July 29, 2022

Custom HR & Individualized Support: Meeting the Needs of Gen Z

Embracing employee needs will bolster business outcomes. 

Recently Bravely hosted a conversation featuring Anthony Onesto, CPO at Suzy and author of  author of The New Employee Contract – How to Find, Keep & Elevate Gen Z Talent, and Katasha Harley, CPO at Bravely. Anthony has spent decades in the HR field finding ways to stay at the cutting edge of HR by paying attention to the needs of employees, specifically those of incoming generations of new employees. 

In his book, Anthony notes that this is the first time four generations of employees are simultaneously operating in the workplace. In the past, when a new generation of workers enters the workforce, there is a tendency to lean on name calling and “othering” of the new workers’ tendencies. We saw it most recently and prominently when Millennials entered the workforce. Words like “entitled” started popping up and the resistance to a new approach to work, one that focused on autonomy and purpose, resounded through the culture at large. As we may have expected, ostracizing an entire generation’s needs as employees isn’t effective in creating a cohesive, collaborative or productive work environment. 

“Your organization’s value is primarily driven by how your org values your employees.”

Anthony Onesto, CPO at Suzy

Historical Context of HR & Employee Needs

In order to understand how employee needs have changed over time, it’s essential to start at the beginning. The concept of Human Resources started in the late 19th century as a result of the Industrial Revolution when manufacturing at scale became possible and the new standard for corporate success. 

Taylorism is defined as the “principles or practices of scientific management” and worked to standardize human capital. The aim of Taylorism was to “increase every step in a manufacturing process and break down production into specialized repetitive tasks.” As Anthony explains, “It kind of worked. In places like Toyota, that have a manufacturing line, there’s an unwritten rule that you have a job to do and in exchange, you’ll be given a paycheck and that’s that.” 

However, as the majority of industries have transitioned from delivering “tangibles” like cars, to “intangibles,” like services, employee needs shifted. Instead of quantity of product, we’re focused on the quality of the services we are delivering, which in turn asks organizations to reconsider what employees need in order to provide high-quality deliverables. Hint: it’s not the same things employees needed in 1890. 

Employee Wellbeing vs. Employee Happiness

Over the last decade, there’s been much emphasis on employee happiness. Companies like Zappos are wellknown for pioneering the employee happiness movement, to varying results. Instead of focusing on happiness, companies have turned to employee wellbeing. A key factor in wellbeing is managing energy. What leaves employees feeling accomplished and like they’re spending their time and energy on things that genuinely matter? How can employees meet their individual needs for replenishing energy? 

Anthony shared that at Suzy, “we turned to look at energy levels, especially during COVID, when we were all fighting burnout,” as a way to address employee wellbieng. Employees are encouraged to find what works best for them. Perhaps they need a change of scenery every two hours, or a 15 minute break after a 90 minute focused work session. Every employee will require something slightly different, and now with the flexibility of remote work, there’s no need for organizations to deny employee the right to re-energize in their own ways. 

How can HR stay innovative?

Innovation depends on the willingness for leaders to stay agile and in touch with the needs of their employees. Anthony explains that “Innovation is ‘Custom HR’. Look at people as individuals, seek to understand what gets them excited.” Gen Z values flexibility and autonomy more than any previous generation. Allowing younger workers to express their needs, and “hear these requests as needs, rather than demands”, as Katasha Harley reminds us, will only increase employee productivity and engagement. 

The world is changing faster than ever and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the many directions HR leaders are pulled in. There seems to be a fire around every corner, but staying close to the core issues that affect employee wellbeing allows leaders to continue investing in their people and therefore investing in the business outcomes of their organizations. As Anthony lays out in his book, there is power in listening to the needs of your employees, especially as their demographics change, and if you aim to stay on the cutting edge of HR, it will be necessary to customize our approach to meeting employee needs. 

Watch the full conversation here: HR on the Cutting Edge: Innovation for Future Generations

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