Why the future of SMB companies is the born digital workforce

As Gen Z and millennial employees begin to lead the world of work, businesses that best engage these younger workers will thrive. Here’s what your growing business needs to know about “Born Digital” employees.

ARTICLE | 4m read
September 7, 2021

Today, millennial and Gen Z employees make up the majority of the global workforce. These “born digital” generations have only known a world that was driven by digital technology, making them uniquely suited to imaginatively lead the future of work. This helps explain why organizations that increase the percentage of Gen Z and millennial employees by one percent compared to the global average tend to see a 0.9 percent increase in profitability. In short, harnessing the potential of Born Digital workers can deliver a big competitive advantage for small and medium-sized businesses.

However, while Gen Z and millennial employees account for the majority of workers, they are not well understood by senior leadership in either large organizations or small and medium-sized businesses. This often leads to recruiting and retention struggles in addition to a poor employee experience among Born Digital employees. Today, there is clear opportunity for small businesses with big vision to deliver the kind of working environment where Born Digital workers thrive. Here’s how your growing business can attract and retain top talent among the younger workers who will drive the future of your company.

Millennial and Gen Z employees prefer hybrid work models

One of the biggest gaps between company leaders and millennial and Gen Z employees is where work should be done. While most business leaders say a shared office space is best for employee creativity and wellbeing, more than half of millennial and Gen Z employees prefer working remotely or in a flexible work model. If this seems odd, consider that thousands of Gen Z employees launched their careers in the remote dominated year of 2020—in other words, remote work is all they know. This doesn’t mean Born Digital workers will never accept physical office space, but rather that small businesses seeking younger talent will need to prioritize flexibility in where and how work gets done.

So how can small businesses deliver the flexible work options that millennial and Gen Z employees want? The answer is to listen to what these younger workers prefer—and it’s not fluid working styles or unconventional working patterns. Instead, millennial and Gen Z employees want flexible start and end times for work, and to choose their work space. At the center of this is a belief that flexible work is best for their personal well-being. In the face of a stressful and uncertain economic environment, nearly nine out of ten Born Digital workers say a good work-life balance is important to them. By placing these wellness values at the core of your small business culture, you can best empower Born Digital workers.

How to choose workspace technology for Millennial and Gen Z employees

Attitudes about technology are another disconnect between business leaders and millennial and Gen Z employees. While most business leaders think accessing the latest tech is what Born Digital employees want most, having the latest technology available is actually at the bottom of their priority list. Business leaders are also relying on different apps and tools than their millennial and Gen Z employees. For example, 81 percent of Born Digital workers prefer to communicate via instant messaging (like Teams or Slack) whereas only 21 percent of business leaders prefer to communicate this way.

Workspace technology still matters, but for Gen Z and millennial employees value technology most for its flexibility. 78 percent of Born Digital employees prefer to use their own technology, such as personal smartphones or other devices, for work. For small businesses, this represents an opportunity not only to streamline your IT hardware budget, but also to maximize choice for your younger employees by letting them choose the devices they use to do their best work. By supporting a lean and agile culture of choice around workspace technology, you can empower Gen Z and millennial workers to do their most innovative and creative work.

How to retain and promote Gen Z and Millennial employees

While attitudes about hybrid work models and workspace technology differ across generations, what Gen Z and millennial employees most value about company culture are essentially universal. 8 in ten Born Digital employees want to work at companies that enable autonomy, recognize employee performance through remuneration, and demonstrate strong and visible leadership. In the same vein, companies that deliver job satisfaction, career stability, and good work-life balance are more likely to succeed in recruiting and retaining Gen Z and millennial employees.

As your growing business looks to retain and promote talented Born Digital employees, here are three best practices:

  1. Highlight retention and promotion rates, especially for entry-level hires. When Born Digital employees consider working for your company, they will want to see how well you support and empower new staff. Demonstrate to potential hires that you’re the kind of growing business where younger employees grow into their ideal careers.
  2. Showcase the impact of individual employees on your company. Wherever prospective millennial and Gen Z employees interact with your company culture, they should see how individual innovation is celebrated and rewarded. One way to do this is creating employee spotlight stories on your website that highlight the blossoming careers of rising talent that you’ve hired and empowered from early on.
  3. Promote work-life balance in both official policy and unofficial communications. Prioritizing wellness and balance will help you recruit Born Digital employees, but they will want to see evidence of this work-life balance beyond your HR site and recruiting materials. Train your managers to encourage employees to turn off notifications when they’re not at work, and create white space time on employee schedules when no meetings can be booked.