Millennials versus Generation Z: how do we manage their expectations as an employer?

16 July 2019

A conversation between Pieter Van Hoorne (co-CEO of Around Media and Prompto.com/ millennial as well as millennial employer) and Karolin Langfeldt (millennial and author of this article)

By 2025, 75% of workers will be millennials - aka experience-seeking, freedom-loving and tech-savvy creatures, who want to dedicate their workforce to something meaningful. But they are not alone in the office - Generation Z is entering the job market bit by bit. Their attitudes about work and money vary wildly from those of their preceding generation. The recession of 2009 shaped their youth and accordingly their attitude to work. A stable income and the prospect of a career are high up on their list.

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How do you deal with the different expectations and bring them together as a team - read on to get Pieters' and Karolins' take on it.

Picture by unsplash
Definition Millennials: Millennials are persons born between 1981-1996, entering adulthood in the early years of the new millennium. This generation is attributed with characteristics such as experience-seeking, freedom-loving and unattached. Studies by AirBnB or Forbes, brought to live that they rather spend money on experiences than possessions for example or are less likely to actually own a home than young adults of earlier generations. This new attitude towards life of course also had a major impact on our existing work culture and has been rapidly transforming it over the past years.
Definition Generation Z: Everybody born between 1997 and 2010. "They grew up during a recession, and their attitudes about work and money vary wildly from those of their peers. Additionally, they don’t remember life before the internet (and might not even believe there was life before the internet), so they’re even more hooked on their devices than millennials are. Still, they can view millennials as a cautionary tale about what happens if you assume the economy will be good, and they’re willing to work to stand out on their own." Source: thebolditalic.com

KAROLIN: Pieter, you are co-CEO of Around Media and Prompto - a company disrupting the real estate market by offering smart, interactive marketing tools in an affordable way. Your company is situated in Ghent and there are around 40 people working for you. My first question to you is, do you see yourself as a millennial? Can you relate to characteristics such as "experience-seeking", "freedom loving" or "tech savvy"?

PIETER: Definitely, especially when it comes to "freedom-loving". Before I started my own company I worked at Deloitte - a huge company, where you're a cog in the wheel. They were always complaining that I did not come in at eight am sharp, even though I never left before seven pm. I want the liberty to choose my own rhythm, my own schedule - that's when I work most efficiently.

KAROLIN: They also say that the millennials are the first real entrepreneur generation: What was your motivation behind founding your own company? Why not rather stay with Deloitte, where you probably would have earned more in the first years, would have had more security etc.?

PIETER: I always had the dream to lead my own company, but first I wanted to get experiences by working for an international company. And when it comes to consulting Deloitte is one of the best. But I always knew that climbing up the corporate ladder is not my ideal career path. My parents did see that a bit differently and at first did not understand when I quit at Deloitte. "You are in the fast track at Deloitte, why do you want to jump in the unknown?!" At Deloitte I was "the finance guy", but I did not want to be put in a box, I also wanted all the other aspects of business.

Of course, freedom always comes with a price, but for me it was totally worth it!

KAROLIN: What is the ratio of Millennials and Generation Z at Around Media?

PIETER: We have 5-6 people from Generation Z working for us, but the vast majority is millennials and then there are of course a few people, from the generation before "the millennials".

Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash

KAROLIN: Do you see a difference between employees from Generation Z and Millennials and if so, which differences?

PIETER: One thing I noticed is that the Generation Z has high standards when it comes to what the company, they are working for, has to provide. For example fruit, regular team events, etc. - to them it is normal that a company provides that. That is something that people from my generation don't take for granted; actually it is something our generation demanded and now it became standard.

Also the younger generation put things in question, why are we doing this, why are we doing it like this, does it make sense etc. I like that and think, that we millennials can learn from them in this regard. And they are using digital tools more naturally - I mean they were raised digital, you can tell!

Another thing I noticed, but I can't say that it is only an issue for the Generation Z, are raising concerns about the pension. Young people are already worrying about what they will get once they are pensioners. They are planning ahead. That was nothing I ever thought about. One of my younger colleagues explained me that they don't trust the governmental institutions, who should be taking care of our pensions. So, figuring out what they want to do in live always includes figuring out, what that means for their pension.

Photo by William Iven on Unsplash

KAROLIN: I think, when it comes to"the purpose of work" the two generations are quite similar. Any job is not enough - young people strive for a job with a profound, meaningful purpose at a company, which actually has a good impact on our society. How do you handle that need at Around Media? What is your companies impact on society?

PIETER: . I will let my colleague Noémie answer this one.

NOÉMIE: "When we finished our studies it was all about sustainability. It was like discovering a purpose to what we were studying and to enter the job market. A few years later this understanding of "purpose" broadened. We find purpose and pleasure addressing people's challenges in different industries and helping them tackle the digital age. It is not only about sustainability for the planet anymore, but also about being sustainable in business terms. This also means that customer-centricity is one of our main concerns.

According to Forbes “77 percent of millennials say that flexible work hours are a key to productivity in the workplace. (...) Another 39% believe that more options to work remotely would result in higher productivity."

KAROLIN: I have to say that I am definitely one of the millennials out of the Forbes study quoted above. Most of my career I worked as a freelancer or was my own boss (founder of my own company). Flexibility is for me definitely one of the key arguments for the decision against employment. Now as a mother I appreciate it even more, that I can decide freely when and where to work, as long as I make all deadlines, appointments and calls. It also makes me more productive, if I look at my work load in regards to task not time. It is never the question what do I do between 9 and 5, but rather how do I most efficiently structure my day (and sometimes night), so that I get everything done and have time for family and friends.

What is your take on that Pieter? How do you handle work hours, young families and efficiency at Around Media? What are the challenges and the limits?

PIETER: It is all about trust! At Around Media we are super flexible, you can work from home, from the office or where ever works best for you. The important thing is that you get your job done. If someone is not committed enough, it is the team that intervenes, not Wannes or me. That only makes sense, because in the end it is the team that has to compensate if one works too little.

KAROLIN: I think this answer shows Pieter, that you are a true Millennial. Not 9 to 5 matters, but personal lives, as well as the responsibility of the individual in regards to the group.

Photo by Devon Janse van Rensburg on Unsplash

KAROLIN: Let's talk about the work space. Millennials are considered to be team workers wanting for communal areas where they can hang out, exchange ideas, eat lunch together, talk about projects. And they also need some fun, such as ping pong tables, hammocks or cocktails every Friday in the office, in order to comply with their 'Work-life-balance" ;) The big co-working spaces such as Mindspace or Wework professionalized this need by implementing big chill-out areas. But also Around Media just re-designed its amazing warehouse in Ghent including a pool table. Is it nowadays essential to have an attractive and fun office to get the top talents?

PIETER: Yes, I think it is super important to have an office that feels like home. You spend a lot of time here. When it comes to acquiring new talents, I think the moment interviewer enter the office is decisive. Do they like the vibe?! Do they see themselves working here?!

Concerning the re-design of our office, it was really important to Wannes and me, that the space was designed after the wishes of the team. I mean, they did it and they are proud of it now (and should be!!). I love what they made out of the space, but even if I would hate it - I wouldn't care. Because it was a team effort, it makes my team happy and enthusiastic about their workspace and of course, it makes them care more about the space.

KAROLIN: I work in a MindSpace office in Berlin Kreuzberg. The co-working space is full with people working in tech from all around the world. Most of them don't have families yet and are digital nomads, working a few months in Berlin, a year in Copenhagen etc. So, most of their friends they meet at work ... I think that is also a reason, why the "office" changed its meaning - from a place, were you came primarily to work, to a place, were you meet new people, make friends, become part of the city.

KAROLIN: Micro- management, a bossy attitude and hierarchy are considered absolute no go's in dealing with Millennials. You and your partner Wannes Vanspranghe are both very young bosses - and Millennials yourselves. What is your leadership style? And how do you give guidance without being bossy or a micro-manager?

PIETER: We started with a small team and in a small team you tend to micro manage. Because everybody is involved in everything. You have to learn to let go and trust the people. For me that came with the growth of the company. I can't be involved in everything anymore. And also I have people working for me, who are a lot better in what they are doing than me. Let's take Noémie for example, she leads the marketing team and is an absolute expert. I trust her and know, that she does a better job than I could in this area.

At Around Media every team has a team leader, which ideally is chosen by the team itself. That gives credibility to the leader and the right to have a say to the team. And I know that if any of the team leaders have a question, a doubt or a challenge, they will come to me and ask me for input, feedback and how to tackle next steps. A proactive attitude of our team leaders is a must in such a young environment.

I am convinced: If you empower the people, the company evolves better.

KAROLIN: What is the biggest challenge when it comes to managing Millennials and Gen Z’iers?

PIETER: The biggest challenge is getting everybody on board and making everyone part of the story. You want to appreciate everyone and make people feel the same passion we feel. It is very important to set the right expectations - especially with Gen Z. Most of the time it is their first job, so you have to take the time to teach them the basics and give them time to grow.

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Stay tuned and follow us on LinkedIn or Facebook, in the coming weeks we'll share more on how to manage a startup!

All the best,

Karolin and Pieter on behalf of the entire Around Media team.

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