Gen Z Expects You to Embrace Volunteerism

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Sep 13, 2019

Generation Z is fast supplanting millennials as the cohort organizations and cultural observers are analyzing and focusing on, as they seek to understand what drives the next generation of workers. Millennials, in fact, have effectively laid the groundwork for one key need of Gen Z: a blended work-life balance. The millennial workforce brought to the surface that flexibility in work schedules and having time for family and involvement in their community needs to be part of an enlightened employer’s approach to the workplace.

Volunteerism, in particular, matters to Gen Z workers but with a different perspective than preceding generations. Door of Clubs noted this difference when it analyzed the results of its 2017 survey of 5,000 Gen Z people ready to enter the workforce. It said that Gen Z is driven more by specific causes, perhaps more than other generations.  “From the environment to equality, Gen Z is passionate about making the world a better place,” they said.

What makes Gen Z different

Employers wishing to recruit, retain and engage Gen Z workers need to keep in mind the distinctive traits of this generation:

  • They are digital natives. Gen Z grew up in a smartphone world. They expect communication to be fast and digital – reaching them means making your point in seconds.
  • They have a global view and are comfortable communicating and sharing information with people around the world. A Gen Z employee might want to help volunteer in another country as opposed to a local initiative, if their particular cause has a need abroad.
  • Social media is to them, a basic communication tool. Where and how they volunteer will generally be discovered on various social media platforms.
  • They expect employers to support, or even enable, their volunteerism as part of their work-life balance.

Volunteerism is important

The good news is this cohort of workers – the future of the workplace – cares about making the world a better place. To support Gen Z volunteers, employers should consider a volunteer time off (VTO) program which can help in recruiting and engaging this cause-oriented generation. As part of the desired blended work-life balance Gen Z and millennials both expect flexibility in VTO. Gen Z, in particular, is independent-minded, so employers will need to ensure managers are fully supportive of VTO and given with as much leeway as possible, weighed against any impact on critical workflow.

VTO maps to the larger trend of employees wanting more control over their entire work-life schedules. SHRM’s 2018 Employee Benefits study notes that flex time, telecommuting and compressed work weeks also can result in higher productivity. Another SHRM study found that, “When organizations focus on using benefits strategically for recruitment and/or retention, they report better overall company performance compared with those maintaining the status quo.” The percentage, SHRM found, was 58% vs. 34%.

In addition to VTO schedule flexibility, Gen Z volunteers will expect relative freedom to choose to engage in what they are passionate about. With their world view, and cause orientation they may want to combine vacation travel with a volunteer project. For organizations with locations around the globe, it might be possible to organize an in-region project that brings in local teams and visiting workers. It’s great for team building and satisfies Gen Z’s need for more control over their volunteerism.

Employers can set standards on which nonprofits make the designated list, but Gen Z may want this list to be more guideline than rule. Expanding the list can also help to encourage participation from all employees. At my company, Ivanti, this approach resulted in a dramatic 60% increase in volunteer hours, from just under 700 hours in 2018 to nearly 1700 hours during the first half of 2019 alone.

Employers embrace volunteering

Thankfully, Gen Z and millennials have made volunteerism an integral part of their lives. As these younger workers start families, being able to accommodate family life, work commitment and volunteering will require employers to also be more flexible in their benefits programs. The 2018 Employee Benefits survey notes that employers are embracing VTO as a key benefit: from 2014 to 2018, companies offering paid VTO rise from 16% to 24%.

Interestingly, Gen Z appears to have the values of the Gen X generation, its parents, according to Accenture, which found Gen Z workers are more likely to stay with an organization for as long as five years “if they feel their skills are fully utilized with challenging, meaningful work.” Offering these more pragmatic workers work-life balance and benefits like VTO, and including effective mentoring, can give employers an employee retention success rate they haven’t experienced in some time.

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