Gen Z workers, the first true digital natives, bring a lifetime of working closely with technology to the corporate arena. As they enter the workforce and become key players in the IT sector, their work styles, motivations and priorities will become entrenched in enterprise culture.
“You're competing to have a culture that is attractive to the kind of talent that you need to succeed in business,” Greg Sanker, director of IT support at home builder Taylor Morrison, said. “So you got to be intentional about curating the culture, and really, truly understanding the business context so that you can say, ‘Hey, come join us. This is what we're trying to solve. This is what we're trying to do’ and then give them the opportunity to go do that.”
The demand for tech talent is historically high. For tech leaders to employ and retain the next generation of developers, data analysts and IT professionals, they must understand what Gen Zers value.
Gen Z cusper Tyler Gifford, support analyst II at Miami University, entered the applicant pool searching for a “mutually beneficial” relationship where he could contribute to a larger mission.
“I can go to bed at night, knowing that I’m helping the next generation get their education and do my part with my skill set,” Gifford said. A move to the private sector could bring a higher value, but it would put him farther away from a mission-oriented organization.
“But at the end of the day, it’s that connection with the people that are at Miami, the culture, the position and the greater goal that led me in [this] direction,” Gifford said.
While HR is in charge of attracting talent through mission statements and initiatives, CIOs and managers must demonstrate their commitment to the goals that attracted the talent in the first place.
Over four in 10 Gen Zers wouldn’t mind taking a pay cut if it meant they felt their job contributed to the world or society, according to a Randstad survey of 35,000 employees earlier this year.
“Everybody can come up with a very grand-sounding mission statement that is impactful and is doing something to change the world,” said Claire Rutkowski, SVP and CIO Champion of Bentley Systems. “And that’s not enough.”
In other words, CIOs have to walk the walk.
Contributions create change
It’s up to leaders to show employees that the mission of the company is real.
“The mission may attract them, but for them to stay, they have to feel it and that means that as a leader, you have to provide very clear goals and objectives that people can accomplish and that they understand how it helps support the greater mission,” Rutkowski said.
Personal engagement is one way that Rutkowski helps employees connect the dots. She hosts “Coffee with Claire” where she gets to know new employees on her team by talking about what is important to them and how it fits into the overall mission of the company.
Reverse mentoring is another way to show younger employers that leaders value their contributions, Rutkowski said.
In reverse mentoring, a newer employee mentors a more seasoned employee in an environment that provides a safe space for constructive criticism, whether that’s the tone of an email or a chosen channel of communication.
Ian Tien, CEO and co-founder of Mattermost, uses listening tours with Gen Z developers where employees can share what they like about their job and what they would like to do differently.
“It’s most important for IT leaders – for all executives – to be able to listen, skip levels, create a safe space and hear honest feedback,” Tien said. “That feedback will not get to you otherwise, because there’s not enough people who speak Gen Z along the way to pass it up."
"It’ll turn into a little broken telephone [game],” Tien said.
Update: This article has been updated to reflect Claire Rutkowski’s new title of SVP and CIO Champion of Bentley Systems.