DURING a tour of a local FMCG plant a few years ago, a senior manager mentioned a new pressure the brand was facing. He wasn’t speaking of a rising competitor in the market, changing consumer tastes, environmental concerns or even economy issues. He was referring to WhatsApp team groups: if there was any question or concern, particularly by interns, the senior management was expected to reply in real time or within a few minutes at the most. There was no tolerance for a polite, professional ‘we’ll get back to you in a few days’. I was puzzled that the manager felt so vulnerable over a question asked by a newbie intern.

That was when iGen or Gen Z (born 1997-2010) were just arriving on the workplace scene and were not even full-time employees. Today, the power dynamic has changed further. Corporates across the world, and certainly many of the biggest, most successful companies in Pakistan, are scrambling to change their company cultures to appeal to their new batch of interns or associates, some of whom are demanding shorter hours, four-day work weeks and strong commitments to paperless and sustainable environments. They prefer changing jobs frequently to job stability, and have a desire to share assets and own less rather than aspire to the traditional goal of owning a house and luxury goods.

Corporates have always wanted the best of new batches and often wooed students applying for jobs, particularly in places like New York, London and Karachi. The power centre and decision-maker though has been the management, with the baby boomers (1946-1964) heading the big brands. Gen X (1965–1980) was eager to please their boomer bosses and driven by the need for material comfort and acquisition. Often the most successful were willing to pull all-nighters and be a slave to their jobs for a lucrative pay and benefits. Work-life balance was a constant struggle and the message sent to employees was that you had to sacrifice life quality to get ahead in the hope of material wealth for a ‘dream life’.

Since the millennial/Gen Y (1981–1996) workforce have been less driven by material needs and generally have less work ethic and care for corporate good citizenship, there was tension and confusion with the boomer bosses as incentives had to be rethought and the needs of each clashed. The boomers were all about shareholders, competitive revenues, ruling market share and material acquisition. They thrived on competition and success. All the while, Gen X was sandwiched in between, striving to please their demanding bosses and confused that millennials confidently stated life-quality needs and were comfortable and fearless, leaving tough bosses befuddled.

What is the future of top brands if so much of the best talent doesn’t dream of building careers there?

Today, the boomers are retired or retiring and Gen Z team members — usually the youngest and newest to the organisation — have very clear ideas about what their values are and what they want. They are really not looking for material wealth or asset acquisition and enjoy competition. The start-up and entrepreneurial culture is strong and considered aspirational.

When I speak at universities, the top students dream of starting their own businesses much more than working for top corporate brands. And, even if they want to start their career working for a top brand — and many ask for tips to apply — their ultimate goal is to leave that brand and start their own, and not devote their life to one corporate. What is the future for these top big brands if so much of the best talent doesn’t dream of building careers there?

Many big Pakistani corporates are starting entrepreneurial incubators within their corporate headquarters to appeal to Gen Z and are confused about how to retain young talent, the best of whom don’t want to wait years to climb up hierarchies and get coveted titles.

This summer, an organisation I head started an internship programme for high school students from 15 to 19 years of age with brainstorming sessions and encouraged interns to lead in pairs a campaign for specific projects under our various brands. By giving them ownership, we learned a lot about their values and strategies, particularly marketing and social media approaches to projects and what the youth felt about products, services and philanthropy. They preferred disappearing social media stories to posts that were permanent; they liked casual real-time videos to more formal and ‘perfect’ campaigns that were scripted with careful editing. They were holistic and inclusive, and much less competitive than team members of different generations. During a group project where they helped spearhead an existing project, their output was far more successful in that they were eager to add value, but were able to complete tasks quicker when guided. We had very tight deadlines.

With this generation, there is expected acquiescence on the part of Gen X globally to evolve the corporate culture. Some headlines have actually stated ‘We can’t wait for Gen Z to take over corporate culture’! Gen Z is much more powerful than the millennials, and as boomers leave the market, Gen X leaders seem readily giving in both to their Gen Z children and their Gen Z employees. We found in our internship programme, however, that while Gen Z do not court material acquisition and prioritise the quality of life, they are willing to subscribe to work ethics for projects they believe in. Purposeful work will drive the desired output in ways that old school incentives such as money, power and job stability won’t. So, as corporate Pakistan creates a roadmap for their future, instead of a complete surrender, perhaps fresh incentives such as being part of a corporation of impact and purpose would achieve everyone’s goals.

The writer is on the board of Pakistan State Oil.

www.ladiesfund.com

Published in Dawn, October 24th, 2022

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