Firms struggle to adapt to expectations of Gen Z

01 November 2023 Consultancy.uk 4 min. read

As employers continue to squabble over talent amid high employment, new research suggests that they are failing to relate to new members of the workforce. While they are adapting their training methods to appear more like video games or viral content, this overlooks the fact Generation Z is far more perturbed by long-standing assumptions employers can expect staff to perform extra duties for free, or to stay in the office longer than 10 hours each day.  

The UK's labour market is currently unusually tight. According to government figures, the number of job vacancies across the country hovering around 1 million throughout 2023. In this environment, employers who are looking to fill crucial roles have been clambering over each other to make themselves more attractive to talent than their competitors.

While this has seen rhetoric around wellness, work-life balance, flexible working and company culture ramp up, however, many employers clearly remain resistant to core demands around pay and conditions. And with lessons around ‘essential work’ having been hard-learned through the pandemic by the UK’s workforce, for many prospective employees that simply is not good enough.

Have you adapted your training to Gen Z needs

To that end, new research from Grant Thornton has found that despite a growing portion of Generation Z – those born between 1997 and 2013 – entering the workforce, employers are largely disconnected from its expectations. The consultancy polled 2,000 people between 16 and 25 in the UK, as well as 605 businesses, and found that while more than four-in-five firms were adapting training methods to try and entice younger workers to their firm, the majority of the targeted demographic was concerned by workplaces which expect them to commit to extra labour without compensation.

Changes

Of the 88% of employers who Grant Thornton found were adapting their training methods to meet the needs of the newest members of the workforce, 36% were introduced more personalised training, specifically tailored to the needs of an individual employee. This relatively uncontroversial move might previously have been regarded by many employers as too expensive, but in theory makes onboarding more inclusive, and better supports staff with learning difficulties to get a foothold in the workforce – something which would likely attract more of the conscientious Gen Z to a workplace.

In contrast, something which employers might have meant well by, but might come across as a tad patronising to young workers, is the fact that 32% of companies to have modified training had “moved towards more on demand content”. At the same time, 30% had added in more gamification within their training “to appeal and engage with the new younger cohort”. The extent to which this is effective remains to be seen – but to critics it comes across as a random assumption that because ‘young people like video-games and Netflix’, firms just need to reformat their old content into those mediums to attract Gen Z into their office.

As Gen Z, will work be an important part of your identity

Expectations

When it comes to the things which Gen Z finds least palatable about a workplace, however, training is not in the top three issues. Instead, first and foremost is the expectation that they should be paid appropriately for the labour they supply – with 51% saying that they found it employers expecting them to take on extra responsibility without compensation as “unreasonable”. A 40% chunk also added that regularly working 10-hour days should not be expected, while 31% suggested required study and training outside of work hours (a common requirement with employers who require staff to gain professional qualifications) was a non-starter.

Many employers might argue that this makes ‘motivating’ younger workers a struggle. But considering 72% of Gen Z respondents told Grant Thornton that they feel what they do for their job will be an “important part of their identity”, it seems they are very well motivated. They just have clear expectations and boundaries of what work should be – and employers who meet those standards may well get the best out of them.

Ronnie Corbett, audit culture director at Grant Thornton UK, commented, “Generalisations are easy to make, but we must be mindful that there are many different factors that determine a person’s mindset and motivation – age is just one of them. This insight into how the current generation of young people view careers and work will help to inform and shape decision making about how we best support them as they progress – after all, these are the people that will be running our firm one day.”