July 2017
By Louisa Hogarty, Group HR Director, Noble Foods Group, the UK’s largest supplier of eggs

Understanding and distinguishing between the demographic cohorts from Baby Boomers through to Generation X and Generation Y has long been a priority for employers and the wider professional landscape alike – but rather less is known about the latest arrivals.

Generation Z – also known as “Centennials” – are the most recent and least understood addition to the ever-changing intergenerational mix. Born from around 2000 onwards, centennials are coming of age and beginning to enter the workplace so are quickly becoming the latest frontier for HR professionals keen to unlock their full potential.

With the industry continually abuzz with talk of measurable engagement and tapping into productivity, taking the time to learn about why centennials are unique and the implications for the workforce is essential.

  • Technology. Centennials are the first generation to have never lived without the internet, social media and the constant presence of digital devices. Millennials, on the other hand, can still remember days of VHS tapes, landline phones and dial-up internet. As a result, centennials expect unprecedented technological access and digital connectivity.
  • Changing career expectations. Gone are the days when the expectation was to simply slot into a chosen career and continue in that profession until retirement. Freelancing has refocused the expectation of career-long guaranteed work into a portfolio of skills and experiences. As a result, centennials will work across multiple areas while those holding multiple concurrent jobs have become known as ‘slashies’ (e.g. Barista slash Photograhper).
  • Adapting to the new workforce. Varied and diverse skillsets are coming to the fore as centennials prepare for working life with traditional career pathways in flux. Hands-on practical experience and multiple specialisms are now more valuable to employees and employers alike rather than traditionally narrow training in single sectors.

Technology has transformed our personal and professional lives forever – offering the young in particular opportunities that would have been unthinkable only a generation ago. In spite of this, modern life for centennials isn’t always the digitally-enabled utopia some would have predicted. Social isolation, issues around mental health and rising levels of stress[1] pose real challenges not just for a happy, motivated and productive workforce but wider society too.

With that in mind, supporting and preparing centennials for modern life and a changing workplace should be at the heart of our priorities. Here are few things to consider when reaching out to centennials:

  • Continually offer new opportunities. Allowing centennials to learn, progress and acquire new skills is fundamental to building and retaining a genuinely engaged team – particularly with digitally-shortened attention spans. Better still, it opens the door to surprising new talents and areas in which staff can thrive and excel.
  • Give them a voice. With new expectations of independence, demonstrating trust is key to an empowered and confident team. In addition to improving workplace happiness, businesses also benefit from improved self-reliance and increased efficiencies.
  • Be flexible. Appreciating and being sympathetic to other professional commitments among your staff will become increasingly important amid centennials taking on more roles and responsibilities across their working lives. This is simply a response to changing professional pathways rather than an expression of any disloyalty.
  • Embrace technology. The role of technology in the lives of centennials is instinctive and innate. Digitally-enabled employee engagement initiatives such as apps, shared documents or cloud-based activities can be accessed directly by the worker anywhere and at any time. Sharing this on-demand and on-the-go mindset will give you a direct link to your workforce.
  • Offer a sense of community. Despite unprecedented levels of digital interconnectedness, potential negative consequences arising from the constant presence of technology and the internet are fairly common for centennials. Offering a genuine feeling of belonging is therefore, critical.
  • Provide meaningful benefits. The relative ease of changing jobs and moving between companies for centennials has upped the importance of offering interesting and appealing benefits. One recent survey showed 68% of respondents are more likely to stay with an employer offering attractive benefits.[2] Flexible working, creating an enjoyable physical working environment and protecting the work-life balance are just some of the ways to retain top talent.

Perhaps the most significant and unexpected outcome resulting from the new relationship between centennials and technology is that nothing can replace the personal touch. Using the latest technological solutions and digital devices is all well and good but it’s important to remember that human interaction is best of all.

From face-to-face contact to hand-written thank you cards and notes, taking the time and effort to interact with centennials personally and creatively is always appreciated and will remain the most effective way to engage in the workplace.

[1] The Guardian, Who are Generation Z? The latest data on today’s teens (December 2016)