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2023 | 04. September

Interview: «Engaging Generation Z with Purpose, Autonomy, and Transparency»

The Zurich based communications agency JEFF, founded in 2011 by Millennials, now employs many members of the demanding Generation Z. HR Director Adrian Ryser explains how JEFF keeps those born after 1997 engaged.

Interview: Andreas Minder

Andreas Minder: About a third of your employees belong to Generation Z. What does that mean for the human resource management?

Adrian Ryser: It's important to understand what matters to Generation Z. Purpose is a key word. We try to consider this in everyday work life. The work processes are designed so that employees can generate an impact. They can see at the end of the day what they have worked for and thus find personal purpose in their work.

How is that reflected specifically?

Autonomy is a big part of meaningful work. We try to encourage this by allowing even young project managers to take responsibility for budgets and clients, enabling them to work independently. This opportunity is attractive to young people looking to develop themselves.

How does hierarchy at JEFF coexist with autonomy?

At JEFF, we have a traditional but flat hierarchy. We have also discussed whether this is still contemporary. However, dissolving hierarchies doesn't seem to be a concern for Generation Z. I sense more of an expectation that management should make decisions. This allows people to focus on their topics and responsibilities. The management's decisions just need to be justified and consistent. And it's very important that feedback can be given through all levels of hierarchy. Any employee can approach our CEO and say, hey, I see potential for improvement. This openness is appreciated and lived by everyone at JEFF.

What else is part of your work culture?

Transparent inclusion as a counterpoint to hierarchy. We tell people what we're doing and why. We take them on the journey. The management tries to involve employees where it makes sense. Even with the risk that they might have a different opinion than management. But this risk must be taken. It's useless if something is decided that the base does not want. Of course, a certain balance is needed. If we were to consult all employees for every little thing, I might soon hear the comment over coffee: "What are you getting paid for if you just set up questionnaires and we should decide everything?"

Adrian Ryser (Head of HR & Managing Partner)

What requests from the base have already been implemented?

Last year, a feedback session criticized that the salaries were not consistent. So, after an analysis, we decided on a transparent salary system. That doesn't mean we post a list of who earns how much, but that we define salaries based on very clear criteria. Everyone is measured by the same standard. We developed the system ourselves last fall, explained it to everyone, and let them vote on it. It was very much approved.

What about flexible working models?

We make as few stipulations as possible. At the end of the day, the work needs to be done, and the result has to be right. How one reaches this goal is largely left up to the employees. Night owls don't have to be at the office at 7:30 a.m. Moreover, one does not always have to come to the office but can also work from home or on the go. Of course, there are limits, but because we try to be flexible, the employees are also flexible when it's necessary. By the way, it's not that everyone works from anywhere in the world all year round. Our hub is still our office. Direct contact with employees and clients remains central.

What's your turnover rate?

In the agency world, an employee stays for an average of two years. With us, it's a bit over three years. The turnover rate is an important metric from an HR perspective, yet I'm not a big fan of it. On one hand, because we're still growing, which also influences the rate. On the other hand, the qualitative aspect is completely missing. If someone tells me after three, four years: It was cool, but I want to try something different, then that's not a failure for us.

Do you find it easy to recruit new employees?

Seniors and specialists are hard to find, even for us. That's why we focus strongly on active searching. We don't just post an ad online and wait to see what happens. We actively look for people who might fit the position, relying heavily on the large network of our employees and partners. Many dossiers come to us this way. To win people over, we try to explain our culture as best as possible. Not self-praise, but honestly and transparently put into words what JEFF is.

The management and seniors at JEFF all belong to Generation Y. Is it easy to align their expectations with those of Generation Z?

The two generations positively influence each other. I notice in myself that I think more about the purpose of work, work-life balance, or sustainability – thanks to Generation Z.

And how is Gen Z influenced by the Millennials?

From us, they can learn that sometimes you have to bite through. For example, finish a started project and then think about what could be done better in the next project. Values flow into each other and merge into something good.

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