Book a Speaker
Grow Membership
Reduce Turnover
XYZ University YouTube Page LogoXYZ University Instagram Page LogoXYZ University LinkedIn Page LogoXYZ University Twitter Page LogoXYZ University Facebook Page LogoXYZ University Vimeo LogoXYZ University RSS Feed Logo
Generation X
Generation Y

Businesses Behaving Badly: No Class = No Talent

A friend of mine has been job hunting for the past six months. When we spoke on the phone recently she lamented about the horrible treatment employers have been doling out–from outright ignoring her to rescinding offers to sending her an email simply stating she didn’t get the job after she went through several rounds of interviews and was told at one of the interviews she would get the job.

A friend of mine has been job hunting for the past six months. When we spoke on the phone recently she lamented about the horrible treatment employers have been doling out–from outright ignoring her to rescinding offers to sending her an email simply stating she didn’t get the job after she went through several rounds of interviews and was told at one of the interviews she would get the job.

Really, people –could your behavior be any worse? Aren’t you supposed to be professionals concerned about such monumental, irreplaceable things like employer branding and customer service and ethics?

It reminds me of that song in the musical Chicago that queries Whatever Happened to Class?.

When did good manners and ethics take a leave of absence from the workforce? The companies that treat their prospects like dirt are either being really short-sighted or really aren’t companies you want to work for in the first place.

By 2015, Baby Boomers will cede the majority of the workforce to Generation Y. It will be the largest shift in human capital in history. While the unemployment rate has been soaring lately, that number is about to come crashing down amidst retirement waves and post-recession talent turnover.

In other words, companies will soon find themselves in a talent shortage and the roles will be reversed. Every company out there will be vying for talent, and the way a company treats its prospective talent now will determine its fate when the shortage finally hits.

But even without taking all that into consideration, what right-thinking company would drive talent away? It sounds unbelievable, yet we see it happening every day.

Here are just a few of the many ways businesses are behaving badly:

  • Their auto-responder message is unfriendly.It’s bad enough that job-seekers have to submit their applications to a virtual person sitting God-knows-where and doing who-knows-what with all those resumes. To top it off, most auto-responder messages from employer career sites are downright ominous stating, “You will be contacted if we wish to interview you.” It’s the equivalent of someone sneering at you. There isn’t so much as a personable greeting, kind-hearted thank-you, or respectable speck of decency in the entire bunch.
  • First impressions are everything. Even an auto-responder message has the power to boost an employer’s brand. It should say something more like this:
  • “Thanks for sending us your resume! You will be hearing back from someone within the next 24-36 hours. In the meantime, have you seen our job seekers’ newsletter? Take a look! (link here) We take great pride in being an employer of choice and treat our talent exceptionally well. We appreciate your interest and will be in touch soon.”
  • They ignore you.First you have to submit your resume on-line and then you never, ever hear back from anyone. You end up sitting and pondering whether the employer received your application and why they didn’t even bother to extend you a ‘thanks but no thanks’ note. There’s really nothing worse than being ignored.
  • They keep you waiting.Some employers make their prospects sit in the lobby for 30 minutes before they call them in for the interview. Others make prospects wait for weeks before letting them know whether they did or didn’t make the cut. Still others will put a job opening out there, then decide later to postpone the hiring process or just promote someone from within. All these antics are the equivalent of screaming: “You are nothing to us! We don’t care about you or any other peon out there hunting for a job!”
  • Here again I have to wonder: if the job applicants are treated badly, imagine how the employees are treated. Why work anyone want to work for a company like this?

Alas, what goes around comes around.

It isn’t a new story that hiring managers sometimes treat job candidates badly, but now job candidates are getting a bit of revenge when they broadcast their poor treatment to millions of others via social media.

The result is that companies are seeing their carefully crafted public image come unhinged as insulted interviewees recount everything from unprofessionalism to discrimination – and the news is spreading far and wide to other job seekers and even company customers.

A damaged public image can impact everything from being able to recruit top talent to attracting customers, especially since job candidates also may be customers.

Steer clear of employers who beat away talent with a stick, and if your firm is one of those places, sound the alarm. There’s no time to waste. Talent-unfriendly employers aren’t the ones most likely to thrive in the global marketplace.

Zs came of age in an era of disruption

In many ways, it’s symbolic that Generation Z is named after the last letter in the alphabet because their arrival marks the end of clearly defined roles, traditions, and experiences. After all, Gen Z is coming of age on the heels of what has been referred to as the most disruptive decade of the last century. America has become an increasingly changing and complex place.

For example:

  • ‍Zs were born into a “modern family era” in which highly involved dads help out at home, and the nuclear family model (two parents, married, with children) represent only 46% of American households.
  • ‍Zs are the first generation to be born into a world where everything physical, from people to places to pennies, has a digital equivalent.
  • From the time they were infants, Zs had access to mobile technology. As a result, their brains have been trained to absorb large amounts of information, and Zs are especially adept at shifting between skills and subject matter.
  • Zs tend to have crystal-clear memories of sitting up for the first time at six months old because they can easily and quickly reference the photos and videos their parents shared on social media or saved in the “cloud”. 

Members of this generation have undoubtedly been shaped by crisis and disruption. This generation will largely be responsible for confronting the aftermath of the Great Recession, high youth unemployment, the effects of climate change, terrorism, energy sustainability, and more. These dark events have undoubtedly made this generation more cautious and pragmatic, but they have also provided this generation with the inspiration to change the world – and their grit will likely allow them to do it.

Coming of age during disruption means that most Zs will be comfortable being the disruptors. While Millennials tend to be collaborative and innovative, this generation tends to be sincere, reflective, thick-skinned, and self-directed, and will likely approach work in much the same way.

Zs were raised to be competitive

In the era following World War II, Boomers (1946-1964) were born and eventually became the wealthiest, most prosperous generation in history. Raised to aspire for the American Dream, this very large generation moved into positions of power and influence, and served as the workforce majority for 34 years.

With the American Dream alive and well, Boomers had no reason to teach their children, mostly Millennials, about competition. Instead, they taught them to focus on academic achievement and to be team players because if everyone works hard, everyone can win.

Enter Generation X (1965-1981). In contrast Boomers, Xers came of age during a time when change and economic and political uncertainty began to take root. They have lived through four recessions, struggled with debt and economic decline most of their lives, and watched the best educated and accomplished generation of all time (Millennials) graduate during the Great Recession and become the most debt-ridden generation in history.

Gen Xers can be defined by their independence and anti-status quo approach to life, and they have taught their Gen Z children to be competitive, believing only the best can win. They have encouraged their children to be realists, finding something they are good at and aggressively pursuing it.

Xers have raised their Zs with an intense focus on competitiveness -- in academics, sports, and other activities. This approach to parenting has many implications, but one stands out in terms of business: Gen Z is likely to lead.

Millennials in the workplace created and aggressively advocated for collaborative work environments. In fact, their aversion to leadership has been so strong, some Millennials sought out companies that boasted boss-free or team-managed workplaces.

In contrast, Zs have been raised with an individualistic, realistic, and competitive nature. They have been taught the skills to successfully defy the norm. This means we’re going to see the pendulum shift away from collaborative workplaces towards a widespread demand for, and pursuit of, leadership development.

Zs are career-focused.

While Millennials have been criticized for their “delayed adulthood”, Gen Z is showing signs of “early adulthood”. Educators and parents often describe this generation as being more serious and contemplative about the world. Zs are thinking about their career paths and exposing themselves to career training at an earlier age than Millennials. It’s probable that some of this early onset of adulthood is caused by parents, who are pressuring their children to be competitive and successful and to avoid the debt that plagued both the Gen Xers and Millennials.

The numbers from our global research found 46% of Gen Z said they know what career to pursue and 51% have taken a class at school focused on their career interests. Forty percent joined an extracurricular program (team, club) based on their career interests.

Zs are seeking financial security. 

Zs have been shaped by the aftermath of the Great Recession. They watched Millennials become debt-ridden and are concerned about falling into the same trap. XYZ University’s survey results show 66% of Zs said financial stability is more important than doing work they enjoy, which is the exact opposite of Millennial survey results.  Also, 71% of survey-takers have a paying job.

Zs value leaders who are positive and trustworthy.

When presented a list of leadership traits, Zs ranked positive and trustworthy the highest. While Millennials and Gen Zs both value trust in a leader, Millennials usually cite collaboration and vision as most important. In other words, Millennials focus on the outcomes leaders inspire, whereas Zs are more likely to consider leaders’ attitudes and personalities. To Z, what leaders encourage others to do isn’t as valuable as how they make them feel.


Zs want to be challenged.

Both Millennials and Gen Zs place a very high value on feeling challenged and appreciated in the workplace. However, according to our survey results Millennials rank appreciation slightly higher than challenge, whereas Zs rank feeling challenged slightly higher than appreciation.

Time will tell how Zs go down in history, but we know this generation’s influence on history will be unlike any other.


Does your organization have what it takes to engage the next generation? Take this quiz to find out.


Sarah Sladek is CEO of XYZ University. Our generational intelligence can assist you with engaging and retaining young talent and members.

Sarah Sladek

Concerned about declining engagement in our nation’s membership associations, non-profits, and workplaces, Sarah Sladek founded XYZ University, the nation’s first and only generations-focused training and engagement strategy company, in 2002.

More posts by this author

Take the first step towards your future.

Looking for a game changer at your next event or a strategy unique to your organization?