Is Gen Z the wave of new idealists portrayed by some observers, or are they the post-values generation for whom anything goes?
Idealism has always been a privilege of youth, but idealism for Gen Z may look very different from that of generations past. Research shows Gen Zers are more idealistic than other recent youth cohorts. They are are more concerned about the well-being of the planet, humankind, and their communities than older cohorts were in their twenties. They often look to values issues when they are considering a new job: Do they believe in the company’s mission? Do they approve of how you do business?
What is confusing to many managers is that they have a hard time pinning down Gen Zers on the values spectrum in a way they can understand. Despite their widespread idealism, leaders report that it is harder than ever to find young, entry-level employees who are a good values fit.
Old stereotypes don’t hold up with Gen Z
The reality is Gen Z can’t be so easily ideologically pinned down. Having grown up with the ability to instantly access endless amounts of information, Gen Zers feel just as comfortable customizing their moral compasses as they do their social media feeds. According to research from McKinsey:
“Seventy-six percent of Gen Zers say they are religious. At the same time, they are also the generation most open to a variety of themes not necessarily aligned with the broader beliefs of their declared religions. For example, 20 percent of them do not consider themselves exclusively heterosexual, as opposed to 10 percent for other generations. Sixty percent of Gen Zers think that same-sex couples should be able to adopt children—ten percentage points more than people in other generations do.”
In other words, stereotypes older generations once took for granted as hiring shortcuts are no longer reliable ways of evaluating a potential new hire.
You simply cannot divine deep inner values from interviews, tests, recommendations, and résumés. Trying to figure out who employees are deep inside is the wrong tactic: How can hiring managers be expected to figure out what a person’s inner motivations really are in a few short weeks? It is much easier in an interview—and more beneficial—to evaluate behavior than it is to determine someone’s personal values.
Define good workplace citizenship
The most reliable way to make this hiring technique work is to define what it means to be a good citizen in your organization. What actions or behaviors make you a good citizen in your workplace? What does it really mean to be a good citizen in your workplace? The key is to focus on specifics: Safeway caused a stir back in the late 1990s when they asked store employees to make eye contact with customers and smile. It was controversial at the time, but at least the requirement was clear.
Decide what really matters in your organization and keep it simple. Whatever values you want employees to practice, you must do the hard work of making the intangible more tangible. What do discretion, courtesy, honesty, or self-sacrifice look like in your workplace? Describe it, spell it out, and break it down.
Then, make good use of those specifics during interviews by asking candidates about behavioral requirements at work:
- Will they be comfortable performing the actions described?
- What does demonstrating that type of behavior mean or signify to them? Does their viewpoint align with your team or organization’s?
- Does the person have experience demonstrating these behaviors in the specific workplace setting? Using the Safeway example, has the candidate made use of positive body language with customers previously?
- Lastly, make it clear that these behaviors will be a key performance metric for this job. Lookout for pushback: While someone who wants to be evaluated purely on results may sound driven and ambitious, they may actually be masking a bad attitude.
Before implementing this approach in your next wave of hiring, a word of caution: Young people have giant BS detectors. If they sense you’re not really serious about these behavioral requirements at work—meaning, there will be no oversight or accountability—they will simply tell you what you want to hear. So, don’t bother being coy. Tell them you want their honesty, to save you both the wasted time and effort of a bad hire.
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