'Snowflake' employees are just what leaders need right now
The pandemic has raised anxiety levels of working professionals, including our future workforce like those from Generation Z. A recent study found that almost all Gen-Zers were ‘anxious’ or ‘very anxious about their chances at landing a job. A whopping 95% believed that the pandemic will affect their job prospects, according to the DHL Group study. Their fears aren’t unfounded because recent data from the OECD showed that Gen Z candidates were twice as likely to be unemployed during the pandemic compared with workers from other age groups like Baby Boomers, Gen-Xers and millennials.
This is alarming because Gen Z, or those born between 1997 and 2009, will make up at least a quarter of the global workforce by 2025. While most in the age group are still studying, the oldest Gen-Zers are turning 24 this year and either in their first jobs or seeking gainful employment – both carrying their own challenges in a pandemic and our virtual way of working. Just like how the world used to obsess about millennials and their potential impact on workplace dynamics, we explored and demystified the latest generation of talent.
Read more: How to combat ageism at work
Resilient and resourceful
Firstly, there’s data to debunk the assumption that Gen Z is the ‘strawberry generation’ or are made up of ‘snowflakes’. The term ‘strawberry generation’ was coined in East Asia and used to describe how the youth “bruised easily” like the fruit, as they’d quite easily quit work if it got too hard to deal with. Older folk typically stereotyped the serial job hoppers as spoilt, selfish or arrogant who couldn’t withstand pressure or work as hard as past generations of workers. The Western equivalent of the term, dubbed ‘snowflake’, has been used to label individuals as entitled, easily offended, overly emotional and self-obsessed with their perceived uniqueness.
The pandemic, however, proved otherwise, with a study co-published by Sea and the World Economic Forum showcasing Gen Z’s resilience and resourcefulness. Research showed that three in four youths demonstrated their adaptability during the crisis. Some built up their ‘pandemic preparedness’ (48%) and some picked up new skills (41%), while others created new sources of income (31%). Young employees were more likely to develop ‘pandemic resistance’, while students were more likely to adopt new skills. Budding entrepreneurs on the other hand worked on developing new business models to expand their sources of income.
Committed to large causes
Furthermore, the idea that job hoppers kept leaving jobs for selfish reasons have been disproven by many studies. Young workers just want to work for a job or company that aligned with their own values and goals. For instance, Deloitte’s annual survey on millennials and Gen Z found that workers wanted businesses to be accountable. While the pandemic has slightly switched up their priorities, more than two in five young staffers remain concerned about climate change and the environment. This has spilled over to how they support businesses, with more than a quarter saying that certain corporate actions have influenced their level of support for a company.
They’re simply looking to support a ‘greater cause’ than just a fat paycheck, though that matters too. Since the pandemic, under half of Gen-Zs believe businesses are focused solely on their own agendas or lack motivation beyond profitability. This finding mirrored research from the World Economic Forum, which found that Gen Z desired leaders who had a vision of sustainable prosperity for the organisation as well as society, and were focused on creating a positive impact for all. The study highlighted how employees wanted organisations to address environmental, social and economic issues in return for their ‘license to prosper’.
Open-minded and dedicated to inclusivity
In addition, their strong desire for progressive leadership aligned with their fire to fight for social or D&I-related causes, something that has been top of many people agendas in recent years. The Deloitte study found that the youth have ‘serious concerns’ and ‘misgivings’ about the scale of wealth and income equality. Two-thirds of young workers see wealth and income as unequally distributed in society.
What’s more, three in five Gen-Zers see systemic racism as ‘very’ or ‘fairly widespread’ in general society. At least one in five said they feel personally discriminated against ‘all of the time’ or frequently because of an aspect of their backgrounds. Unfortunately, more than half see older generations as standing in the way of progress.
Authentic employee experience
Above all, they’ve been more vocal about demanding more well-being support, which is in line with leaders’ and businesses’ reprioritisation of mental health and wellness as key pillars of a positive employee experience. Deloitte found that about a third of Gen-Zers (35%) said they’ve taken time off work due to stress and anxiety caused by the pandemic. Of the remaining two-thirds’ employees who didn’t take time off, nearly half said they’re stressed all of the time but chose to work through it. Overall, about 40% of workers felt their employers have done a poor job of supporting their mental well-being during this period.
In a recent panel discussion, Charles Hamilton Ferguson, general manager, Asia Pacific at Globalization Partners talked about how managing the multi-generational workforce has been on leaders’ radars for a long time, even before the pandemic, and questions about the future workforce was always a hot topic. “There was all this ‘throwing darts’ at the younger workforce that were coming in,” Ferguson said. “Because they’re the strawberry generation and they want all this stuff that’s not necessary to get the work done and it seems fluffy and whatnot.
“Those things that [younger workers] were asking for are now table stakes – ‘I want to be able to work when I want to work, from where I want to work. I want to use whatever devices I want. I want to be able to get training on demand. I want to work for a place that has a purpose that matches my values [and] makes an impact’. These types of things are now the way that we need to work globally, moving forward.”