Article: Citrix ANZ's Martin Creighan decodes Gen Z

Employee Relations

Citrix ANZ's Martin Creighan decodes Gen Z

As Gen Z slowly emerges as a majority in the workforce, employers need to be prepared to address their particular needs and challenges in order to bring out their full potential, says Martin Creighan, Managing Director, Citrix Australia and New Zealand.
Citrix ANZ's Martin Creighan decodes Gen Z

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Gen Z is entering the workforce, soon to become a majority globally. And they've done so as a digital generation, growing up in a world where the virtual is as real as the physical. What's more, they are entering the world of work at a time when the pandemic has made the virtual subsume the physical in many ways.

People Matters asked Martin Creighan, Managing Director, Citrix Australia and New Zealand, for some thoughts on how employers today can respond to the new generation of workers – not forgetting that in many cases, the employers themselves may also be from that generation.

They expect flexibility but are uncomfortable asking for it

Generation Z (born after 1997) and Millennials (born 1981 to 1996) are the first generations to grow up in an entirely digital world, shaping their expectations of how technology can better enable their personal lives, as well as their professional lives, Creighan said. Statistics from Citrix research, he explained, show that in Australia at least, 51 per cent of these younger workers – whom Citrix dubs the 'Born Digital' generation – entered the workforce for the first time and worked remotely during the pandemic, from March 2020 to May 2021. Starting work under such conditions, with the odd combination of blurred work-life boundaries alongside relatively greater autonomy, has shaped their expectations: 66 per cent of them want flexible working arrangements to manage workloads and well-being.

But the problem, Creighan said, is that these young employees don't seem confident about getting what they want. The same research shows that 32 per cent don’t feel empowered to ask their employer for flexible working arrangements, and 49 per cent even expect to eventually go back to ‘old ways of working’. In fact, of all the generations, Gen Z – now around 18-24 years old – feels the least empowered to ask their employer for hybrid work on an ongoing basis.

It's hard to say where their reluctance comes from – it may be anything from youth and relative inexperience to the ingrained societal expectations they grew up with or even ongoing conversations in the business space where some companies continue to push back against the idea of flexible working. But if the sense of disempowerment continues, employers are likely to end up losing these people.

'It’s important that business leaders adapt to the shift in employee expectations about how work gets done, otherwise they risk losing out on skilled talent, and productivity and corporate gains, Creighan warned.

They can be a big asset – if given the right environment

The same research indicates that Gen Z is strongly correlated with corporate profitability: for each one per cent increase in a country's 'Born Digital' population, businesses in that country are 0.9 per cent more profitable. On a global scale, that is approximately an additional US$1.9 trillion in corporate profits per year.

Actually enabling this cohort of young employees to create that profit, however, takes a real effort by business leaders. Not only do they feel disempowered, they are also under significant stress from the unusual circumstances in which they've entered the workforce.

‘Interestingly, this cohort was also the most likely to be experiencing symptoms of burnout – 40 per cent – as a result of working from home, compared to all other generations in our workforce,’ Creighan told People Matters. ‘This possibly indicates an increased need for some form of human element woven into their fully-digital work interactions.’

What do business leaders, HR leaders, and managers need to do to unlock the value in this latest generation of talent? To begin with, they need to make some kind of effort to bridge the gap of understanding.

‘To motivate the ‘Born Digital’ generation in our workforce, business leaders must take the time to understand their values, career aspirations and working styles. Then, they must invest in the work model and tools to create a flexible, efficient and engaging work environment that this next generation of leaders will thrive in,’ Creighan said.

Business leaders may find it challenging, though, because according to research, what leaders think Gen Z wants is completely different from what Gen Z really wants.

The top five things Gen Z employees say they want:

  • Job satisfaction
  • Career stability
  • Work-life balance
  • Good pay
  • A good manager

In contrast, factors such as a sense of purpose – widely trumpeted as the top attraction and retention factor for young employees today – and having the latest workplace technology are much further down the list. The pandemic may have played a role in these findings: surrounded by economic uncertainty and a tough labour market, it's hardly surprising that stability is now seen as more important than ideals.

Help them catch up with what they lost during the pandemic

Their aspirations aside, leaders and managers need to be cognisant of certain challenges that Gen Z is likely to face, and which they will need additional help with. The most prominent challenge is simply their lack of workplace exposure.

‘For those Generation Z workers who have entered the workforce during the pandemic, they have never known anything different. Being removed from their co-workers for so long has robbed many in this cohort of vital networking time early in their career, which means they are now playing catch-up as and when workplaces reopen,’ Creighan said of young employees today.

One solution, he suggested, is to introduce mentoring in a workplace setting. ‘Established leaders can use their connections and influence to help Gen Z workers make up for the lost time. And in doing so, companies can provide younger workers with valuable knowledge and experience for the long-term.’

The challenge goes deeper, though. The lack of in-person workplace interactions has left today's younger workers missing out on a great deal of learning and development, not the formally mandated kind but the intangible lessons picked up just from watching their co-workers in action.

For those of us who have spent years growing our careers and networks in-person, we often take for granted the benefits we have gained from face-to-face training and development, adds Creighan. ‘Many forget that this is an essential part of the professional development that workers entering the workforce in this current environment – such as Gen Zs – are missing out on.’

Leaders and managers, he suggested, need to pay special attention to these employees, just to ensure that they are getting at least a simulation of the working experience despite the virtual environment and that they are integrating with their teams in a way that will not leave them at a disadvantage.

It is important we take the time to replicate and build these working relationships in any type of work environment – from virtual inductions and check-ins to online staff gatherings and events, he said. ‘And when we do return to the office, it is vital that we make up for lost time and ensure that these workers are able to engage with their co-workers in a meaningful way.’


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Topics: Employee Relations

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