Planet Z versus Planet Y
“And every new joiner gets either a giant beanbag or a personal trampette!” I was informed with breathless enthusiasm by a potential client’s PeoplePerson (one word). We were sitting in his ‘worksphere’ (which looked remarkably like an office to me) in an area of London which is almost Shoreditch and littered with digitally-flavoured firms of varying degrees of maturity. But I felt as though I had landed on another planet. Clearly one of us was an alien. But since neither of us were green or had more than four limbs, I was struggling to determine which of us it was. Uppermost in my mind, though, was the horrific prospect of being presented with a giant beanbag. Forget about the trampette. At my age, the act of lying down on a beanbag requires a significant degree of planning. And I no longer assume that what goes down must come up. So, one person’s stress-reducer becomes another (much older) person’s industrial accident waiting to happen.
So maybe it was simply an age thing and not the first skirmish in a species war. But are “age things” really that simple? In the worksphere (office), age issues often tend to cluster around the extremes, around those who are young and around those of us who have long ago ceased to be so. But such clustering invariably manufactures oversimplifications. Funnily enough, getting old takes time. And things change over time, gradually and often imperceptibly. In other words, it’s complicated. I can’t tell you on what day I became old – and I suspect that passionate PeoplePeople (one word) won’t notice on which day exactly they started their attempts to kick their trampette addictions.
Tracking imperceptible change is hard but essential. At the time of writing our firm is conducting detailed research into what our people, and potential people, value/would value in our worksphere. We’re hoping that this will equip us to design and implement an upgraded and enhanced benefits package in 2019. Just getting to the right questions is proving challenging. We’ve started with the easy bit; using some generally accepted definitions, our workforce comprises 23.5% Gen Z, 58% Millennials, a few Baby boomers – and me. So, if we just find out what Gen Z and Millennials value, we’ll be 81.5% of the way there. If only.
There is an inexhaustible body of research that suggests that Gen Z and Millennials don’t value the same things. That’s hardly surprising. Why should we expect a 38-year-old Millennial to value the same things as a 22-year-old Gen Z? We can even accept that the Gen Z often appear to value things that associate them with their grandparents – or even their great-grandparents - rather than with the millennial generation that has just preceded them. For example, the appeal of transparently structured and orderly career development to the Gen Z has been observed by a number of surveys. But what’s harder to come to terms with is a level of complexity that can seemingly morph into contradiction – apparently the same Gen Z’s who value structured career development are often the ones who don’t expect to stay in their first couple of jobs for much longer than a year.
As it stands, our research is going relatively well. We are beginning to discover the right questions, so in theory we’re getting nearer to collecting appropriate responses. As for identifying the right solutions… huh. What we have learnt is that the Gen Z’s display an extraordinarily diverse range of attitudes towards work – and an equally broad variety of expectations of it. But one thing our Gen Z’s appear to share is intensity. Whatever the range of their views, and their diversity, they are felt and expressed with passion and conviction. The downside to this is that passionate intensity and surveys don’t sit happily together. When everything is incredibly important – and everything is as important as everything else – surveys fall over. We only really started making progress with our research when we asked unforgivingly precise, detailed questions that required equally precise responses. And those responses had to be ranked in order of importance, with no room for “equally important”.
In all of this my sympathy goes out to our People Director (two words). She has the deeply unenviable task of unearthing the right questions, discovering perfectly clear answers and implementing amazingly popular solutions. As much as any new joiner, she deserves some stress-relieving equipment. How about a personal trapeze kit? A long, thin wire, one of those alarmingly wobbly poles and, if we can find the budget, a safety net. Designing a multi-generational benefits package that will please a worksphere of Gen Z’s and Millennials will require perfect balance, the ability not to put a foot wrong, and the thick, if not green, skin of a true alien. Good luck – I’m back off to my home planet.