Here Come the Centennials

How can businesses design jobs that will appeal to the next generation of workers?
Here Come the Centennials

JUST AS BUSINESSES and universities have figured out how to deal with millennials, the next generation appears on the horizon. Centennials—also known as Generation Z—are considered those born between 1996 and 2012. Having never known a world without the internet, they’ve always had access to search engines and social media, and they’re adept at teaching themselves skills through web-based research and videos. They’re also entrepreneurial, creative, ambitious, persistent, realistic, and self-sufficient.

How can businesses design jobs that attract and retain members of this group? And how should universities serve them? These questions provide a rich learning opportunity for students enrolled in a human resource management course at the American University in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. AUD has partnered with People First, an HR consulting practice in the Middle East, to determine the ideal job design for centennials.

Over three consecutive years, students in AUD’s HRM course surveyed students between 16 and 24 years of age who attended universities in the U.A.E. and other Middle Eastern countries. They also surveyed a smaller number of students from the U.K. and the U.S. The class used the Work Design Questionnaire (WDQ), a comprehensive measure developed by Frederick Morgeson and Stephen Humphrey, which assesses job design and the nature of work.

The students found that centennials prefer jobs that allow them to choose how they plan, execute, and control their assigned tasks, as well as assignments that have an obvious beginning and end. They perform better when given opportunities for freedom and self-expression, and they want assignments that require unique ideas and solutions to problems. They want work that allows them to utilize a variety of skills, including management, communication, relationship-building, and technical skills. Because they want to have a significant impact on the lives of others, they are drawn to jobs that contribute to their employer’s corporate social responsibility efforts. Finally, they desire jobs that offer clear feedback about their performance.

For these reasons, students concluded, employers and universities alike should follow three key steps to creating environments that will appeal to centennials:

  • Give them HOPE. That is, design spaces where they can “hang out, play, and experiment.” Grant them the freedom to be creative. Support their efforts with technology such as company websites or social media platforms that allow collaboration and feedback.
  • Encourage internal communities of practice (CoPs). Through these networks, those with similar interests can share information, cross-pollinate knowledge, and build relationships among like-minded individuals.
  • Be flexible. Create collaborative, connected workplaces, but also allow centennials to work off-site in homes, coffee shops, and co-working spaces.

People First is using these findings to help clients that wish to develop policies that will appeal to centennials. When we ask our students to explore the questions that shape our own industry, we help them enhance their research skills and prepare them for the future of work. Moreover, we provide valuable information that our university and corporate partners can use in their strategic planning. The final takeaway: The centennials are coming, and they’ll be looking for learning and work environments where they can be creative, connected, and autonomous.

Reimara Valk is an assistant professor of management at American University in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. Raj Kapoor is director of student recruitment at AUD.

Recent research that provided background for this article includes: