Attracting and retaining tomorrow’s leaders

Attracting and retaining tomorrow’s leaders

Sometimes labeled ‘disruptive’, ‘lazy’, and ‘misunderstood’, Generation Z is making waves. How do we entice this restless generation to join and stay in the workforce long enough to eventually step into managerial roles?

As the workforce continues to evolve, organizations are facing a new challenge – how to attract and retain the young and upcoming generation, known as Gen Z, with the end goal of filling senior-level positions with professional, experienced leaders. This tech-savvy, ambitious, and socially conscious generation is poised to make a significant impact, but tapping into their talent and keeping them engaged requires a strategic approach.

It’s well worth exploring the unique characteristics that makeup tomorrow’s leaders, the benefits they can bring to senior roles, and the key strategies organizations can implement to recruit and retain this demographic within their leadership ranks successfully. When AESC surveyed 850 executives from around the world on the reasons why companies should prioritize next-gen leadership development, the answers were summarized as follows:

  • Business continuity
  • Growth revenues
  • Succession planning
  • Tech and digital expertise
  • Pipeline development

Priscilla Batistão, Partner at Signium Brasil, weighs in on the subject: “We’re experiencing a huge transition period, in which different generations coexist in the same work environments. Organizations are putting immense effort into discovery – a quest to find the answers on how to deal with Gen Z talent in a series of aspects. More importantly, and before finding solutions, what are the questions we should ask ourselves – and the ‘Gen Z-ers’ – about all of this.”

Trends and troubles that shape the modern workforce

Today’s work environment is fast-paced and enterprising. Several key trends significantly influence the way organizations operate and how employees engage with their work and colleagues.

One of the most prominent trends is the growing emphasis on work-life balance. Employees increasingly seek a harmonious integration of their professional and personal lives, which has led to a shift in organizational cultures that prioritize employee well-being. No generation values this as much as Gen Z – so much so, that their relatively high expectations, make it difficult for these dynamic young people to find their place in the corporate bustle, especially in C-Suite roles, where the demands require much more from them.

We’re also observing an increasing demand for upskilling and reskilling among employees. According to a UK-based study by The 5% Club, businesses prioritizing long-term skills training see a 71.2% increase in employee retention and a 94.2% increase in employee engagement.

As rapid technological advancements reshape job requirements, a need for continuous learning and skill development arises. In response, organizations must invest in training programs to help employees adapt to these changes and stay relevant in the ever-evolving job market.

Demographic shifts, such as Gen Z’s entry into the workforce, also impact talent acquisition and retention strategies. Gen Z, the first truly digital-native generation, brings unique perspectives and expectations to the workplace. They value meaningful work, diversity, inclusion, and opportunities for growth and development. Companies hoping to attract young talent should adapt their recruitment and retention approaches to cater to this generation’s ideologies.

Furthermore, technological advancements are crucial in shaping how organizations attract and retain talent. From AI-powered recruitment tools to digital collaboration platforms, technology is transforming traditional HR practices. Employers leverage data analytics to make informed decisions about talent management, employee engagement, and performance evaluation.

One example of a company that’s put AI to the test within the talent search space is Electrolux. The multinational home appliance company recognized the need to digitize tedious recruitment and hiring experiences, while reducing the vacancy time and hiring costs. By using a customizable external career site, internal talent marketplace, talent CRM, and automated campaigns, Electrolux enables recruiters to fast-track vetting processes and match candidates to roles based on expressed preferences, career aspirations, and capabilities. In the first year of implementation, Electrolux witnessed an 84% increase in application conversion rate, a 51% decrease in incomplete applications, and 78% time saved through AI scheduling.

Creating a positive employee experience for Gen Z talent

In today’s competitive job market, attracting and retaining top talent, especially from the particularly socially aware Gen Z, requires a strategic approach to employee experience design. This concept focuses on creating meaningful and engaging employee interactions throughout their journey within a company. By prioritizing employee-centric experiences, companies can cultivate a positive workplace culture that fosters engagement and satisfaction.

Batistão shares her thoughts: “Retention is not only relating to the talent acquisition experience. It’s more about what happens daily within the work environment – ‘walking the talk’ is critical to the retention game. Do organizations embody their values, statements, and propositions, and sustain and practice all that’s been ‘sold’ to candidates after the attraction and the honeymoon phase? That should be reflected in policies, practices, speech, leadership style, work-life balance, diversity, ESG practices, technology, and development, among other aspects valued by ‘Gen Z-ers’.”

C-suite leaders play a crucial role in designing employee experiences that resonate with Gen Z talent. Here are some practical ideas to create a workplace environment that reflects the values and expectations of this tech-savvy and socially conscious generation.

1. Embrace digital transformation

Gen Z expects a seamless, technology-driven work environment. Businesses that invest in cutting-edge digital tools, automation, and collaborative platforms create an efficient workplace that empowers workers and leaders to optimize the knowledge and experience they bring to the company.

2. Foster the right culture

Organizational mission, values, and social impact initiatives should be aligned with the interests and passions of Gen Z. This means taking the time to understand the kinds of people you want to attract and retain within your business, which is what Mercer’s employer value proposition focuses on continuously.

As a company in the tech industry, Mercer is invested in attracting and developing Gen Z talent, and their recent study reveals that Gen Z’s key societal concerns can be clearly defined, in the following order:

  1. Living wages (79%)
  2. Women’s health (75%)
  3. Women’s equity (72%)
  4. Diversity, equity and inclusion (70%)
  5. Environmental sustainability (68%)

Employers can show their dedication to social causes by creating job roles, company initiatives, and employee benefits that promote these important values. Businesses should actively promote diversity, equity, and inclusion, on all levels. This includes implementing inclusive hiring and upskilling practices, providing diversity and sensitivity training, and creating a welcoming environment for employees of all backgrounds.

3. Offer flexible and autonomous work arrangements

Another significant shift shaping the modern workforce is the upswing in flexible work arrangements. With advancements in technology making remote work more accessible, many companies are adopting flexible schedules and remote work options to attract and retain top talent. While not always possible in certain industries, flexibility not only enhances employee satisfaction but also improves productivity and work-life balance, a key attraction to a generation that is sensitive to and aware of mental health.

According to LinkedIn Market Research, large segments of Gen Z workers would accept a pay cut in exchange for:

  • More enjoyable work (38%)
  • Better work-life balance (36%)
  • Greater flexibility through hybrid or remote working (32%)
  • Stronger chance to grow within the role (40%)

4. Invest in continuous learning and development

A desire for continuous growth and skill development drives Gen Z. Provide access to comprehensive training programs, mentorship opportunities, and ongoing learning resources to help them develop their leadership capabilities and stay ahead of industry trends.

“This is the generation who grew up with knowledge at their fingertips,” says Batistão, “And while we once worried it would ruin them, we now have a horde of knowledge-hungry individuals with the potential and energy to commit to careers of lifelong learning. This is a new, exciting opportunity, and we’re not taking advantage of it yet.”

5. Implement effective onboarding and succession planning

A well-designed onboarding process ensures a smooth transition for Gen Z leaders joining the organization. This process should introduce them to the company’s culture, values, and expectations. By providing a comprehensive understanding of these aspects, new members can quickly integrate into the organization and align their goals with its ethos.

Establishing clear succession planning strategies is also essential to identifying and nurturing high-potential Gen Z talent for future leadership roles. This involves creating development opportunities, mentorship programs, and tailored training to groom them for leadership positions.

Batistão adds: “This is why our work is so important for the next generations as well – utilizing tools such as assessments, coaching, mentoring, it’s possible to have a clearer view of styles and “contribution forces”, or what we also call ‘competencies’. We’re able to design a talent map for succession, challenging organizations to speed up career paths and even encourage professionals to explore and embrace different routes to their original plan. It is a more flexible approach to career paths.”

6. Leverage Gen Z’s entrepreneurial spirit

Perhaps the hardest pill for traditional organisations to swallow is the knowledge that young people tend to walk into a new workplace, keeping one foot out the door. This is what makes retention of this generation so much harder.

  • Cultivate “intra-preneurism”:

Recognize and harness Gen Z’s entrepreneurial mindset by offering opportunities for them to lead innovative projects, start new initiatives, or even launch internal start-ups.

  • Minimise silos and hierarchies

Traditional top-down management and overly strict rules can lead to higher levels of disengagement. In an era where opportunities are endless, Gen Z is more likely to leave if rigid regulations do not allow them to shine at what they do best.

  • Foster transparency about side hustles

Smart companies know that Gen Z employees are likely to have a side hustle, and are resilient and creative enough to make it work. With soaring living costs, these enterprising employees turn to the rising gig economy, and having honest conversations about side hustle protocols is essential to building trusting, long-term relationships with a hard-working generation.

“Transparency is agnostic of generations, says Batistão. “It’s the only way to foster an open communication environment and discuss the subject, incentivizing or raising red flags about possible conflicts regarding side hustles. A side hustle can develop other skills that will benefit the employers, but it’s important to keep track of such activities – not to exercise control, but to correlate skills, performance, engagement.”

Build meaningful career pathways for optimal retention

Although Gen Z’s may be quick to walk away from organizations that don’t meet their expectations, they’re known to show up 110% within the companies that commit to understanding what’s important to them and meeting them halfway. By proactively investing in the growth and development of young talent, businesses can build a strong pipeline of future leaders who are equipped to drive success and innovation.


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