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What Gen Z wants from an employer?

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Saurabh Deshpande-HR-Vantage Circle

 

Vantage Circle is a Global SaaS-Platform that Drives Holistic Employee Engagement using Rewards & Recognition, Wellness, Feedback, and Exclusive Perks. In an interview with Amazing Workplaces®, Saurabh Deshpande, Director at CoE-People and Culture of Vantage Circle, shed light on how employers can more effectively manage their Gen Z talent pool. With his deep understanding of the evolving workforce dynamics, Saurabh shares valuable insights on Gen Z’s priorities, preferred work environment, and the steps organizations can take to attract and retain this talent pool.

 

How has your organization adapted its recruitment and retention strategies to attract and retain Gen Z talent effectively?

 

First and foremost, we recognized the inherent regional advantage that choosing Guwahati as our primary talent base gave us. While the initial choice of Guwahati came from our Founders’ desire to give back to the Northeast region, we’ve grown to be one of the largest technology companies in the Northeast, with a globally recognized brand. Our infrastructure and facilities rival those of companies in Tier 1 cities. Despite this, we have maintained the warmth of family values and the sense of community inherent in a Tier 2 city like Guwahati. This unique fusion of global exposure, while preserving the neighbourhood familiarity has been critical in attracting the Gen Z workforce.

 

The location and infrastructure helped us attract talented youth from the Northeast but we understood that this was just the first step. Gen Z wants to be involved, acknowledged, and guided, not managed. As a company that’s in the business of employee engagement, we started by deploying our own products for our people. We found that these products were even more effective when it came to our large Gen Z talent pool.

 

We provide ESOPs to all employees and given how we’ve been growing, we encourage them to hold on to their grants for the medium-long term.  But we also understand that Gen Z values short-term gratification, so we modified our approach. We perform annual buy-backs thereby motivating our younger employees by helping them see tangible value while they are a part of our growth story.

 

Due to the above practices, we are an aspirational employer in the region, especially for Gen Z talent entering the workforce. The lack of equivalent career options locally plays to our advantage, ensuring a steady influx of talented individuals eager to grow with us. About 30% of our workforce comprises Gen Z, and we are expecting it to grow with time.

 

Now here’s the flip-side; not being in a Tier 1 city, finding mid and senior-level talent can be challenging. This made it imperative for us to nurture talent internally. And this has played out even further to our advantage! By providing our Gen Z employees with opportunities for learning, global exposure, and career growth, we not only create a talent pipeline for our mid and senior-level positions but also provide a compelling value proposition for our Gen Z talent.

 

Our organization has embraced the Gen Z mindset, woven it into our fabric, and used it as a compass to guide our talent attraction, motivation and retention strategy. That’s pretty much the gist of our Gen Z success story!

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What initiatives or programs has your organization implemented to provide opportunities for personal and professional growth for Gen Z employees?

 

As explained earlier, growing people internally was actually a key imperative for us. We believe that learning is best achieved through a combination of both formal training and experiential knowledge/ understanding. While we’ve kept our management structure lean, every mid-level employee who has grown with us plays a critical role in mentoring the newer generation. It’s a ‘pay-it-forward’ of knowledge, as we like to call it.

 

We typically see two paths unfolding for our Gen Z employees who’ve been with us for 2-3 years.

 

Firstly, we have folks who want to continue living in the Northeast, closer to their homes and hence aspire to grow further with us. For them, we provide funding for courses and learning programs. We’ve also brought in consultants and specialists at senior levels. Besides filling knowledge gaps, these seasoned professionals share their experiences, providing our teams with invaluable insights. We actively encourage them to visit Guwahati and spend time with our teams – because nothing beats face-to-face interaction, right?

 

Then there are those driven by the allure of higher education or the lucrative earning opportunities available in Tier 1 cities. And you know what? We embrace this. Rather than combating the inevitable, we factor these transitions into our hiring strategy and hire in relatively larger numbers at the entry level. Our goal is to equip our employees with technical and soft skills – professionalism, communication, and corporate etiquette – that will stand them in good stead wherever they go. The cherry on top is that many return to us after gaining external exposure. They go out into the world, gather experiences, and bring them back to our family. We consider it a privilege to contribute to nurturing talent in the Northeast in this way.

 

In a nutshell, our focus is on creating growth opportunities that align with the diverse aspirations of our Gen Z workforce. Whether they choose to stay and grow with us or leave to explore new horizons, we strive to provide them with a strong foundation that will serve them well throughout their careers. That’s how we see personal and professional development – it’s about being a launchpad for their aspirations!

 

How has your organization fostered a diverse and inclusive work environment to meet the expectations of Gen Z employees, and what impact has it had on your overall organizational performance?

 

One of the perks of being nestled in the culturally rich region of Northeast India is that it brings a natural flavour of gender diversity and inclusion to our workplace (the shameful incident that brought the region into the news recently, should be seen as a significant aberration). Rather than launching initiatives to promote gender equality, we’ve embraced our unique regional advantage. We believe in treating everyone the same way and feel that when something is so strongly ingrained in the culture, making it an issue is likely to do more harm than good. With over a decade of operation, a workforce comprising 40% women with almost an even distribution across levels, we’ve never experienced any gender biases.

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Of course, having an inclusive culture goes beyond just avoiding discrimination. It’s about making every individual feel recognized and valued regardless of their gender or sexual orientation. Our recognition platform plays a significant role here. Its anytime peer-to-peer recognition feature nurtures a culture of appreciation that resonates deeply with our Gen Z employees.

 

Don’t just take my word; let me throw some numbers your way. Every single VC employee receives at least one recognition every quarter. And the heartfelt messages that accompany these recognitions? They are three times longer than the industry average. This tells us that our employees are not just going through the motions; they’re genuinely invested in appreciating each other. It’s a testament to the sense of belonging we’ve fostered.

 

And what about ensuring that everyone’s voice is heard? We’ve got our pulse tool for that. We use it for annual engagement surveys and periodic pulse surveys. This way, we ensure that every employee has a platform to express their views and perspectives regardless of who they are and what role they perform.

 

What is the impact of this culture on our overall performance? It’s been transformative. We’re seeing higher engagement, improved collaboration, and an environment conducive to innovation and creativity. In other words, we’ve created an ecosystem where everyone thrives.

 

So, when we talk about meeting the expectations of our Gen Z employees and fostering a diverse and inclusive work environment, it’s not about launching initiatives. It’s about nurturing an ethos that values everyone equally and creates a sense of belonging. I believe that is our magic recipe for a productive and vibrant workplace!

 

 

What are some potential challenges or misunderstandings that industry leaders might face when working with Gen Z employees, and how do you recommend addressing and overcoming them?

 

The first thing we must address is the tendency to mistake Gen Z’s shorter average tenure for a lack of commitment. From my experience, these bright minds seek diverse exposure and despise being pigeonholed. Just because they might move on more quickly from a company doesn’t mean they are not fully committed during their tenure. Instead of trying to chain them to longer tenures, we must create an environment that motivates them to deliver their best when they’re with us. It’s about making the most of the time we have with them.

 

Another common pitfall is comparing Gen Z negatively with their predecessors. Gen Z employees are different in many ways, but isn’t that the beauty of evolving generations? They are the future, and we need to adapt instead of griping about it. We need to let go of our old beliefs and adjust our work styles along with the overall company culture. Gen Z is the future and the future is already here; it’s high time we did what it takes to attract and motivate this energetic workforce.

 

There’s the classic mistake of trying to control Gen Z with a carrot-and-stick approach. This lot is innately curious, highly resourceful, and has access to many self-learning options. We don’t need to micro-manage them or use penalties to get output from them. Instead, we should aim to coach and guide them toward learning goals and help them understand how the learning will benefit them.

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We need to give them the space to explore, make mistakes, and learn. But we also need to be there to support them when they stumble. Oh, and a quick side note – don’t dismiss their online time on non-work-related activities as a waste. You never know if the next big productivity improvement or great product idea might come from that employee playing with ChatGPT or scrolling through Instagram!

 

In essence, the key to working effectively with Gen Z is not to fit them into pre-existing moulds or control them but to understand, motivate, and inspire them. As industry leaders, our goal should be to create an environment where their creativity, resourcefulness, and enthusiasm can flourish.

 

How do you ensure a culture of frequent feedback and recognition within your organization to meet the expectations of Gen Z employees, and what strategies have proven effective in this regard?

 

Maintaining a culture of frequent feedback and recognition is paramount, especially with Gen Z employees who thrive in an environment of continual validation and growth. Let’s dive into how we ensure this at our organization and what strategies have proven effective.

 

Firstly, the whole culture of feedback and recognition starts at the top. In many organizations, the duty of recognizing team members is delegated to middle management. But in our experience at VC, recognition is most effective when leaders are at the forefront of this process; that’s who everyone looks up to. Every year, on World Employee Appreciation Day, our Founders and leaders personally pen down appreciation posts for each and every employee. This not only makes the recognition more special but it also creates a domino effect. When managers receive frequent feedback and recognition from their higher-ups, they’re more likely to replicate this practice with their teams.

 

Having the right platforms in place is also crucial. Our platforms allow for timely, broad-based recognition and come with redemption choices where employees can select what’s most meaningful to them. Recognition platforms not only enable the effective utilization of recognition spends, they amplify the perceived value of recognition by building on social and emotional aspects.

 

But none of this matters if it isn’t measured. There’s a saying, “What gets measured, gets managed, ” which rings particularly true here. Many companies focus on driving feedback and recognition but fail to assess their initiatives’ design or effectiveness quantitatively. Companies should not rely purely on lag measures such as employee perceptions from engagement surveys. They need to also look at lead measures like the number of employee-manager 1-1s, the percentage of people getting recognized, and the frequency of recognition, among others.

 

In short, we can foster a culture that resonates with Gen Z’s expectations and needs by combining leadership-led recognition, leveraging recognition platforms, and monitoring the effectiveness through both lead and lag measures.

 

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