There’s a difference between offering young people what they want, and changing your recruitment process based on generational assumptions. Too many organisations made this error with millennials, and some are poised to do the same with Generation Z.
It was only a matter of time before the focus on millennials in the workforce shifted to their younger siblings, Generation Z or “post-millennials” as they’re called. It’s something HRM has written about before – every generation has been branded with a series of myths that actually make it harder to see the trees for the forest; the individual and not the generation they’re from.
“The whole notion of generations is founded on pretty flimsy evidence,” Aaron McEwan, HR advisory leader for Gartner (formerly CEB) says. “There’s an old saying in statistics which is essentially, that there are more differences within groups than there are between groups.
“If you look at the way recruiting organisations are hoodwinked by the popular zeitgeist around this generational stuff, what it tends to do is to drive them to adopt gimmicks that are not evidence-based to supposedly get better at attracting and retaining these groups of people.”
The Generation Z gimmicks
What are those recruiting techniques? McEwan believes they’re the same methods used to try and attract millennials, just more so.
“A classic example would be gamification – the use of games during the recruitment process. So if you buy into the rhetoric, supposedly Gen Y, and even more so with Generation Z, have difficulty concentrating, you know I’ve even heard them be accused of having ADHD en masse – which is ludicrous.”
Recruiters making this assumption design gamified selection processes and ways of engaging with potential candidates as a way of servicing this perceived difficulty, explains McEwan, but there’s no evidence to support its effectiveness.
“In fact, research that we’ve done has found that – regardless of generation – when people see a simplified, gamified selection process that is too short it actually undermines their confidence in the organisation that they’re going through the recruitment process for.”
So by trying to cater to people they thought had short attention spans, some organisations have given candidates the impression that they aren’t taking them seriously. It can actually be quite jarring for them and outside of their experience because Gen Z’s most recent experience would be in education and, as McEwan points out, “University courses are not gamified”.
Another gimmick is trying to “Google” your office with bean bags and football tables. “This is founded on the idea that certain generations are more social and care more about the external visages of an organisation’s culture,” says McEwan.
“If you were to put a cynical hat on you’d say that’s really about driving down the cost of corporate real-estate more than it is about attracting a bunch of graduates.”
The true cause of Gen Z differences
Something that both Gen Y and now Gen Z are accused of is “job hopping” or moving quickly from job-to-job. So far as it’s true, it might just be a reaction to the economic circumstances recent graduates face, and the natural uncertainty among young people about what career they want.
“If you’ve just come out of university, there’s a good chance that you have very few assets, that you’re in debt and you’re probably living in one of the four most expensive cities in the world,” McEwan says, “So you want to climb the ladder pretty quickly to increase your earning potential. That’s not having them being impatient or having ADHD, it’s a pretty standard economic challenge.
“And they’re also early in their career where they might not know exactly what it is they want to be when they grow up. So they’re interested in exploring, and the research shows that they would rather explore with you than they would to job hop across organisations.”
Which makes a lot of sense, changing jobs is what anybody would do if their current place of work is not offering them opportunities. But far from giving young people the chance to grow, is it possible that companies are intentionally dissatisfying Gen Y and Z because they’re scared of investing in new recruits only to lose them to a different organisation?
“Absolutely. It’s such a common attitude that there’s an internet/LinkedIn meme that does the rounds every couple of weeks,” laughs McEwan. “CFO asks “what if we develop them and they leave?” CEO responds, “what if we don’t and they stay?”.
Want to get tips that will actually work with young candidates? Ask HR’s brightest minds at the AHRI National Convention and Exhibition in Sydney (21−23 August) – Australia’s largest HR event. Registration closes 11 August.