20 things you need to understand about young people in order to create the workplace and be the leader that young people choose to follow.
By Emilia van Hauen, cultural sociologist, board member, author
Do you want their energy? Give them your sympathy!
It is as simple as that if you want to understand, attract, and withhold the young workforce. Here you have a quick overview of the 20 most important insights about the behaviour and values of young people. It will equip you to understand them – and thus be able to create a workplace which they would want to be part of.
I have divided them into the three most important areas of life which gives an easy overview of what is at stake and what you need to understand in order to create a good relationship with them:
The most important piece of advice is simple though:
BE THE BRIDGE!
In other words, it is the older generations task to be the bridge to the younger generations and to invite them inside the structure and the systems which we (yes, I am one of them 😊) have created – and which they must challenge if we, as a species, want to continue to develop our society.
The generation gap is only found among those who do not have the strength or the desire to understand that the future offers new conditions that must be matched with new ideas and it therefore requires curiosity and openness towards everyone who wants to continue to be relevant.
Enjoy the journey into the world of young people.
1. Meaning, purpose and self-development
Since they were children, they have been asked questions such as: “What do you want? What do you feel? What do you desire?”
No wonder they seek meaning and purpose in everything they do and spend time on. In that way, they are also a product of our time, moving away from an industrial mindset where everything is about efficiency and maximization, and instead having a bigger focus on the fact that what we do make a difference. Also, for people and not just the economy.
According to Dell’s latest international survey about the young generation, approximately half have responded that they want a job that makes sense and has a purpose that is higher than just earning one’s salary, while 40 percent wants to work for companies that are socially and environmentally responsible.
They have grown up in a family democracy, where their parents have taken them on board in many decisions, and later they have met teachers who have invited them into the teaching asking them which topics they wanted to study, so from an early age they have learned that their voice is important and valuable. As consumers, they have also been communicated individually to since they were children.
Therefore, the traditional hierarchy is not something that they orient themselves to or are trained to follow. So what they respect is not positions and status, but rather people who show integrity, authenticity and who have special skills who they can learn something from and who command professional respect.
3. Autonomous and creative
Independence is one of the most important values for Danish parents (and for more and more Western countries), and it is also cultivated in the elementary school, and combined with the young people’s lack of traditional hierarchical respect, this has created a generation that actively cultivates their own autonomy. At the same time, they have been trained to explore their own creativity, and together it creates people who are not afraid to challenge the existing systems, which can give lots of good energy into an organization – if you are open to it in management and the organization.
4. Sustainability, environmental awareness and ethics
According to Deloitte’s Millennial Survey 2019, 75 percent of young people believe that companies need to improve society, and 50 percent would like to receive a lower salary if it can help create social and environmental improvements. In general, they are very conscious about whether companies have a visible ethical and moral compass that, among other things reflects in social responsibility, diversity and a sustainable environmental policy. In other words, having a clear environmental and CSR policy is not a particular advantage because it is the minimum expected. However, it is a particular disadvantage not to have it.
4. Digitization, SoMe, freelancing and digital nomads
For young people, “real life” is just another open window in their lives alongside any other digital open window on their screen. They do not make a strong distinction between digital platforms and physical life, which means that all forms of contact have the same status in terms of attention. Social media is also used professionally, for example to find the right person for a job or to gain special knowledge about a task, and therefore it is a bad idea to make restrictions in the use of these platforms in the workplace. Unless the individual can’t figure out how to behave responsibly in the use of it, of course.
It is also important to be aware of the technological strategy used in the workplace, because according to Dell’s international survey, 91 percent of young people answer that the companies’ technology used influences young people’s choice of workplace.
Digitization has also created a market for what are called digital nomads, i.e., people who work independently of a physical workplace. It combines both off-site workplaces with freelance affiliation, both of which are a work form in progress. More and more companies are also using freelance labour, so as an organization you need to be aware of whether you are an attractive partner.
In EU there has been a 45 percent increase in freelancing since 2000 and today it is the fastest growing segment of the EU labour market according to Malt and EFIP (2019) ”Freelancing in Europe” report. 57 percent of the European freelancers are more than 35 years old, and 38 percent are between 25 and 34 years old. A growing chunk of today’s graduates start their work life as freelancers and 52 percent have a master´s degree or a PhD and nearly 30 percent of freelancers say they find work through social media.
At the same time, there are signs that more young people are feeling the consequences of being on social media, and more and more people are dropping out. According to Deloitte’s Millennial Survey 2019, 61 percent of young Danes believe that social media does more harm than good, and 49 percent want to stop using them. We therefore see signs of a change in behaviour, which may have an impact in the coming years. A good piece of advice is therefore that you as a company make sure to create your own digital platform, which is independent of social media.
75 percent of young people do not feel that they have control over their personal data and how they are used, so it is also important that you as a company have complete control over your data, because it creates credibility and trust and can be a contributing factor to that young people want to deepen the relationship; either as a customer or an employee.
6. Reference groups
Social media has given young people the opportunity to be inspired by their heroes and to compare themselves to almost everyone in the world. This presents some special challenges in terms of life satisfaction. Various studies show that young people are more satisfied with their lives when they are not on social media. The closer their relations are, the less influence the “intimate strangers” have over them i.e., the people with whom they do not know personally and have a mutually binding relationship, but with whom they simply follow.
As a company, it is therefore a good idea to have a clear social strategy internally, so that you feel a strong sense of belonging to your colleagues. It has of course always been important, but it is even more so today where the competition for relationships is much greater than in the past.
7. Performance culture vs mastery
According to the Danish Center for Youth Research, learning has been instrumentalized to a degree that curiosity has been subordinate to achievement, which also happened at the expense of mastery. This has led to an increased vulnerability which they often take with them into the workplace.
Organizations would therefore do well by creating a culture where there is room to experience everything and become wiser, also by occasionally failing, rather than a performance culture, where only KPIs decide whether the employee is successful or not.
8. Gender flows
“It’s unproblematic with gender differences – it’s just your generation that has to die, then the problem disappears with you!”
This is what one from generation Z says to ‘Fremtidsfabrikken’ and in a weird way it sheds light on the young generations look at gender. It is flowing. It means less what gender you are in relation to what kind of person you are and what qualities you want to cultivate in yourself. The frontpage of Vogue with a Harry Styles in a dress says it all.
It is also important to notice that the young men rather follow their mother’s career path than their father’s; According to professor at Copenhagen Business School and organizational researcher Sara Louise Muhr, they often feel like they are in a so-called “career prison” and want a greater freedom to, for example, be with their children.
Companies should create gender-neutral career strategies and be aware of the many biases there are when it comes to career strategies. So, ask both men and women what they think about your reward / promotion systems.
9. Mental vulnerability is their biggest challenge
- 5 percent of young women between 16-24 years and 23.4 percent of young men suffer from a high level of stress.
- 20-30 percent suffer from anxiety
- 10-15 percent engage in self-harming behaviour
- Loneliness is increasing
- Up to 20 percent get a depression
The young are not just delicate or spoiled to vulnerability, being snowflakes.
It is crucial to understand that the societal and social circumstances for them to create their identity have changed decisively due to, among other things, social media and the constant (self) monitoring and self-presentation that many feel compelled to live up to for (justified) fear of being expelled from the community if they do not deliver.
Vulnerability is also rooted in the zeitgeists notion that they can become anything they want to – as long as they think big enough! Which of course is a lie but nevertheless also is a notion which they have been met with from day one and which puts an enormous amount of pressure on the individual young person to live up to being fantastic and completely unique.
As a workplace, you would do the young people a great service by taking them seriously when they express vulnerability, because it creates both trust and a good relationship which can be a contributing factor to retain them in the company.
Relationships and communities
10. Close relationships – also to their leader
Presence, trust, and loyalty are three words that describe the young people’s relationship to not only their own friends, but also to their leader.
They are used to adults who have cultivated an equal relationship with them (hence the non-hierarchical, see point 2), and they want to take that into account in their relationship with their leader. Of course, a leader does not have to replace a parent, but a close informal relationship is for them more common than the opposite – and if they succeed with having a more casual relation, they will want to stay longer.
The young people orient themselves to communities based on a shared desire and interest, diversity, room for initiative, and freedom to contribute with their own creativity. The beautiful thing is that it’s all tied together by trust – rather than results, hierarchies and status. This is because it provides a much better working environment, which often also creates far better results.
The young people work on the basis of co-creation principles based on strong individuals who each contribute with their own creativity. They appreciate interdisciplinarity and knowledge sharing and are used to taking complex issues (also called wicked problems) into account. Innovation is not just a subject for most of them; it is a way of living the world (as is has been for all young generations, but now the time is mature enough to accept their contribution). They like to get personally involved in projects and to create for the purpose of evolution and not just the improvement of something existing.
13. The role of the leader
The leader must make sure to place zieself (yes, “zie” because gender is not important) centrally in a neo-tribal community opposed to higher up in the organization. This furthers that the leader becomes a fruitful hub for ideas and people. Zie must be able to create commitment, so that there is fertile ground for making a movement (rather than just a task) and make room for the organic creativity that unfolds without necessarily having a fixed plan and an expected result, unlike the linear creativity which has been the norm in the past. Empathy and intuition are also important qualities to have as a leader if you want to lead a co-creation group, because the most important task is in fact to create trustworthy voluntarily binding relationships that make the company “own” their young employees (wanting to stay in the organization because they are reflected in their needs and ambitions).
Contributions and careers
14. Constant development – no fixed career plan
The young people are constantly seeking development through the tasks they are given at their job, and therefore they are not interested in a linear career plan, where they in X number of years can achieve their goal. On the contrary, they live a little on the principle of urgent need satisfaction, i.e., each task must be interesting or develop them. The term GPS-management is used about them because they do not orientate themselves towards the end goal, but rather the value of the next task – and if it is not exciting enough, they may already be on to the next job. They are very conscious about not wasting their time on something that does not provide new skills or new opportunities because they see themselves as their biggest asset – not the positions they hold.
Recognition and feedback
Through their parents, the school system, social media and games, young people have become accustomed to receiving constant feedback and recognition for their contributions – which has developed into a constant need for feedback and recognition that they will seek at a workplace. An annual interview is thus far from enough. Instead, they seek daily feedback on their contributions and would like to have an ongoing dialogue about their development and which opportunities they can take advantage of.
Basically, they want something completely natural: To be seen and recognized for what they contribute to the community with. In other words: Have an ongoing dialogue with them about their opportunities and development.
16. Their identity is their company
Many young people see themselves as a development project, both personally and privately Therefore, they consider themselves a bit like a company that can go in and out of tasks and organizations. They are not necessarily freelancers in a practical sense but work as such, even when permanently employed.
Withholding in a modern version is therefore not that you stay in the same workplace for many years, but that you take care of your own replacement before leaving the company and that you may return with new skills and experience because the workplace was so cool, that one would like to be a part of it again.
17. Flexibility and clear requirements
The task must be solved, and it will be. But young people will not consider when in the day and where, as important parameters. This also applies to which days of the week they should work. If something has to be done together, they will find out themselves when to meet and coordinate. This is related to autonomy and trust, as described in points three and ten.
18. Intelligent systems
Again, due to their autonomy and creativity, they are used to solving a lot of problems themselves, and if they are faced with heavy systems that are mostly for the sake of the system and reporting and which do not act as an aid to solve the task, they might leave the company solely for that reason. In other words, bureaucracy and heavy processes are a no-go, while solution-oriented systems that support daily work are crucial as a withholding parameter.
19. Worklife balance is a must
20. Mutual mentoring
Part of our development is said to be exponentially growing (especially within the technology, not so much within the social) and that means no one is really masters within their own field because everything moves so fast. The young people have a lot to offer in a number of areas that the older generations do not necessarily know intuitively or have any experience in, so use the young people to become more skilled yourselves.
In other words: Create a mutual mentoring system. It will not only upgrade the older generations; it will also increase the young person’s self-confidence and it trains them to be more social, take greater responsibility and possibly take on leadership.
These 20 points will equip you to understand the young people and create a workplace which they would want to be in. But the most important advice of all is pretty simply:
Listen to the young people themselves. And ask them what they want and what they can contribute with.
And again – remember to be the bridge!
Listed on Børsen (the biggest Danish financial newspaper) on 02.09.2019