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Flexibility: A Must-Have for Gen Z?

-Listening time: 7 Minutes

In our new podcast series, SD Worx HR Evangelist Jan Laurijssen is joined by flexible work specialist and keynote speaker Isabel De Clercq. Together, they explore how HR leaders can enhance their flexible work strategies to meet diverse people needs. First up, it's a question of Gen Z. Is it true they always prefer flexibility? Listen to find out!


      Jan: Hi, and welcome to the podcast series on flexibility, in the Perfect Match campaign of SD Worx.

      My name is Jan Laurijssen. I'm joined today by Isabel De Clercq, who recently wrote a book about good work. We'd like to hear what she thinks about a number of issues related to flexibility.

      Welcome, Isabel.

      Isabel: Nice to be here, Jan.

      Thank you for the invitation.

      Jan: You've read our research, we’ve got some questions to fill out. So, (the) first topic of this particular podcast is: Gen-Z has a universal preference for flexibility. Do you think that's true, false or both?

      Isabel: I think it's a lie. I think it's a marketing trick. We need categories in order to manage the world and to understand the world better. But it's a big lie because in one era, like our era, I don’t think that there are a lot of differences between different generations. For example, purpose and being able to contribute to something that transcends the individual. It is important for you but it's also important for our children. So, I don't think there is a lot of difference between the generations. Also about flexibility, I'm sorry, but I'm 55 years old and for me, flexibility is very important and also for my children. That's point number one.

      And then I think that flexibility also might have some disadvantages because flexibility is always seen as something positive, you know, valued in our era. But for example, yesterday I was giving a workshop and there was a guy who said, “For me, flexibility is very important because I want to be able to pick up my children at school. So, it means that from 4 to 8 PM I don't want to work. And so, at 8:00 I start working again.” And I think that's a great example of flexibility. But then there was another guy working for a consultancy that I heard like one month ago, and he said, “I am with my children between 4 and 8. But you have to know that when you are in the kitchen, my computer is over there, and so I am always available. I'm always on because,” he says, “I feel this kind of guilt because my employer gives me this flexibility. So, in return I have to give something back and that is constant availability.” And he says, “That works fine for me.” So, that's the danger of flexibility. And I would like to say that it would be better if, when you're on, you should be on, and then when you're off, you're off.

      Jan: Basically, what you said is that the differences between generations are fake, but there are differences within a generation, within the same age (group). People are different, we have different needs, we live different lives. Flexibility needs also change (due to) age, over time, depending on your life situation, whatever. For employers that is a huge challenge to offer all types of flexible working to meet those individual needs.

      Isabel: I think that from the organisational point of view, there should be some guidelines (on) what is important. First of all, work should be healthy and sustainable. Sustainable means that we should all be able to work until we are 65, 67 years old (while having) a healthy relationship with work. That's number one. Two: we are not paid to be busy but to create value for customers. That's number two. And number three is that we still need connection or connectedness with colleagues and with the organisation. (Using) these guidelines, leaders will have to see with their teams how they want to translate this into concrete ways of working.

      The problem is, first of all, that employers do not set the guidelines. They went to hybrid ways of working because everybody was doing so. But there was no plan. It was not a deliberate choice. And so there is no vision about why they embraced or they allowed working from home. So, you need a vision and the why.

      Jan: Thank you so much. And in the next [episode] we will be talking about productivity when working from home.

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