Is your organization ready for ‘Generation Blizzard’?

Rather than molding Gen Z to fit the workplace, L&D can create a way of working that’s fit for the future.

Is your organization ready for ‘Generation Blizzard’?

Rather than molding Gen Z to fit the workplace, L&D can create a way of working that’s fit for the future.

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Gen Z could have up to ten times more employers than their grandparents had. That’s according to research by Adam Kingl, Adjunct Faculty at Hult International Business School. Companies have already experienced high turnover among millennials in the wake of the financial crash. “Now, with Gen Z mimicking that habit, it's not a surprise,” says Kingl. But if you’re already jaded by attrition spikes and think it’s par for the course, you could be losing talent unnecessarily. “If they’re leaving the organization with frightening rapidity, you've got to change your habits.”  

Job hopping is always more typical among junior workers – it’s something Jo Owen tapped into after co-founding Teach First in 2001. “We realized there’s actually a strong market in what we call the ‘first bouncer market’” – junior workers looking to pivot into something different.  

“The question is: are things different for 20-year-olds today versus 20-year-olds thirty or forty years ago?” asks Owen, who sits on Hult EF Corporate Education’s Global Advisory Council. “Most of the time, the answer has actually been no – but now, it is.”  

Cohort birth years:

- Baby Boomers: 1946-1964 

- Gen X: 1965-1980

- Gen Y (Millennials): 1981-1996 

- Gen Z: 1997-2012 

- Gen Alpha: 2013-present 

Between the cost-of-living crisis and the ripple effects of Covid-19 furlough and lockdown, “the youngest people have had a really rough time as they’ve entered the workforce,” says Owen. “Gen Z are often called ‘snowflakes’ but, you know, a lot of snowflakes make a blizzard – maybe they’re really Generation Blizzard.” 

What’s changed?

1. It’s harder to connect 

Companies know this group wants to be in the office to learn – the challenge is enticing senior people in. As Owen points out, “the older generations have nice home offices far away from work. They want to ditch the commute and, critically, they already have those networks of influence and support.”  

2. Mental health is deteriorating  

Striking data from the Resolution Foundation shows that Gen Z are more likely to experience mental health challenges than any other age group, and to be out of work because of it than people in their 40s. “Historically, it's always older generations that have to take more time off because of their health,” says Owen. “So something very unusual is happening here.” 

3. Purpose matters more 

“We've got a generation with a much stronger sense of values,” says Owen. This translates into attitudes toward employers, says Kingl: “They will not work with organizations that they feel are doing wrong by the planet or behaving unethically. It's not enough to have articulated your purpose. Do you live it? Do your people experience it every day?” 

4. Their future is unclear 

Retirement is a much hazier prospect for young people to plan for than it was in the past. “What's becoming increasingly important in the workforce is development, because they need to always be able to work well past what we currently consider retirement age, so they are seeking employers that make them more employable,” says Kingl. People expect development from their employer, “and if they're not getting it, then they're going to seek it elsewhere.”

What can L&D do differently?

“If you want to develop people, you have to understand their personal purpose,” says Kingl. “Otherwise, any development you give them is random. Leaders should always have that conversation with their people: ‘Why do you do what you do? Why do you choose to do it here?’” From here, you can connect their development to that story, and personalize their place within the organization. 

“From an L&D point of view, it isn't about trying to extol the purpose of the firm,” Owen highlights. “You have to turn that round and help people discover their intrinsic motivation.” Unilever, for example, runs an in-house workshop: Discover your Purpose. When organizations focus on purpose, it supports well-being too.

Altogether, there's actually a radical and quite exciting agenda for L&D.

Jo Owen, Global Advisory Council, Hult EF 

As for creating and maintaining connections, consider an alumni network. “Professional services organizations are often world-class at this, but most organizations don't do it,” says Kingl. “It's often more industry specific than common business practice.”  

It’s a missed opportunity, he says. “If people are leaving more often, you still have collective wisdom in the world of people who have been through your company. How can you foster a sense of community among your alumni? Is there a forum where they can talk with you and with one another? Do you hold reunions like universities?” 

It can also keep potential boomerangs warm. “If they're leaving an organization every two to three years, they might come back,” says Kingl. “And if they do, you get all the benefits of their external perspective and the growth journey they've been on. But that will only happen if you exit them well.” This means being supportive of non-linear career paths. “People might still work for you for 10 or 15 years, just maybe not all in one go. Embrace that new way of way of working.” 

“Altogether, there's actually a radical and quite exciting agenda for L&D,” says Owen. “It’s about helping Gen Z discover their purpose, and putting the right experiences in place with the right support. But it all comes down to L&D needing to reinvent itself around new realities.”  

Generation Blizzard is on its way and the forecast is clear: rather than shaping junior cohorts to fit into the workplace, it’s about evolving as a workplace to embrace new ways of working. 

What can you do now?

→ Ask your people

Start the conversation about purpose with Gen Z-ers in the organization, formally or informally.

Establish an alumni network

This is one way of nurturing relationships after people move on, and can even keep potential boomerangs warm to eventually return. 

Set up reverse mentoring

This fosters relationships up and down the chain and creates more flow in the organization. 

Stay open to people’s side hustles

Kingl says that as long as personal projects don’t detract from the day job, it gives people a chance to stretch their entrepreneurial and business development muscles, which the organization can then benefit from.

Give people autonomy over remote working

When their future is hazy, affording people autonomy over work patterns leads to greater overall well-being. 

Further reading:

- Next Generation Leadership, Adam Kingl

- The Leadership Skills Handbook, Jo Owen

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