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Perspectives on Company Culture from Gen Z

We are pleased to present this post, written by Melanie Kondziola, a Sophomore Intern from the University of Michigan LSA Opportunity Hub.


We’ve all been there. Your alarm goes off and you immediately want to roll back over in bed and fall asleep for at least 2 more hours, but you have to go to work. You trudge to your closet, find your uniform, lazily throw it on, make yourself a cup of coffee in the hopes the caffeine will escort you through the day, get in your car, and drive yourself to your job. All the while you’re thinking about how much better your day will be once this shift is done and over with.

Throughout the last 4 or so years of my life, I have worked or volunteered in all sorts of environments: retail, family-run businesses, food, hospitality, sports, and event-planning. Most of these positions are great, don’t get me wrong. I think just about everyone has that one job they think about and immediately have cold sweats and nightmare flashbacks (not actually, but you get my point). Most of the time we have a good to complement the bad: where reminiscing on a job brings you nothing but excitement and fond memories. No matter which scenario you look at, each of the environments have reasons that cause you to feel the way you do. These reasons, for better or for worse, make up a company’s culture. This culture can have the power to make or break a company’s success in recruiting employees, maintaining their reputation, and fostering growth both internally and externally. In order to create a positive and productive work environment there are a couple key aspects that truly make a world of difference.


Knowing the Mission


As a young college student eager (and also terrified) to enter the workforce, looking at who you’re working for is a big part of a position. If you’re the CEO, you want people working for you who share passions and goals that align with your organization. If you’re a prospective employee, you also want to work in an environment that shares your values and makes it clear how your individual goals mesh with company objectives.


Personally, one of the biggest factors that have drawn me to or kept me in certain positions I’ve held is the purpose: what are my bosses, coworkers, and myself all working towards, and does it make me want to jump out of bed on any given morning? In my time working for the University of Michigan’s Center for Campus Involvement, my objective has always been clear. As soon as I read the job description and researched more about the Center for Campus Involvement, I knew that my passion for connection and cultivating positive experiences for students would be able to thrive. Looking into the future, as a prospective employee I want to know what my mission is. When companies can make that message clear, they will attract the energy they exude.


Communication is Key


If your grandparents or any couple that has been together for 50+ years give you any bit of relationship advice, 9 times out of 10 they’ll likely say something along the lines of “communication is key.” Imagine your job is like a relationship, and this statement holds true. Between coworkers, employee and employer, or among branches, an open line of communication is vital. Whether it is for collaboration purposes, project updates, or day to day happenings, making sure that your staff is informed is a key component to a successful team.


Being the new, young recruit a number of times over, another area where communication is worthwhile is in the training process. When employees are well informed of what their job entails and are well trained on how to handle certain scenarios that may arise, they are much more likely to feel empowered and confident to take matters into their own hands. Personally, I felt much more satisfaction with my work when I was kept in the loop and well-informed. Even more importantly, feeling like I had the space and ability to openly talk to my supervisor has allowed me to feel at ease and heard.


Flexibility


If you think that there will ever be a time where your job is nothing but smooth sailing, you are dead wrong. Having the capacity to be flexible within a company is another aspect in high demand. When there is a culture of “pivot, don’t panic,” rather than “panic and scream your head off” your employees will feel a lot more confident in their capacity to take ownership of a problem and solve it. Flexibility to understand the projects that don’t pan out exactly the way you expect them to, as well as the day to day mishaps that can impact work, are key components of a company’s culture that allow its employees more room to adapt, adjust, and advance.


Flexibility is also a key aspect when it comes to scheduling and allowing space for things such as mental health days. When you take the time to understand your employees and recognize the detrimental effects of burnout, your employees are likely to be more satisfied and more productive after having a day to themselves.


Empathy


Now more than ever people are learning just how crucial empathy can be both within and beyond the workplace. In these unprecedented and unpredictable times, a work environment that has the capacity to be empathetic towards its employees is extremely valuable. The tricky part about being a part of this generation of workers is the negative stigma that each of us expects everything to be handed to us on a silver platter when that couldn’t be the farthest thing from the truth. In a generation that's so misunderstood, where our superiors feel as though we’re looking for “an easy way out” or that we’re just flat out lazy, it can be challenging to feel as though you’re not offered an opportunity to be human. I have been lucky enough to have some wonderful opportunities since I have gotten to college where I have felt not only valued as an employee, but also valued as a human being. This is something I will never take for granted. For something that seems so simple and obvious, this foundational element of a company’s culture truly can keep your employees wanting to work hard for your common objective.


Expecting the Unexpected


Now, as the trend of the treacherous year that is 2020 continues, it is important to recognize how the work environment has changed. In the now remote world of work, how do companies recruit new hires and develop their culture and purpose without physically being in the same space? Well, if I’m being honest, I’m not exactly sure what the best answer to that question is (as much as I wish I had all the answers, alas, I do not). One thing I do know about working remotely is, although it will never be the same, it doesn’t mean that it has less value or diminish the opportunities to advance.


In this last semester of my remote work experiences, there have been times where I have recognized culture being maintained in the virtual workplace. Through employee shout outs, weekly team meetings, direct messaging, one on one meetings, and so much more, culture can be created, communicated, and appreciated via remote engagement. Keeping an open line of communication and really focusing on your purpose is a great opportunity to keep employees informed on your mission. Offering a helping hand when your employees just aren’t hitting the mark can also be extremely beneficial when miles apart. Not sharing a space with your cohort truly can be a challenge, but putting in that effort to have an “office away from the office” can make a positive difference.


Overall, the aspect of culture is essential in hiring people who align with your ideals. Remembering to exhibit a clear mission, communicate effectively, and be flexible and empathetic are important aspects in a culture that can be telling signs to prospective employees as they consider whether or not they want to be employed by you. If your venture excites you enough to spring out of bed in the morning and rush to work, presenting that positive company culture can help those you work with do the same.

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