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Gen Z’s reluctance to work in office: How India Inc is adapting

A job that entails working in office isn't everything for Gen Z employees who are now used to working from home. Yet, some companies are trying innovative ways to bring them in, with some degree of success.

July 29, 2022 / 11:21 AM IST
Hybrid work model, which involves a mixture of work-from-home and work in offices, has gained momentum in the developed world (Representational image)

Hybrid work model, which involves a mixture of work-from-home and work in offices, has gained momentum in the developed world (Representational image)

When 24-year-old Rohan Deopura (name changed), a resident of Udaipur, received a call from his Chennai-based digital marketing company informing him about the return to office (RTO) plans, a thought entered his mind: Is it time to switch jobs?

“Shifting to Chennai and commuting involves a lot of expense and effort,” Deopura said, voicing the dilemma that Generation Z, or Gen Z, faces – whether to work in office or change jobs.

A sizeable chunk of youngsters – 47 percent – told job portal Indeed that they’re very likely to change jobs within the next 12 months. Of them, 61 percent said this was because of RTO plans by their employers, which would snuff out their aspirations of continuing to work from home.

Gen Z – those born in the period from the mid-1990s to 2010 – is considered to be the first generation to have grown up with access to the internet from a young age, keeping them always connected. Many of them started their careers in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, working from home. It’s not surprising then that a full RTO is the last thing they want.

Getting employees to work in office has been a most contentious topic over the past few months as the pandemic receded and restrictions on movement were lifted. Even when Apple CEO Tim Cook announced its back-to-office plan, employees protested and threatened to quit and Apple eventually made a U-turn.

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However, companies in India are leaving no stone unturned to get employees back to office, even if it is for 2-3 days a week. Across sectors, companies have implemented hybrid work models that offer hyper-personalised initiatives such as letting employees choose the day, place and clothes to wear at the workplace.

Flexibility factor

For the workforce today, work-life balance and workplace flexibility are critical factors, the importance of which came to the fore during the pandemic. In fact, more than 70 percent of employees prefer hybrid work, according to Sangeeta Gupta, chief strategy officer of the National Association of Software and Service Companies.

Highlighting that Gen Z currently accounts for a sizable portion of employees, she pointed out that organisations are adapting to their distinct behavioural and engagement patterns as well as workplace expectations.

This holds true for IT company SAP Labs India, where 40 percent of the hires every year are freshers. SAP Labs India embraced a hybrid model of work in July.

“Gen Z demands increasing support to balance their personal needs and would want to identify with organisations that resonate with their beliefs and values,” said Shweta Mohanty, head of HR at SAP Labs India.

Titan Company has close to 80 percent of its employees coming into the office to experience both ‘nature’ and ‘nurture’ at the workplace. Since ‘flexibility at work’ is the new normal, managers and employees are sensitised to work from home/anywhere wherever needed.

“This has already been taken up in the digital and the people function (HR),” said Priya Mathilakath, head of HR - retail and corporate at Titan Company.

Gen Z model

However, even with a hybrid model at his IT company in New Delhi, Lucknow-based Vinay Dabaz (name changed), 27, is not happy.

“If I have to visit the office just twice a week, what’s the point of renting a place in such an expensive city?” he asked.

To this, some companies are allowing each workgroup to define a customised model that suits their team’s objectives and the well-being of the individuals.

Procter & Gamble is carrying forward learnings from a pilot programme of welcoming workgroups who continue to own their unique hybrid models across working from office, working from home, and spending time in the field to connect with customers and stakeholders.

“We understand that a cookie-cutter approach will not work. So our initiatives are helping us ensure a smooth transition for many of our colleagues who are witnessing work-at-office at P&G for the first time,” said PM Srinivas, head of HR for the Indian subcontinent at P&G.

Relaxing norms

Industry leaders said that Gen Z, having just started their careers, finds workplaces to be restrictive in aspects such as dress codes and formal behaviour, while the remote-work environment is creatively and operationally more freedom-centric.

“They attach less importance to cultural values, teams, co-learning, and shared goals,” said Amit Das, cofounder of Think360.ai, a data science and analytics company.

The debate about back to office has been about freedom vs growth, individuals vs teams, and short-term outputs vs long-term outcomes, and there is no one answer.

When Think360 felt the need to start being co-located again, it eased into the change – longer heads-up for the eventual return as well as setting up hybrid designs to request 1-2 days in office vs home/remote locations.

In the initial phases, the company had more office events and offsites as the team started coming back to office. Further, it’s become a lot more relaxed about dress codes.

Presently, everyone comes to the office at least a couple of times a week. Interestingly, 60 percent of the Think360 workforce is from Gen Z.

Providing a purpose

Earlier this year, sales automation platform FieldAssist initiated a pan-India client visit drive. Gen Z employees, comprising 75 percent of its total workforce, were excited about the in-person interactions with leaders in new-age and enterprise brands.

The company assigns mentors to fresh talent and they have played a “great role” in inviting Gen Z to visit, interact, learn and work from the office. To provide an enabling ecosystem, FieldAssist even allowed employees to work from any other office location across India.

“As an outcome, the company witnessed its employees from Delhi spending weeks and months working from the office in Mumbai,” said Paramdeep Singh, CEO of FieldAssist.

Consistent engagement

Apart from personalised hybrid work models, industry leaders said continuous engagement remains a key factor.

Monish Anand, founder of fintech company MyShubhLife, said one of the best ways to ease stress related to RTO plans is to implement employee-centric activities for better employee experiences.

“We launched several activity clubs – books, music, sports, nature lovers – and celebrations to keep up employee engagement regularly,” he said, adding that the company, where 35 percent of the workforce is Gen Z, also encourages people to post entertaining video clips about issues that matter to them on the company’s official handles.

Following a similar approach of having Fun Fridays, anniversary celebrations, and various team-building activities, Daya Prakash, founder of staffing firm TalentOnLease, began work from the office and achieved 100 percent attendance.

“These policies help attract and retain members of Generation Z in the workforce,” he said.
Abhishek Sahu covers HR and Careers at Moneycontrol.
first published: Jul 29, 2022 11:10 am
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