Article: Want to engage Gen Z? Give them meaning and purpose, says Lena Yam, Dell Technologies

Employee Engagement

Want to engage Gen Z? Give them meaning and purpose, says Lena Yam, Dell Technologies

An upcoming front in the war for talent is the latest group to enter the workforce: Gen Z. Attracting and retaining them is a matter of giving them meaning, purpose, and having social and environmental responsibility, says Lena Yam, VP at Dell Financial Services, Asia Pacific, Japan & China (APJC), Dell Technologies.
Want to engage Gen Z? Give them meaning and purpose, says Lena Yam, Dell Technologies

Gen Z is entering the workplace. By 2025, they'll make up 25-30 percent of the workforce, and as natural turnover continues, they'll eventually become a majority. What this means is, companies need to start looking into how to attract and retain this group: particularly because their reputation for being digital natives will make them increasingly valuable in a world where digital acceleration has just been fast-forwarded by several years.

So what differentiates Gen Z talent from their predecessors, and how can companies attract and retain them? People Matters asked Lena Yam, VP at Dell Financial Services, Asia Pacific, Japan & China (APJC), Dell Technologies, to share some thoughts.

In your experience, what distinguishes Gen Z talent in the workplace? How would you characterise the kind of value they bring to organisations?

Many of those I have interacted with stand out for being clear communicators driven by purpose and conviction in their work. They are passionate about areas such as diversity, sustainability and climate change, and for them, actions speak louder than words. They want to ensure that their actions and efforts, even at work, contribute towards these causes. Their refreshing perspective is readily welcomed at Dell Technologies, where we are working towards our 2030 Progress Made Real plan to advance sustainability and cultivate inclusion. Our Gen Z talent – recent graduates and interns – often bring up such causes in our brainstorming sessions and steer us closer towards our sustainability and inclusion goals. 

Known as “digital natives” or the “internet generation”, Gen Z is also much more digitally savvy. Several years ago we carried out a study on Gen Z, which shows that more than two-thirds of Gen Zs in Singapore rank their technology literacy as good or excellent. They are also more than willing to share their knowledge – more than half of respondents prefer to work together as a team rather than independently, and they also value human interaction in the workplace despite having grown up as digital natives.

With the impact of the pandemic consolidating years of digital transformation efforts into a few months, organisations can tap onto Gen Z’s confidence in their digital skills to help accelerate digital skills adoption across the multi-generational workforce. Peer teaching and collaborative learning – such as mentorship or reverse mentoring programmes and sharing workshops – can be a good way to harness Gen Z’s digital skills.

What is it like working with Gen Z?

The interns and fresh graduates whom I’ve had the privilege to work with at Dell Technologies are curious, ready to speak up, ask questions and offer ideas and suggestions. Past generations might have been more reserved, but today, there is a common consensus that fresh ideas and alternative perspectives are valued and encouraged. Especially in a team setting, diversity of thought is key to innovation, and Gen Z’s unique perspectives are highly sought after. 

This also presents a good opportunity for senior team members to learn to be more inclusive and adaptable. We saw this in action when we recently worked on process improvement – our interns and fresh graduates were able to challenge if certain processes were still relevant and necessary, and brainstorm for innovative solutions.

This was possible simply because they do not carry any “legacy” or “baggage” of existing processes and can look at things from a fresh perspective.

Our Gen Z team members are also spontaneous when it comes to accessing information and data digitally. We recently engaged them to organise a virtual tour for senior executives from our headquarters. They collaborated with team members remotely and leveraged technology in their planning and execution, making the event a huge success. I was also impressed with their willingness to listen to feedback, and their desire to improve their quality of work in the process.

What do they look for in the workplace? How can organisations meet their expectations?

Gen Z is unlike any generation before – they look for more than just monetary benefits from work and want to work for socially and environmentally responsible organisations. I recently met a group of new entrants and interns over dinner where many of them told me how receptive they are to exploring new opportunities. For many of us, salary is often the most important factor when it comes to deciding on a job. For Gen Z, however, salary is further down the priority list than other generations – if given the choice of accepting a better-paying but boring job versus work that was more interesting but didn’t pay as well, Generation Z was fairly evenly split over the choice. 

Our research on this generation echoes this sentiment – in Singapore, 58% of the Gen Z population want work that has meaning and purpose beyond getting paid. Four in 10 respondents said they want to work in places that are socially or environmentally responsible.

Organisations must therefore drive ESG initiatives meaningfully and create a work environment that provides purpose beyond remuneration to attract the brightest talent of the growing Gen Z workforce.

Mentorship is also top of mind for Gen Zs. Joining the remote workforce amidst a pandemic means that young talent may miss out on spontaneous collaboration and coaching that can come from being in the same space. Yet, being fresh to the workforce, they require more support and guidance to navigate and thrive in the new world of work.

What is the experience of attracting and retaining Gen Z talent like? Could you share some programmes you have in place that work to engage them?

More than half of Gen Zs today seek meaning and purpose in their work, and they want to work in places that are socially or environmentally responsible. Besides aligning our business to these causes with our 2030 Progress Made Real plan, we also create opportunities for them to pursue these causes at work through our Employee Resource Groups (ERGs), which aim to connect team members who share common backgrounds or interests. The groups are encouraged to introduce initiatives and programmes aimed at providing personal and professional development, such as mentoring, volunteerism and community involvement. Through these ERGs, we support our young talent in pursuing causes that inspire them. 

Creating platforms for effective mentorship are also a great way to cater to the needs of Gen Z talent. We recognise the need to embrace development programmes, provide timely feedback, and offer learning opportunities and exposure for young talent to realise success.  We have a cross-company mentorship programme, MentorConnect, which pairs mentors (senior representatives from participating companies) with mentees to develop both the hard and soft skills necessary for the next stage in their careers.On top of this programme, we also introduced programmes through the GenNext ERG, a network for young professionals, new hires and the young at heart. Through this, we aim to promote the training of young talent by providing a platform that allows an exchange of ideas amongst new hires and experienced staff members.

Could you share some thoughts on how to integrate Gen Z talent with other age groups, especially those who may be very far separated from them in age?

Finding common ground where both generations have something to bring to the table is a good way to bridge the gap between Gen Z talent and those from other age groups. Reverse mentoring can be a fantastic way to do this. By pairing younger employees with senior team members, organisations can offer both the junior and senior employees the opportunity to mentor each other and create opportunities to share their knowledge with the wider team.

We have a Millennials as Mentors initiative at Dell Technologies, organised by our employee resource group, GenNext. The initiative aims to create an environment that supports the growth and empowerment of young talent within the company. Mentors can tap onto the fresh perspectives of the digitally savvy Gen Z team members and in return, offer their repository of work experience for Gen Z team members to tap on. In the process, team members from various generations can learn about the different nuances and working styles unique to each generation.

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Topics: Employee Engagement, #TheGreatTalentWar

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