Talent: Gen Y and Z prefer freedom to high salaries

This article first appeared in Enterprise, The Edge Malaysia Weekly, on May 13, 2019 - May 19, 2019.
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Companies that want to attract talent from Generations Y and Z should create and maintain a positive work culture, according to local job portal WOBB, which targets young professionals.

According to its Malaysian Work Culture Report 2019, published in January, the majority of its mainly Gen Y (24 to 37 years old) respondents indicated that a positive work culture was more important to them than a high salary. When they ranked their most valued company traits, career growth, social connection and progressive culture were at the top of their list. Wealth only came in at No 5.

WOBB founder Derek Toh says he too was surprised by the results. “I think people are looking beyond just working for a prestigious brand because there are many companies coming up in the market. For example, the start-up scene is booming. People are realising that there are more ways to build a great career, as long as they can find the right place to work. Just because you work for a prestigious brand, it does not mean you will be more successful.”

According to the report, only 10% of the respondents indicated that high salaries and financial incentives were their top priority. In contrast, 31% prioritised companies that provided clear growth and promotion opportunities while 26% valued friendly working environments, team-oriented work and an appreciative culture.

This means that smaller or lesser-known companies can compete with prestigious brands and multinational corporations for promising young talent.

“In the past, I think it was lopsided in that only the prestigious companies would get all the best people. Today, you could be a normal company like WOBB and still get great people applying to work there,” says Toh.

“I think a lot of companies are now receptive to [emphasising their work culture] because they see it as an opportunity. It is not that easy to become a prestigious company because you probably need a global footprint and long history. But now, the smaller companies are seeing that they do not need to have all that to hire good people.”

As long as they are transparent about sharing their work culture, benefits and career opportunities, the new generation will be interested in working for them, he adds. “If companies are transparent about their culture, they are likely to get at least twice as many applications.”

But what is more, they are likely to get applications from their preferred pool of job-seekers. “Job-seekers with backgrounds that many employers prefer are 9.5 times more likely to apply to companies that are transparent about their culture. It does not matter if it is big or small.”

The benefits in terms of preference are flexible working hours (41.4%), medical coverage (23%), casual working attire (6.4%) and high salaries (6.2%). On the other hand, 64% of the respondents said having the freedom to voice their opinions on important matters is a happiness factor in the workplace.

Most of these benefits do not cost much and are not too complicated to implement. “Something as simple as being able to voice their opinions has such a big influence on happiness. When I speak to employers today, I emphasise this. It is not even something you need to spend money on or change systems to achieve. Just change how you communicate,” says Toh.

Companies that want to attract talent must also improve their online presence, since 84% of respondents research a company’s website before applying for a job there and 58% look up the company’s social media sites.

WOBB was founded by Toh, a former associate director at an international recruitment firm, in 2014. It currently has about 200,000 users and 8,500 employers signed up on its mobile-centric platform.