As millennials enter the peak of their earning lives, and the next generation enters the world of work, employers are having to adapt to a workforce with a very different set of expectations to that of their seniors.
Ensuring the success of your startup relies on having a fantastic team, which in turn often means employing the very best upcoming talent. Understanding exactly what younger employees want out of the workplace, and knowing how to balance your expectations with theirs is crucial – so kind of things should you be aware of?
It might seem like somewhat of a cliché, but the concept of startup culture as one of youth has come about for good reason, and research indicates that the average age of startup employees is younger than that of large corporations. Whatever the size of your team at your startup, it’s important to understand exactly what they expect both of you as an employer, as well as the modern workplace, and to find ways to cater to these expectations.
As both technology and modern culture advances, the expectations of today’s young workforce are starkly different from those of their older counterparts. Our attitudes towards long-established customs are completely shifting; we’re more careful with our time and money, and we turn to startups for more innovative solutions. When we go on holiday, for instance, we’re more likely to opt for the shared accommodation offered by companies like Airbnb, and we’d rather trust a currency swap service over banks with poor exchange rates.
While claims of entitlement and over-privileged attitudes may be regularly touted (and often underserved), if you want to retain the very best talent at your startup it’s important to strike a balance between younger employees’ expectations and your plans for your business success and development.
Generation Y and Z employees have grown up in a world of interconnectivity, and the concept of remote working has gone from a novelty to an expectation, with things like digital nomadism now entirely viable career choices.
If your startup involves work that can be completed remotely, then offering your employees the opportunity to do so, at least in part, can be a very positive way to boost morale (few things are quite as pleasant as waking up knowing that you’re free of a commute, and might even be able to work in your pyjamas).
There are pros and cons to this, and you’ll need to set some clear boundaries. While instant messaging and collaboration software has made it easy to keep in touch while working remotely, it still isn’t as conducive to effective communication as being in the same space. It might be sensible to offer staff one day a week, or fortnight, working from home – ideally all at the same time (as this will eliminate any sense of isolation or exclusion).
Architects and designers are finding new ways to improve our workspaces, from boosting natural light exposure to creating office spaces completely designed around physical and psychological wellness. The result is that younger employees now expect these modern attitudes towards workspaces as standard.
As a startup, you may not have complete autonomy over your office space, particularly if you’re using a shared working environment, but take stock of what control you do have, and use this to cater to the expectations of younger employees. If you’re choosing a working space, try to find an environment that features plenty of natural light, and is an aesthetically appealing space.
Consider things like collaborative working spaces, relaxation areas, natural light, and even simple things like comfy sofas. There’s no need to go ‘full Google’ and insist on ball pits and slides, but a modern working space that’s airy, pleasant, and caters to new attitudes towards work will make help your startup meet modern expectations.
Perks and Benefits
It’s become common for employers to offer perks and benefits that break the mold of the classic ‘gold watch upon retirement’ attitudes of yore. Things like gym memberships, discounts at local shops, and ‘duvet days’ are among the trendy and increasingly common benefits that businesses offer new staff.
As this trend continues, expectations of such benefits rise, and employees entering the workplace increasingly use these offerings as metrics to measure how appealing an employer is. As a startup, you may be limited in what you can offer, but try to think about things your employees would genuinely value – from dress-down days and ping pong tables to time off over the holidays, offering thoughtful perks to your employees shows you appreciate their hard work, and will make your startup a more appealing place to work.
Claims of the entitlement (whilst arguably unfair) of the young stem from the fact that as the younger generation enter an increasingly competitive and uncertain world, they are placing more and more emphasis on their own personal development and career.
Job certainty is no longer a given, and many young employees have a strong desire to continuously develop their skills and experience to ensure they remain an asset and are appealing to employers now and in the future. Cultivating a sense of progression in your startup will appeal to these sensibilities; you should aim to avoid a situation where any of your staff feel like their work is stagnating, and they aren’t growing.
Redelegate duties, offer team members the chance to work on new things or in new areas and find ways to help your employees continue to develop. Organising regular group training sessions is another great way to ensure your startup isn’t just a place where employees can shine, but where they can grow.
While claims of cotton wool swaddling and ‘delicate flower’ sensibilities are unduly harsh, the younger generation of workers certainly won’t sit for the bullish management styles emblematic of an era of employment that’s being left behind. In other words, the age of simply accepting bad to mediocre treatment as part of the deal of employment is over.
While your own leadership style is entirely down to you, for certain startups, adapting a more open, friendly, and horizontal approach can often encourage staff to do their best work for you. As businesses move away from the more traditional “dictatorial” management style, personal respect and fairness can often translate into a willingness to work hard for you.
One of the great benefits startups have is that they usually involve smaller teams than many larger businesses, and naturally, employees have a closer working relationship with each other, and their manager. This makes your startup the perfect place to foster a positive working environment – you don’t need to be everyone’s best friend, but if you want to appeal to the next generation of employees, you should at least aim to be a positive and friendly role model, as well as a boss.