Winning the War for Workers
How to recruit and retain in a candidate-driven market.
By Phillip M. Perry
Businesses large and small are having a tough time finding and keeping enough employees. It’s not only florists! Traditional top-down dynamics between employers and job-seekers no longer seem to work. Today, effective recruitment and retention require a new highly personalized approach using communication vehicles favored by “Gen Z”-ers—today’s fastest growing workforce demographic.
So, how do you find good workers? And how do you keep them once they’re hired?
Those questions have become top of mind for employers everywhere. Job candidates are scarce. The few who entertain offers often end up turning them down. And too many of the ones actually hired go AWOL after the first day of work—especially in a flower shop, where the work is harder, dirtier and less glamorous and fun than many candidates initially imagine! This is all part and parcel of a tight labor market, which shows no sign of loosening any time soon.
The root problem lies in today’s fastest growing workplace demographic. People 25 years of age and younger—Gen Z-ers—differ substantially from previous generations. “The candidate pool has changed dramatically from the past,” says Mel Kleiman, founder of Humetrics, an employment consulting firm in Sugar Land (Houston), Texas. “They differ in their job expectations and in how they communicate with employers.”
CAST YOUR NET
Approach Gen Z-ers the right way, goes the reasoning, and you’ll boost the odds of good hires sticking around. The first thing to understand is the young generation’s high level of trust and devotion to the Internet. “Employers today need to spend their biggest recruiting dollars on social media,” says Don Phin, a management consultant in Coronado, Calif. “That’s where Gen Z-ers hang out.”
But which social media, exactly? Turns out, it makes a difference. “Gen Z-ers generally are not on Facebook like some of their older peers,” said Toronto, Ont., Canada-based management consultant Randall Craig. “They tend to consume more of their content on TikTok and Instagram. So that’s where companies need to make their presence known.”
Posting on such media carries risks and complications of its own. The No. 1 problem is setting the right tone. Just duplicating the stuff sent to traditional media outlets won’t cut it. Instead, posts have to reach the younger crowd through a flavor of irreverence—something normally at odds with many companies’ brands and images.
Asking an employers’ current crop of Gen Z-ers to help post is a good idea. So is establishing a presence on a number of platforms, respecting the milieu of each. “Posts on LinkedIn or your company website need to be more traditional while posts on Instagram, Twitter and TikTok may be more playful,” Craig informs.
A company’s current workers can also perform a recruiting function on other vehicles. “Encourage employees to share open positions on messaging apps such as WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and through texting,” Craig continues. “Private shares of such information come with implicit third-party endorsements.”
Finally, employee referral programs can play a vital role in attracting quality people. “Employers need to make it easy for everyone in their businesses to recruit, and they need to give them enough reward to incentivize them,” advises Phin. Leaderboards can foster a spirit of competition while bonuses can reward success.
DRAW THEM IN
Social media posts must include the right bait to make prospects bite. That means including information job-seekers want to see. “The top three things employers can put in their postings to attract Gen Z-ers are salary, benefits and scheduling flexibility,” says Jason Dorsey, president of The Center for Generational Kinetics in Austin, Texas.
The salary part might seem surprising, given the reputation the youngest working generation has for social concerns. “Gen Z-ers value salary not because they’re greedy but because of their life experiences,” explains Dorsey. “They went through the Great Recession [December 2007 through June 2009] with their parents, then they entered the workforce and lost their jobs because of the pandemic. Now they’re trying to make up for lost time—a impetus all the more urgent with inflation going through the roof [hitting a 40-year high of 9.1 percent in June].”
Putting information in the right place is also important: Salary, benefits and scheduling flexibility must appear at the top of each job posting because Gen Z-ers typically read only the first paragraph of posts on their mobile devices. “You need to put all the sizzle that’s normally at the bottom of your job postings all the way at the top,” Dorsey advises.
One more factor to include in your job postings: stability. Again, this is not a characteristic many people would associate as important to young people, but it is—because of their experiences with job losses resulting from the Great Recession and the pandemic. “Stability is a hidden behavioral driver for Gen Z-ers that employers need to talk about,” Dorsey continues.
Once Gen Z candidates arrive at a workplace, say, for an interview, they must be impressed by what they see. “The picture today is less about candidates selling themselves to employers and more about employers selling themselves to candidates,” says Craig. Given the mobility of the current workforce, job-seekers today want to make sure they move to a place they want to stay.
How to? “Each business must have a unique employment proposition,” says Kleiman. “It’s the flipside of the old ‘unique selling proposition,’ which told why customers should patronize a company. Today, employers need workers more than customers, so they have to answer the question ‘Why should prospects come work for me?’”
The answer can be a detailed array of qualities, or it can be simple, Kleiman notes. “One company boiled it down to two key words: ‘The reason you come to work for us is because we care. We care about our employees, we care about our customers, we care about the community, we care about our environment.”
To be “authentic” and “real” to Gen Z-ers (an important criterion to most of them), detail how you do each of those things you claim to do. With your flower shop, you can speak to their environmental concerns, for example, by mentioning your sustainability initiatives such as “green” design mechanics, use of biodegradable products, waste recycling procedures, buying “local” and so on.
Part of a unique employment proposition is a company culture that is attractive to Gen Z-ers. “Every organization must look inward and ask, ‘Are there things we need to change in how we work with our employees and in our culture?” suggests John Dyer, a consultant in team-based process improvement. “‘Do we need to reexamine the values we demonstrate day in and day out to develop an environment that attracts the best people?’”
Inclusion is a vital part of that environment for a generation deeply concerned about social issues. “Gen Z-ers are the most diverse generation we’ve ever had,” Dorsey says. “They celebrate diversity and expect it everywhere.”
BURNISH THE IMAGE
Creating an attractive work environment is one thing; getting the word out to the public is another. “Every business needs to be concerned about its ‘employment branding,’” shares William J. Rothwell, Ph.D., professor of Workforce Education and Development at The Pennsylvania State University. “What do people in the community say about working at a company?”
The obvious place to start a public campaign is a company’s website. The most important section is the page with job listings. “It’s surprising how few employers have built great employment sections on their websites,” Craig marvels. “And by that I mean not only position descriptions but also content that uniquely helps potential candidates understand a company’s culture and opportunities.” And don’t make it difficult for people to find your employment/career page; they shouldn’t have to use the site map!
One required element: video. “Gen Z-ers don’t read,” Phin states. “They watch.” He says that employers should post three videos. In the first, the CEO should say who the company is and where it’s going. In the second, a narrator should describe a ‘Day in the Life’ of a typical employee of the business. In the third, employees themselves should give testimonials on how attractive the company is as a place to work.
Businesses should also take steps to improve their images on Glassdoor.com—a website that many job-seekers use to assess prospective employers. Any negative reviews can highlight needed systemic or cultural changes.
MAKE IT EASY
Given all of the above, an employer who lands the interest of an attractive Gen Z candidate must strike while the iron is hot. Doing so requires a streamlined hiring process. “Reduce the hoops you require candidates to jump through by judging the necessity of every hiring step,” advises Rebecca Mazin, a cofounder of the Tarrytown, N.Y.-based human resources firm Recruit Right. “If you find a candidate through social networking, for example, don’t demand a résumé before you talk to them. They might not have one.”
And don’t demand they fill out a job application, either. That’s making them jump through another hoop that a competing employer may not require. Mazin suggests having candidates fill out an application as part of the onboarding process—after the hire takes place.
If you decide to use them, applications should be fully completable on mobile devices. “Gen Z-ers have a different natural relationship with technology than other generations,” notes Dorsey. “When they apply for a job, they expect to be able to complete the entire application on their phone. And it must be easy to do.”
Unfortunately, more than 50 percent of phone applications are never finished, Dorsey adds. That’s why it’s important to collect email addresses and/or cell phone numbers early, allowing the employer to send an email or text a day or two later inviting the candidate to finish the job. The app should save the previously entered information so the candidate is spared any unnecessary work.
The follow-up invitation should be heavily personalized with phrases such as “We think you might be a great fit” and “We would love for you to finish your application.” Those messages can make all the difference when it comes to completed applications, Dorsey says.
KEEPING THEM ABOARD
A hiring manager’s job isn’t done when the Gen Z candidate becomes an employee. “What gets somebody to apply is different from what will get someone to stay,” Dorsey explains. Employers must work on retention from Day One.
A personalized introduction to the business can make a tremendous impression. So can an entrance interview designed to discover what makes a new hire tick. “Find out why the person came to your company,’ suggests Phin. “Did they choose your company for the pay? The type of work? The location? Because a friend of theirs is there? Their answers will help you design a program that encourages new employees to stay aboard.”
New employees must also be trained properly. Many Gen Z-ers are older than previous generations when first entering the workforce, and they might be new to business environment. They need to learn the right behavior and attitudes.
Training for Gen Z-ers must be done a specific way. “We often tend to think of training in terms of linear steps,” says Dorsey. “But younger people are not like that. They are more outcome driven, so they need to see the end scene first.” Show newcomers what success looks like, then walk them through while they have the endgame in mind. Provide specific examples of expected performance. Employers can ensure successful onboardings through frequent check-ins during probation periods.
Go where the prospects are. Give them the data they need. Then onboard new hires in a way that makes them stay. Employers can win the modern war for talent by combining those three elements into a powerful recruitment and retention package.
“If you want to get the most out of Gen Z-ers, you must support them on every dimension,” Craig informs. “If you do that, they will perform, and they will tell their friends to come work at your shop. And when they do leave, they’ll post good things about your company on Glassdoor.com.”
Above all, employers must create a dynamic workplace that catches the eye of Gen Z-ers. “It’s easy for people in business to get caught up in what they do,” Phin says. “But it’s who they are that makes the difference. Employers who are attractive don’t have to worry about finding anybody.”
Ghost Busters: How to Solve the No-Show Problem
You hire a bright prospect. They sound enthused. You schedule their first day on the company calendar. And they don’t show up.
You’ve been “ghosted.” It’s a common phenomenon in this tight labor market where people can apply for a job with the click of a button, and counteroffers can lure away the best of the best. “When people accept a job today, we have been given permission to sell them on showing up for their first day of work,” says Jason Dorsey, president of The Center for Generational Kinetics in Austin, Texas. “So we need to take the right steps before their first scheduled day to keep them engaged and excited.”
Employers can muffle the siren call of competing job offers by doing two things:
1. Placing a call to the candidate to establish a personal relationship and to emphasize why the new hire is perfect for the company.
2. Following up with a series of texts providing details about the new position, useful information about perks and benefits, and invitations to call or text back with questions.
Faced with a one-to-one approach such as this, the flattered candidate will feel he or she is not going to work for some anonymous company but for an individual with whom they have established rapport.
QUIZ: How Good are Your Hiring and Retention Practices?
Are you taking the right steps to hire and maintain Gen Z-ers?
Find out by taking this quiz. Score 10 points for each “yes” answer. Then total your score, and check your rating at the end.
Have you instituted the following practices?
• Placed job listings on appropriate social media
• Asked employees to post openings on their own accounts
• Initiated an employee referral program
• Included salary, benefits and scheduling flexibility in job postings
• Positioned this vital information (salary, benefits, scheduling flexibility) at the top of postings
• Emphasized your company’s stability in the hiring message
• Created a workplace attractive to Gen Z-ers
• Burnished and tracked your company’s public image
• Streamlined the application process
• Established training programs designed for Gen Z-ers
What’s your score?
• 80 or more: Congratulations. You have gone a long way toward successfully recruiting and retaining Gen Z-ers.
• Between 60 and 80: It’s time to fine tune your strategy based on the suggestions in this article.
• Below 60: Your business is at risk. Take action on the suggestions made in this article.
Phillip M. Perry is an award-winning freelance writer based in New York City. His byline has appeared more than 3,000 times in the nation’s business press. You can contact him at linkedin.com/in/phillipmperry.