Generation Z, those born after 1997, are a beginning to enter the workforce, bringing new challenges for the retail food industry in how to attract and retain these potential new workers who really just want to make an impact.
Ernest Baskin, assistant professor of food marketing at Saint Joseph’s University, offered solutions during a FMI Midwinter Executive Conference virtual session, in which he presented findings from FMI’s and Saint Joseph’s University’s Gerald E. Peck Fellowship three-part research series exploring the food industry’s workplace attractiveness. Part one, How to Recruit Gen Z, was released Jan. 28.
What follows is a breakdown of what Gen Z, which represents a quarter of the U.S. population, wants from an employer and what the grocery industry can do to get them to look their way.
What Gen Z Wants: “[Generation Z] has a very quick expectation to advance without necessarily even understanding what the barriers to the advancement are,” Baskin said. “They are very, very competitive … and they want to be able to put that competitiveness essentially into winning. And what does winning look like to them? … Without any communication, winning looks like advancement. It looks like being able to talk to the CEO almost immediately. But the question is, what are other ways we can give them that same belief?”
What Grocery Can Do: A lot of Gen Z are looking for an understanding of where they fit into the larger process, and they are looking for a way to understand what impact it is they are making. … We as a food industry need to build that storytelling to Gen Z,” Baskin said.
Communication on what needs to happen in order for advancement to occur is also key. “Laying out for them what qualities are needed in order to move up the ladder becomes really important,” Baskin says. “Setting clear communications and expectations and following up on them to track progress is really, really important and benefits Gen Z along this path.”
What Gen Z Wants: Generation Z, which has lived through recessions, “really want job stability because they’ve seen a lot of folks lose their jobs,” Baskin said.
What Grocery Can Do: Job stability, Baskin said, is one the retail food industry’s “No. 1 perks.” “We have so many examples of folks that have worked their way up through the ranks, and gone from front-line employee to CEO of the organization. We have so many examples of that,” he said. “But we don’t necessarily make it clear. So we want to make sure that we make this clear to Gen Z in our recruiting.”
To Make an Impact
What Gen Z Wants: Gen Z has also lived through acts of terrorism and political upheaval, and “they see themselves as being agents of change,” Baskin said.“They want to work in companies where they can make a difference, and that’s going to become very important,” he added.
What Grocery Can Do: Every day the retail food industry makes a difference, whether it’s making the community better, making sure people get good, nutritious food, or finding ways to be more sustainable. “We are in an industry where our whole mission is very authentic and very much in line with Gen Z values,” said Baskin. But Gen Z isn’t always aware of this, so he said, “We want to tell them what kind of impact they are making in their role.”
What Gen Z Wants: Baskin noted that Gen Z wants total compensation, which doesn’t necessary mean salary. “[Gen Z takes] a more holistic look at what a company is offering,” he said.
What Grocery Can Do: “At the end of the day, the front-line figure of salary is not the end all be all. We want to think about communicating what are the benefits that we bring to the table for Gen Z. … Some of those benefits are impact to the community, focus on sustainability, employee work culture—all of these things are a part of total compensation,” Baskin said. “Yes, you need your front-line figure to be competitive, yes you need benefits—all of those things are a given—but … just being the highest number isn’t necessity what is going to get them in the door.”
To Job Hop
What Gen Z Wants: Gen Z job hops more than any other generation, Baskin said: “We’ve seen this start with millennials, and this has increased for Gen Z.”
What Grocery Can Do: Baskin said Gen Z job hop for one of two reasons, either they aren’t getting the learning and the experience in the company they are at, or they see a better opportunity somewhere else. He said a rotational program, in which an employee shifts roles at to gain knowledge of multiple facets of the company, or highlighting other silos of the company can serve as “internal job hopping.” “If an employee wants to job hop, one of the things that you can reframe it as, there is so much more to learn; you can job hop here,” he added.
It’s also important, Baskin said, “to make sure expectations match reality and you keep them on the treadmill working their way up so that they don’t want to job hop.”