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Leadership Generation Z is flooding into the work force, we need to make sure they can contribute sustainably

Every organization from corporations to charities such as the YMCA has been trying to engage millennials for years. What are they looking for in a job? How can we show them our organization delivers what they’re looking for?

But the cohort behind them, Generation Z, is flooding into the work force. And, in some ways, they differ from millennials.

While age is just one dimension of diversity, it is often overlooked in a labour market that places a premium on experience.

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Not surprisingly, given our gig economy and skyrocketing student debt, numerous surveys indicate Gen Z is looking for financial security. But beyond a paycheque, they also want to do meaningful work. Seventy-four per cent feel strongly about making a difference in the world and in people’s lives. The mission matters.

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We see that at the YMCA of Greater Toronto, where 40 per cent of our staff are under 30, making them millennials and Gen Zers. They know that showing up to work every day means helping a charity thrive. It means making newcomers feel at home; helping people grow healthier physically, mentally and socially; giving street-involved youth a warm bed and a helping hand to reinvent their futures; supporting children and families as part of one of the largest not-for-profit child-care providers in Canada; and so much more.

Gen Zers are also the first true digital natives, having grown up with constant connectivity and evolving technology. They’re hungry for more learning and development opportunities, as well as the immediate feedback they are accustomed to. As employers, we need to look at job shadowing, experiential or “hands-on” development opportunities, learning that extends beyond the onboarding modules they review in their first weeks of employment and skills upgrading delivered digitally.

Equally important to Gen Z is diversity. According to Forbes magazine, 75 per cent of Gen Zers say a company’s level of diversity affects their decision to work there. We also know that inclusion is the other side of the equation: If young people don’t feel they belong, they exit.

Age is just one dimension of diversity, but one that is often overlooked in a labour market where experience is deeply valued – as it should be. My point here is not that experience should be ignored, but that we need to get better at listening to the voices – and fresh perspectives – of our younger employees.

Ten years ago, the YMCA of Greater Toronto introduced a new group to do just that. The Youth Advisory Committee (YAC) is a dynamic, diverse group – in ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation and socio-economic background – of young adults, from their late teens to the age of 30, who are completing their education or building their careers. It is a formal committee of the board, providing directors and senior management with insights and strategic advice grounded in the experiences of young people living in the region we serve.

Finally, Gen Zers (and millennials) may be looking for a lot of things in their current or future careers, but as employers, we also have a responsibility to ensure these generations are working in sustainable, healthy ways. These digital natives were raised to be “always on.” They’ve never known a world where you couldn’t take your phone to bed with you because it was connected to the kitchen wall, or one where you couldn’t respond to requests after 5 p.m. because you’d left the office for the day.

They are the first generations to endure precarious work on such a large scale, with competing shifts from different jobs making the idea of a 9-to-5 workday completely foreign to many. Taking breaks – which we know increases productivity, information retention and creativity – is now frowned upon. Roughly one-quarter of millennials say they fear their bosses will think they’re lazy if they take lunch breaks, while less than 10 per cent of baby boomers think this way.

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Organizations need to pro-actively support their teams in setting boundaries and investing in their well-being. We need to hear less talk about young people’s lack of motivation and their need to work harder. Young people – and people of all ages – are already working to the point of burnout and beyond. For me, a brighter future for every generation should include workplaces where we can all put our talents to good use, learn something new every day, feel challenged.

This column is part of Globe Careers’ Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about leadership and management. Follow us at @Globe_Careers. Find all Leadership Lab stories at tgam.ca/leadershiplab.

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