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Talent Development

Is Talent The Same As Tenure?

Last week, I gave presentations to two very different audiences — technical recruiters and energy providers — yet, the questions were the same. Why worry about recruiting and retaining Generations X and Y? What could younger generations possibly offer that a more experienced, dedicated worker could not, especially in the midst of economc crisis?

Last week, I gave presentations to two very different audiences — technical recruiters and energy providers — yet, the questions were the same. Why worry about recruiting and retaining Generations X and Y? What could younger generations possibly offer that a more experienced, dedicated worker could not, especially in the midst of economc crisis?

  While most employers fully comprehend that a talent shortage is looming, and that sooner or later Boomers will start to retire, taking critical knowledge with them and leaving our companies exposed and vulnerable, few employers openly embrace the option of focusing their efforts on recruiting and retaining younger generations.

Most employers feel their efforts to reach these younger generations have been fruitless and frustrating. So they've quit trying, and they've lost their common sense in the economic slump.I actually heard a horrifying story last week about a company that refuses to hire anyone with less than 15 years experience because today's young professionals are "lazy and incapable of contributing anything of value." (Which is blatant age discrimination, not to mention rampant fear and undeniable ignorance.)Let's not forget that being 20 or 30 today is very different than it was just 10 years ago. And let's also not forget that major change has occurred in the workforce. One of the biggest changes that has occurred is a shift in employer values.Previously, job security depended on employee loyalty and tenure, regardless of the value that particular employee contributed to a firm. Today, rather than rewarding or promoting longtime employees simply because of their tenure, companies have evolved to focus more on locating and keeping diverse talent.Outside of academia, the concept of tenure has become a thing of the past. (And let's face it – academia needs to abandon the tenure concept, too.) A decade ago, it was common to promote and reward employees who had been with a company the longest, but today you don’t see it as often. Employees, especially younger generations, are looking for more than just job security, and companies are responding — or should be, anyway.In 2010, 40% of our workforce will be eligible to retire. Whether everyone retires en masse or not, it doesn't change the fact that with every passing year more people are eligible for retirement and we creep ever-closer to a major workforce shortage.Considering the high-demands of our global marketplace, the fact that talented people are so hard to retain, and that younger generations have so little tolerance for dues-paying assignments, why would any company put a high-performer through unnecessary paces just to satisfy a bureaucratic requirement?In their column, High Performers Won’t Wait, Jack and Suzie Welch state that the uncompetitive practice of ladder-climbing and keeping younger generations on the bottom rung is a "throwback" to the days when an employee's time served could, and often did, trump his value added.Companies have come to recognize their faulty logic when it comes to tenure. An employee who has performed a task for 20 years does not necessarily add more value or knowledge than a newer employee. Promoting an employee simply because he’s been there longer often means missing the boat on utilizing newer, more diverse talent.It also means alienating an entire population with unique skills and perspective to offer as the best educated, most tech-savvy and marketing-savvy generation in history.If a company wants to stay relevant and competitive, its leaders must recognize that young employees with fresh ideas and experience can add value that employees who have been at the same position for years often cannot. New and diverse talent and a range of experience promotes change and innovation.Clearly, tenure is not the equivalent of talent anymore.

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.

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