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What Employers Should Expect from Generation Z: Vocation Rotation

My head was spinning after talking to Zoe, a 21-year-old who’s quite ambitious. She is taking college courses, has a job on campus, as well as two-side hustles, one as an Uber driver and the other, an app-based non-profit leader Zoe started herself to launch her career.

She has some “gigs” going and feels very empowered.

This is what’s trending in the American workplace. In fact, the recent passing of California’s Assembly Bill 5 that turns app-based workers into full-fledged employees has raised many questions as to the ethics and state of the so-called “gig economy” in general.

What’s the Paradigm Shift Employers Must Make

Fifty years ago, we lived in an employer-controlled marketplace. The company determined the jobs, the pay scale and whether they offered healthcare or promoted women, and they displayed the attitude that you’re fortunate to have a job here. And, that may well have been true.

Today, expectations among our youngest workforce are rising. It’s a buyer’s market, unemployment is low, and people can be selective about expectations. One employer recently told me when he interviewed a recent graduate, the potential employee actually interviewed him, asking about perks and benefits at the company. In short, young people are choosy. The employer said he’s been asked in job interviews:

  • Do you provide childcare?
  • Do you provide PTO (paid time off) for development?
  • Do you provide food and snacks?
  • Do you have a gym?
  • Do you provide a career path and development?

When they don’t get a good answer, they may move on.

About 44 percent of gig workers say their work in the gig economy is now their primary source of income, which leaves 56 percent reporting it as supplemental income. Gen Z feels empowered by the smart device in their hand. While it’s causing anxiety and other mental health issues, it’s also liberating them to seize control of their future. Fewer see themselves as a servant to a boss; or a climber on someone’s corporate ladder. They are “hackers” who are savvy enough to decode the normal protocols or systems. They’ll find a way to make options work for them. A growing percentage are not doing the typical four-year, liberal arts college experience. It’s a track they may not want to go down, and today — there are other viable options for a smart kid.

The Gig Economy and the Hacker Economy

We are moving more deeply into a “gig economy.” The gig economy is a free market system where organizations and independent workers engage in short-term work arrangements. According to the BLS, in 2017 the U.S. gig economy had 55 million participants. It’s estimated that 36 percent of US workers take part in the gig economy and 33 percent of companies extensively use gig workers.  The word “gig” refers to the transient nature of the job itself. Think Uber or Lyft drivers. Think Airbnb landlords.

  • Think contract workers.
  • Think freelancers.
  • Think consultants.
  • Think temp workers.

What was perceived as merely a “side hustle” a few years ago, turned into a trillion-dollar industry with millions of participants involved. Technology has made this all possible. But the gig economy also implies short. A young team member may do a gig here and a gig there, and he or she may have six jobs in their twenties. After all, they get bored quickly.

It favors the worker — who can be paid per hour or project; they can choose what they do and when they do it, a little like Uber or Lyft. They maintain agency and freedom of choice. They may say:

“To me, life is a cafeteria. Just like a meal at a buffet, I’m choosing what’s best for me and want to join hands with an employer (leader) who has my best interest in mind, not just what’s best for the organization.”

How Do We Adjust our Leadership?  

As I suggested above, I believe we must adjust our expectations. By this, I don’t mean we expect less — just different. And we must capitalize on it. Some now call this new mindset:

“A Vocation Rotation”

Orange Leaf Frozen Yogurt decided to embrace this by telling potential young team members: “We’ll be the best first job you could ever have.” When teens go to work there, a manager sits down with them and asks: “What do you most want to learn from a job?” If the young team members say, “managing money” they get to watch the bookkeepers balance revenue and expenses and perhaps even learn to do it themselves. The job becomes rocket fuel for the next step of their career path. Franchisees don’t expect most to stay longer than two years.

What if we built workplaces that made investments in young team members and, maybe, kept them longer because they were getting mentored? In other words, we don’t shame them into staying — we win them. Then, knowing they are likely desirous of a “vocation rotation,” what if we celebrated change and offered suggestions for their next step with us? What if we equipped them to look for common threads in each of those jobs and find their calling in the process?

In this gig economy, we must remember Generation Z is silently asking us as leaders:

  • Do you care about me as a person, not just a worker?
  • Do you offer me developmental and growth opportunities not just training for the task?
  • Do you provide help outside of work (i.e. rideshare, discounts, etc.)?
  • Do you provide an app that clearly communicates steps for what I need to do?
  • Do you celebrate my growth and future opportunities?

Let’s equip them on their vocation rotation.

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What Employers Should Expect from Generation Z: Vocation Rotation