Gen Z knows what it wants from employers. And employers want them

To tap into the creativity of younger workers, and to offset a labor shortage, companies are offering four-day weeks, club memberships, and work-from-anywhere flexibility. (Photo: NYTimes)
Danielle Ross is a 26-year-old who lives in a small town in upstate New York. She describes herself as artistic and creative. She paints in her free time, and she has worked as a mermaid for children’s parties, swimming in a tail she made herself.اضافة اعلان

Ross could not imagine working a job that required her to play down her identity or her skills, which is why she was thrilled when Legoland New York Resort, a theme park in Goshen, hired her to be its first female master builder. Ross has been given wide latitude to use Lego bricks to create miniature cities throughout the park, allowing her to draw on her artistic side and her desire to promote diversity and inclusion.

“I’ve been building people of all different races and nationalities and religions and any type of thing I can imagine, because I want everyone to feel represented,” she said. Her miniature figures are blind and plus size. They have prosthetic legs and wear burqas. Recently, she created a Hasidic Jew.

The creative freedom has made Ross love her job — and that is the point. In the past year, Legoland New York has joined a growing number of companies that are working to create an environment that is attractive and stimulating to younger employees and that embraces who they are and where they hope to go. By recruiting Generation Z workers — born in the late 1990s and early 2000s — the employers aim both to tap their energy and creativity and offset an acute labor shortage, with about 11 million unfilled jobs in May, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Last fall, Legoland began to allow employees such as Ross to have piercings, tattoos, and colored hair. A national hospitality company has begun to experiment with a four-day workweek. Health care company GoodRx is permitting employees to work not just from home but from anywhere in the country, enlisting an outside company to provide ad hoc offices upon request. Other companies are carefully laying out career paths for their employees, and offering extensive mental health benefits and financial advice.

The goal is not only to get younger employees through the door but to keep them in their jobs, not an easy feat. Surveys show that younger workers are comfortable switching jobs more frequently than other generations. But, with these efforts, many companies have so far avoided the labor shortages afflicting their competitors.

“We currently have over 1,500 employees,” said Jessica Woodson, head of human resources at Legoland, “and I can confidently say at least half are Gen Zers.”

At Sage Hospitality Group, which operates more than 100 hotels, restaurants, and bars across the country, 20 percent of the employees are members of Generation Z.

“We need this workforce,” said Daniel del Olmo, the president and chief operating officer of the company’s hotel management division. “We recognize that Gen Zers are looking for different things than other generations, and we are trying to adjust.”

After the pandemic began, the company became acutely aware that many younger employees wanted a healthy work-life balance. Studies such as one recently conducted by ADP Research Institute show that many employees would quit if an employer demanded a full-time return to the office.

Sage Hospitality is piloting a four-day workweek at select properties for positions including cooks, housekeepers, and front-desk receptionists. These jobs have been the hardest to fill during the pandemic, and the company has about 960 open positions.

The four-day workweek has helped, del Olmo said. “Rather than having this negative feeling of ‘I have to go to work because I have to make a living,’” he said, “suddenly it is ‘I want to go to work because I can combine it with my life that I love.’”

According to Roberta Katz, an anthropologist at Stanford who studies Gen Z, younger people and previous generations view the workplace fundamentally differently.

“American Gen Zers, for the most part, have only known an internet-connected world,” Katz wrote in an email. In part, because they grew up using collaborative platforms such as Wikipedia and GoFundMe, she said, younger employees came to view work as “no longer a 9-to-5-in-the-office-or-schoolroom obligation.”

Kencko, a subscription food service centered on fruits and vegetables, is focusing on mental health. All employees, as well as members of their household, get six sessions with a therapist, not an insignificant perk considering that hourly prices for such services have risen to $400 in some parts of the country.

Still other companies are trying to tap into younger workers’ desire to grow in their careers. In a LinkedIn survey this year, 40 percent of young workers said they were willing to accept a 5 percent pay cut to work in a position that offered career growth opportunities.

That’s why Blank Street Coffee, a chain of 40 coffee shops in the United States and Britain, makes career growth a part of its recruiting pitch, said CEO Issam Freiha. Employees who want to advance in the company are shown a clear trajectory they can follow.

After Alex Cwiok, a Blank Street barista in Brooklyn, New York, who has a passion for coding, told her manager that she wanted to be behind a computer, “he mentioned it to the higher-ups, and eventually they brought me into the headquarters,” she said. “I never in a million years thought I would get plucked from the field one day and given a desk and a salary.”

Cwiok, 27, now handles customer emails and reviews as a customer success associate. She also works on updating the brand’s app.

For baristas who see their job at Blank Street as a side hustle, the company helps them take their next step. “We use our alumni and investor network to get people where they want to go,” Freiha said. “We got one barista on a TV show.”

Blank Street is constantly asking its younger baristas what they want. “We have to keep innovating,” Freiha said. “This generation doesn’t want to work for something that is stale.”

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