To Succeed, One Has to Understand and Know How to Lead the Youth

Guest post by Branko Žunec and the BMC International team


The generation that nobody cared about, but everyone suddenly needs, is finally entering the labour market. Although it seems that we cannot understand the youth and they certainly do not want to understand us, we might be able to successfully work together, if we try. Mutual respect and acceptance are the key. Younger generations crave knowledge, but they need direction. We need to give them a chance to make us proud.

To Succeed, One Has to Understand and Know How to Lead the Youth

Millennials and Generation Z will flood the labour market by 2030. Their way of thinking and working is different than ours. Accept that. Teach them. Lead them. Encourage their growth. Be proud of them.

Millennials and Generation Z will flood the labour market by 2030.

Considering the current state of the labour market and the aging of population, it is normal to expect more and more young people in various work processes. Consequently, we can expect major generational differences in the workplaces. The primary motivation of our grandparents was creating decent living conditions – for them, it was crucial they had work, food, and a roof over their heads. The next generation was the generation of our parents (born between 1945 and 1960) and those that have been born between 1960 and 1980. Our focus was on a higher living standard and overall quality of life. Slovenia’s independence made that possible and, if we look at Millennials and Gen Z, it is understandable that they are first and foremost interested in the quality of life.

What Makes the Youth that is Now Entering the Labour Market Different from the Other Generations?

One of the most common misconceptions in business environments is that young people are the problem. By young people, I mean the generations that are currently entering the labour market or will do so in the next three to five years. After a quick deliberation, it becomes obvious that the problem lies in the older generations.

Honestly answer the following question: who is more experienced and able to adapt – us or the youth? The generation born between the years 1960 and 1980 likes to reminisce about our first work experience. How we got the job and our superiors would simply “throw us into the water and expect us to swim.” As a result, we learnt how to adapt. Regardless, we keep complaining how the youth cannot or will not adapt. We (older generations) are the ones who have to accept them and give them the opportunity to learn and be useful. We already know how to do it, they do not (yet). We are noticing that most companies have failed to acknowledge this and are, hence, blaming the younger generations. The companies that will adopt the new mindset are the ones that will “win” and acquire the best workers. Additionally, they will not have any problems retaining them.

Attending the Job Interview with Parents

Another common misconception is that the younger generations are spoilt and incapable. This mindset is encouraged by the fact that parents keep meddling in their work-related affairs, i.e. calling the employer and trying to get their child a job or even tag along with them for the job interview. Although the CEOs do not seem to be pleased, this behaviour makes perfect sense. Why? Just think of the horrors reported in media. From exploitation of labour to workplace abuse and other inappropriate scenarios. Statistically, these occur in less that 10 % of the workplaces, but it denigrates the whole business world. So, you tell me, is it really surprising that parents want to see where their child is going to spend more than a half of their waking hours? The uncertainty of both the children and their parents is reasonable and this practice is becoming the new normal.

The majority of older individuals keeps (unintentionally) forgetting what it was like 30 years ago. Most companies used to employ several generations of the same family, which is why children used to have instant support from their parents. They got all the information they needed to not only get the job, but to also do that job efficiently. When employing a person, the emphasis used to be on recommendation of friends, employees, and clients. There was a lot more collectivism and a lot less focus on profit. Even back then, the parents used to help their children get a job, albeit in a different manner. For example:  “Hey, boss, my son just got his degree. Is there perhaps a job opening for him?” And the boss would usually reply: “Tell him to come to an interview and we will see if we can give him something.” Simple, quick, and efficient. There used to be a lot less companies (in 1991 there were no private entrepreneurs) and a lot less competitiveness.

Nowadays people do not know each other as well as they used to. Most people do not stay in their hometowns and consequently do not know anyone in nearby companies. Therefore, it is understandable that parents are doing their best to help their children. Even if we do not understand their methods, we should accept them and focus on what they can offer. If they are treated unfairly as soon as they come to an interview, it is reasonable that they are hesitant to work with us. Here is some advice: if you think that different is inherently wrong, then it is better to not employ any young people.

In our team, we have countless amazing experiences with young people and we are looking forward to more of them entering the business world. We can already see numerous success stories in Slovenia and around the world (Chippolo, Dewesoft, etc.) and they are announcing a new generation of companies run by exceptional young individuals. The employees in these companies are predominantly young, which creates a completely different work environment. The majority of staff has a similar way of thinking and there is a certain understanding that the older generations lack. These companies will consequently develop a much better culture in terms of honesty, boldness, and progress.

The statistics show that between years 2001 and 2011, the number of retirees has almost doubled (from 295.000 to 501.000). It is said that we can expect these numbers to rise further in the upcoming decade (2023 – 2033, for approximately 30 %). How are we going to manage the financial demands of modern society? The innovativeness and creativity of younger generations are very much needed, if we are to create new products and new job openings. Are we ready to support them?

What Convinces Them? Salary, Work Environment, Free Time?

Young workers essentially expect four things:

  1. psychological security,
  2. clear instructions and support,
  3. feeling appreciated rather than exploited, and
  4. possibility of promotion and growth.

When it comes to salary and flexible working schedule, it depends on the field, type of job, and individual financial ambitions. They undeniably expect more than the minimum wage, but that does not mean they are not aware that they have to earn it first. If they want to know how to climb the corporate ladder, tell them. The onus is on us to properly lead them.

Young people that come to a job interview often admit they came only to gain valuable work experience and they plan on leaving after a few years. Is this alarming news or a criterion to reject the candidate? Absolutely not. It is best to accept that fact and be honest with the person. Tell them that while they plan on leaving in a few short years, you need them to do their best while they are here. To quote Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group:

“Train people well enough so they can leave, treat them well enough so they don’t want to.”

In numerous cases, young people initially planned to leave, but ended up staying. Do you have any of those in your company?

The Importance of Mentorship Programs

Most successful companies have mentorship programs and research shows that employees who had a mentor are 52 % more proficient that those that did not have one. It should also be mentioned that the fluctuation is 2,5-times higher in companies without mentorship programs, as opposed to those that practice mentoring. Since Slovenia has not yet discovered the full potential of mentorship, there is even more opportunity to grow.

Companies that have an efficient onboarding system have a significant advantage. Their mentors have more patience with new (not only young) workers, because they know exactly what they want and how they are going to get it. When the unexpected happens (for example: younger generations usually have different opinions and habits than their senior colleagues), their reactions are calm. They explain why something is wrong and how to do it right. The patience is also reflected in clear goal-oriented onboarding and it is of crucial importance, if we are to succeed.

Employees who had a mentor are 52 % more proficient that those that did not have one

The main criteria when choosing a mentor is the person’s qualification and professional competence, not the results they produce. We need to make sure that the person represents the culture of our company and enjoys working with young people. Workers, especially younger generations, need to feel welcome and appreciated. Although their work habits are incomprehensible to us, they are willing to work. Teach them. Lead them. Encourage their growth. Be proud of them and they will be proud of you and the company they are a part of. There are numerous companies that are already successfully practicing this: Pomgrad, Talum, Palfinger, Impol, Arcont, Farmtech, Mikro+Polo, Roto, Virs, etc. What makes these stand out?

The secret of these companies lies in their leadership. Here are some methods that these companies have successfully implemented into their system:

  • Defending and supporting the inclusion of younger generations into the company and providing appropriate mentorship programs;
  • Nurturing young leaders;
  • Offering participation in projects, both within the country and abroad;
  • Offering additional training to their employees;
  • Offering participation in digitalization projects, especially regarding the development of both products and processes;
  • Offering opportunity for personal growth, which enables them to acquire new knowledge, skills, and experience;
  • Opportunity to climb the corporate ladder; and
  • Financial rewards.

These companies focus on culture, environment, and intergenerational cooperation. As a model, we can take a look at Palfinger. They are a traditional manufacturing company and in the past decade, the average age of their workers decreased for approximately 5 years, while the collective has grown from 400 to 1.000 employees.

Use the CPA Model When Onboarding Younger Generations

Proficient mentors and leaders know that young people (and all new employees) need clear criteria of measuring progress during onboarding. The fact is that not everything can be measured in pieces, meters, euros, or percentages. The CPA model is a very efficient approach that can help with performance appraisal (from the very beginning and then each consecutive month).

CPA stands for three constituents that are crucial for efficient onboarding (of all workers, not just the younger ones) and are evaluated on a scale from 1 to 10. These are:

  1. Confidence (at the beginning it is usually between 3 and 5);
  2. Proficiency (at the beginning quite low, about 2 to 3); and
  3. Autonomy (at the beginning between 1 and 3).

Usually, the young person’s confidence is a bit higher than their proficiency and autonomy, which is a great starting point for progress. The common misbelief is that young people are too confident and the experienced workers are bothered by it. It is of utmost importance to show the youth that confidence is not inherently bad and is in fact pivotal for well-executed work. The mutual respect and trust depend also on the remaining two constituents; when working with young people, we are professional and give them a chance to become autonomous.

What Happens, When the Mentor and the New Employee Evaluate the Progress According To CPA Criterion?

The mentor can clearly see the progress and build trust in the process. With that the feeling of commitment and belonging emerges and often the new employee quickly becomes a valuable part of the team. An excellent mentor is dedicated to their job and wants to do it right. Younger generations will follow the leader who knows what they are doing and who gives them the feeling of appreciation and respect. Obeying the rules is learnt behaviour. If somebody is struggling with that, their age is irrelevant.

When evaluating success, one should avoid double standards. If the younger employees are rewarded differently, it may cause dissatisfaction with the older employees. Younger generations should not be privileged – if anything, the opposite. Since they have a lot of energy and they have a different way of thinking, they should be included in various projects. That will result in elevated energy levels within the team and give them a chance to not only prove themselves, but also earn more money – but do not neglect your senior employees.

Employing young people also brings new challenges in terms of reward systems. According to our data, more than half of the leaders are rewarding their employees for their previous achievements and not current results. We call that “maintaining peace within the team.” Younger generations are not particularly fond of this practice and do not accept it – reasonably so. It is essential for leaders to be educated and trained how to properly evaluate and reward the achievements of their workers based on their work alone. This has also been emphasised in The (R)Evolution of Leadership, which has managed to enthral countless leaders worldwide. It includes multiple first-hand examples and describes various leadership approaches, among them also the concept of fair-play, which is usually appreciated regardless of someone’s age.

To sum it up, young people are neither spoilt, nor incapable. Spoilt people do not seek work, because they are usually taken care of by someone else. In the case of young adults, their parents are the caretakers and they usually start looking for a job when they reach their thirties and realize that most of their friends are employed and they might want to do something with their lives. Young people that are looking for work are a lot more determined and capable, which is why they deserve a fair chance and prejudice-free work environment.