How to use youthquake in your small business

Here, Pam Bateson, co-founder and CEO of Thrive Partners, explores how businesses can use the 'youthquake' movement to boost their business.

The Oxford English Dictionary named ‘youthquake’ their word of 2017 – a term originally coined in the ‘60s, which has found new meaning to describe the energy that has come from young people around the world finding and using their voice disruptively. It’s changing how brands market themselves, and is being credited with rebalancing global politics – which here, in the UK, saw Jeremy Corbyn exceed expectations in the General Election.

But what does this mean in the context of your SME? And how should it reframe how you’re interacting with a generation of high-potential workers that expect (and often deserve) more from their employers?

Let’s stop being lazy about ‘lazy Millennials’

This demographic has come in for a lot of criticism, much of it undeserved. A couple of generations ago, new additions to the workforce would have had the opportunity to learn a trade – being nurtured by older workers, passing on both the technical and soft skills needed to succeed in a given profession.

Today, the older generations face more pressures than ever before – with more managers dealing with more competing demands for their time in the office, more information than ever before thanks to email, and more complicated work-life dynamics (with more part-time and flexible workers, as well as struggling with new challenges like ageing parents). With all this going on, Millennial and Generation Z employees often fall to the bottom of the to-do list.

So while it’s easy to complain about the fact that they ‘don’t get’ what needs to be done to make a business a success, are we honestly giving this generation the right kind of attention they need to learn, grow and prosper in a connected, global world of work?

Frankly, I don’t think we are.

But what’s the solution? Here are some of my observations about what needs to shift against this new paradigm emerging as a result of youthquake, having watched workplaces transform over the last decade in my capacity as a change consultant and coach.

Sharing is caring

This is such a simple one, but can be hugely useful for unleashing the potential of the younger workers in your business. All you need is three simple things: your time, your undivided attention, and a few good questions. Letting them share what’s on their mind about work in an hour-long slot – where you leave your phone and laptop on your desk, so you’re not distracted – is a gift for this generation.

Listen out for clues about how they feel in what they tell you, and invite them to share more with: ‘it’s interesting you feel that way about our product; tell me more’ or ‘you say you’re frustrated – so what could you do to change that?’ At the end of the session, both of you are likely to have gained insight.

Get your working practices out of the dark ages

Younger workers have grown up with new expectations about the speed and immediacy of what’s possible in the world – largely down to a new relationship with technology.

But what does that mean for businesses that still organise around appraisals, strict contracts of employment, handbooks and terms and conditions? Younger workers are used to a fast-paced world and want to feel they are developing personally at an equally quick pace. Rightly or wrongly, there’s an expectation that needs can be met online, and on-demand – and nowhere is this more important than in an area like learning, which is a real motivator for younger workers (and always has been).

Make the most of digital by offering ways to build confidence and capacity in younger learners – and ask yourself how you can develop ways of learning that supplement all the knowledge that’s available online. Balancing digital and human learning is essential here – as younger workers crave ways to supplement what they Google versus what they get from a real conversation.

Ask why they should choose you – not the other way around

Nowadays people are looking for organisations that captivate, enable and inspire – organisations with purpose, that want to make a real and positive difference. Against this backdrop, your employee offer has to stand out – especially for organisations wanting to capture the disruptive energy of younger generations.

Competition to attract talent is rife within start-ups and understanding what younger workers really want is key. Creativity is one thing that helps – from unlimited paid holiday to sleep pods – but creativity without meaning is pointless. By building in genuinely useful elements to your employee value proposition, you’re more likely to make sure that youthquake works to build your advantage, rather than reduce it.

So, in summary…

It’s an age-old problem: younger generations arrive, and turn the world upside-down. And while the rate of transformation is faster than ever before, so is the rate of opportunity. By listening to and learning with – not against – younger workforces, you never know what you might find. Could you be the next Facebook? Or the next Uber? If you’re working with Millennials or Generation Z, then there’s a good chance that the answers sit inside your business, just waiting to be discovered.

Pam Bateson is co-founder and CEO of Thrive Partners

Further reading on youthquake

Owen Gough, SmallBusiness UK

Owen Gough

Owen was a reporter for Bonhill Group plc writing across the and titles before moving on to be a Digital Technology reporter for the

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