pursuit of happiness. A majority (56%) say they would quit a job that prevented them from being happy. Contrast this with only 38% of those 55 to 67 holding the same view.
Because some of the youngest people only joined the workforce during the pandemic, how they view work-life balance is fundamentally different from those who began their careers many years ago. It was only recently that these individuals actually met colleagues in person. Gen Z and Millennials also were more likely to change their behaviors due to pandemic-related stress. So it’s no surprise that these generations are more likely to prioritize happiness in their career choices.
Flexibility at work is the new norm
But don’t mistake this preference as an indicator that they care less about their jobs or are slackers; quite the opposite, nearly three-quarters (72%) of the youngest group Randstad surveyed (18 to 24) say work is important to their lives, higher than the 68% of the oldest group (55 to 67) who feel the same way.
They want, however, more flexibility at work — the freedom to choose where and when they work. In fact, about 45% of 25- to 34-year-olds say they wouldn’t accept a job that didn’t offer schedule flexibility. and 41% say the same about jobs lacking remote opportunities. A little over one-third (34%) say they’ve quit a job because it didn’t provide enough flexibility.
The pandemic brought about a new social contract between companies and their employees. The work-from-home phenomenon helped many realize that flexible schedules and virtual offices could give their people the kind of job satisfaction and balance they probably didn’t realize they were missing before. The rise of digital nomads has helped many people realize they can lead a happy life and a satisfying career, and that’s great news for businesses. And employers who want to attract and retain great people will have to meet this expectation for flexibility, adjusting their cultures as needed.
Learning and development are important to all
During the past two years, the Randstad Workmonitor research has shown that most people have understood the importance of learning and development to their careers, but in the latest research, only 25% say they’ve received upskilling opportunities at work during the past year. This is especially concerning since digital transformation has markedly accelerated since the start of the pandemic. For gig and freelance workers, getting the training they need is even more challenging.
What’s more, the disconnect between people and their organizations when it comes to skilling is alarming. Even though just 25% of workers say they have received new training opportunities, a separate survey of HR and C-suite leaders shows that most employers believe they should provide learning and development (L&D) support.
The 2022 Randstad Sourceright Talent Trends research found that 93% of leaders believe they have a responsibility for upskilling their workforce. So even though companies know they must do their part, their workers don’t feel they are reaping the benefits.
So, how can company leaders help their employees feel more empowered and satisfied at work? Beyond giving people the freedom to make choices about when and where they work, allow the same freedom when it comes to the skills they want to develop. This is especially true for younger workers who have entered into a rapidly transformed labor market and who grew up in today’s sharing, app-driven economy.
New, agile L&D models should focus on bite-sized modules that employees can choose from, enabling them to quickly and easily acquire the skills they need to better do their jobs on a daily basis. The Randstad Workmonitor data shows that a vast majority (88%) would make use of additional skilling opportunities if their employers offered them, and 84% would speak to a career coach if given the chance. Having a choice of learning and the resources to enable skilling priorities will definitely help build workforce confidence and loyalty.
Of course every business requires rules and governance, but they also need agility and diverse voices and opinions. Great leaders recognize this. The democratization and flattening of the corporate structure have been ongoing for years, but we’ve reached an important juncture where talent increasingly dictates corporate culture and direction. Empathetic organizations that prioritize the personal needs and experiences of their workers are much more likely to attract and retain great people.