The New Employee Contract with Anthony Onesto
Here at Groundswell, we have the pleasure of talking with people who are passionate improving engagement, retention and overall satisfaction of today’s workforce. We recently had the opportunity to sit down with one of these individuals, Anthony Onesto, author of The New Employee Contract: How to Find, Keep, and Elevate Gen Z Talent. His book dives deep into the ever-evolving employee landscape with the introduction of GenZ workers and the wave automation.
Welcome, Anthony! So glad to be speaking with you today. Your main focus with the book is how to better understand and how to attract and retain employees, specifically for the GenZ audience and population. Why was it important for you to specifically focus on GenZ for your book?
I think there are two elements of the book that I wanted to talk about. One is the macro message about erosion and the unwritten employee contract between employees and employers, “If you give me this, I give you that.” It’s something that’s been established for quite a while and has unfortunately been eroding over time. There are a bunch of different reasons for it. You know, one, the macro economic dependencies on short-term earnings and all these sorts of things that are making decisions that aren’t people related and kind of eroding that contract from the company perspective. Then, having new generations coming into the workforce with this, there’s no like fact that my father worked for one company, his entire life doesn’t exist anymore. I think people look at the employee and say, employees aren’t loyal anymore, but I think it was the companies that started it, right.
So, it’s a macro view on that contract and how we renew, we need to re-establish that. At a micro level, what I want to do is tell that story, and also provide tactical advice to companies on the next generation of employees that are coming into the workforce. When millennials came into the workforce, we were all surprised that they thought differently and wanted different things than GenX and Boomers. There are commonalities in the various generations. But for the most part, when millennials came into the workforce, we were surprised and somewhat unprepared.
I wanted to take the macro lens of this employment contract and use it as a way to provide advice for the next generation. GenZ are coming into the workforce. Some of them are here, and over the next five to seven years more of them will come into the workplace. I wanted to explore and understand the question of whether they want something different, like what we saw with millennials. If they do, how do we prepare companies better to welcome them into organizations and around these three different areas: recruiting, employee retention and training?
That makes a lot of sense and it’s super interesting, at least from your purview to see that shift. You explore the concepts of, and the differences between 20th and the 21st-century jobs in your book. Can you give a brief primer on what those actual key differences are and why it really does matter?
Sure, a 20th-century job is typically a manufacturing job or job where you’re required to come into the office at a set time, punch a clock or where your job has specific duties and output. I gave a presentation the other day, and then the image illustration of a 20th-century job is at the turn of the century. Not this one, but the former century. When people used to go bowling for example, there were actual human beings that picked up the bowling pins and replaced them. That was an actual job someone had in the 20th-century. That sort of mechanical, where the output is exactly the same, and they can do the job exactly the same. Today that is all automated.
A 20th-century job was determined by leadership. From the top down they determined the hours that you had to work and the way you had to work in certain ways. There wasn’t a lot of creative freedom in those jobs. Some 20th-century jobs still exist today. Especially that mentality.
But if we’re thinking about the information age and the stuff that you and I do, we need to really start thinking about these roles in the 21st-century. It’s defined by giving that freedom that job is no longer nine to five that it can be accomplished. It’s output-based. It’s not determined by where you go, the hours you work and all of the elements that we saw in a 20th-century job. It’s about creative freedom and allowing people and we’re seeing an escalation of this. Of course, we saw this accelerate with the COVID pandemic.
The future may be different – where you know people are doing the job and different hours, ways, and all sorts of things. It’s not as prescriptive as it once was.
Yeah, and you even mentioned the idea of automation and I know you explore it in your book. It’s so interesting because the intent was to create and make our lives easier. Yet more people are arguably more miserable and stressed.
Yeah, I mean, I think if you look at the elements, there are two phases of automation. One is incremental automation and the second is full automation. We’ve seen the challenges whether it’s the Tesla autonomous vehicle, which everyone is striving towards. If you’ve watched the movie about Uber, the idea that Travis had, drivers were a friction point in his plan. So, we can remove the drivers, right? So there’s always going to be incremental innovation and automation around these things. The question here is whether the elements of these jobs should exist? So the fact is, if you can automate a role in a warehouse for Amazon, that job can be fully automated by a robot so that person can do something different now.
What happens to the individual? So like you said, not all automation is great, some of us are miserable. Well, what happens is if things are automated, we become more efficient. We’re looking for other things to do. How do we train folks to think creatively and create programs where you’re not doing that 20th-century task-oriented job, and it’s already here, like e-mail. It’s automation, like most of our jobs are already, you know, automated to a certain degree. It’s looking at the entirety of the situation and being very thoughtful about it versus “let’s just automate this because it’ll make it cheaper to do.”
How do we ensure employees don’t feel like another cog in the wheel? This can really show up if there’s a culture of micromanagement and a sole focus on business metrics. How can companies do better to address that?
When you look at it from the lens of GenZ, the idea of micromanaging is something that’s going to be very pushed back. The GenZ generation is going to push back on micromanagement because the majority of them were born with an iPhone in their hands, figuratively speaking. But also just the idea of co-creation. There’s a reason why the majority of GenZ actually has a TikTok account, which is the fastest-growing content medium in the world right now, faster than Netflix and Disney plus, and they have almost a zero content budget. They don’t create any original content. So co-creation, flexibility, all these things are super important for the GenZ environment.
There’s also rethinking how we foster respect. For example, there’s no reason for anyone to be online for 24 hours, so you can set reasonable expectations and boundaries around communication. The “send later” feature on email and slack is a game-changer. So just because you can send a message at any moment, think about the people that work for you. Are they going to be on and think “oh, he’s on and I need to respond to this right away”? So now I’m using automation to go okay, I’m going to send this tomorrow morning. It’s good for me to do it because I’m most productive, but it may not necessarily be good for the other person.
It’s those intentional things that are going to be critical.
That’s really interesting. I am curious from a benefits perspective, what is actually meaningful to this generation beyond benefits like healthcare?
The one thing is benefits are at a higher level mission for organizations. There’s an asterisk there because I think that trends across many different generations are more so like GenX, and then more millennial and more GenZ. So, it’s not very different from the millennial generation, but it’s going to be a critical factor. Company mission for this generation is going to be a game-changer, meaning they will not even consider unless they align on a mission.
Things like corporate giving where it’s not top-down is interesting. Tools like Groundswell are interesting because you’re incorporating the interests of the employees where normal social responsibility, some executive or some board member is part of some charity and now that company is supporting that charity. Groundswell is exactly what it is. It’s coming from the ground up saying okay, employees in this organization really care about women’s rights, homelessness, etc. And now you’re building your portfolio of charities around what they want. That’s co-creation. GenZ really likes that.
So I think Groundswell and social responsibility tools are going to have a competitive advantage there. They want flexible job design, like we talked about before, they want that 21st-century job.
For our final question, we want to know what causes you care about. In the spirit of making the world a better place, what is something you’re passionate about that we can highlight?
Great question. I have a side project – Ella Adventures that produces comic books in partnership with Deloitte Consulting to increase interest in STEM with girls. You can see more on our site and Deloitte’s site too. Women and girls in tech is a true passion project of mine. We are now working on building a pitch for an animated Ella series. Exciting!
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