• Hackdays

Would you dare to ask for home office options in your first job interview?

Creating understanding between New Work generations and Old Economy corporations

Digital natives lack ambition and are terribly demanding. They want it all: flexible working hours, stunningly designed work environments, projects as exciting as bungee jumping and an opulent salary from the very start. If you belong to Generation Y (born between 1980 and 1994), or worse, Gen Z (born between 1995 and 2010), chances are great you will be the nightmare of a human resources manager. This is the story you often hear.

“I want it all. And I want it now.” Digital natives are said to have extraordinarily high demands.

We wanted to find out more by speaking to the people who know about the situation best. Therefore, the Hackdays Team organized a lively panel discussion. The idea was to bring the involved parties – companies and young professionals – together in order to create a disruption of our minds. To exchange views and share different perspectives we invited a balanced expert panel as well as a mixed crowd of company representatives as well as digital natives.

Come together everyone! The invitation cards of our wonderful designer attracted a great audience.

What is the controversy, exactly? Well, it’s all the fault of New Work really! This influential movement has sparked a lot of wacky ideas about reshaping the world of work. Its rakish promises for employees sound rather charming: You will be granted to make your own decisions, act like a free bird, receive fewer cloudy commands from the boss, bring in your own revolutionary ideas, have easygoing barbecues with the team (and maybe even trips to theme parks) and, of course, perform as much home office as you please (for German readers: Home Office bis einem die Decke auf den Kopf fällt). The promises for companies are larger revenues and smiling employees. With those ideas gaining ground, many young professionals grow exciting expectations about life at their future employer.

Experiencing the team in a very different environment… .

Hence, many companies find themselves confronted with growing and sometimes bold demands of new employees. Digital natives in the IT sector are such a scarce commodity that they can nonchalantly dictate the conditions of their contract. Generally, there is a tendency of young employees to openly communicate quite a few demands – which, however, are based on sensible ideas about creating a better working world! So there seems to be a relatable conflict between the interests of young employees and established companies. We didn’t solve this problem. But our evening shed a lot of light on it. Clear the stage for a fresh discussion!

Our discussion might not have been as significant as the big issues these two are discussing. But its topics are widely discussed and relevant to a lot of people too!

Do Gen Y and Z employees work less hard?

The young folk that is currently flooding the job market wants flexible working hours, fulfilling times at the office, a lot of spare time and long holidays. Are they lazier than earlier generations? Let them speak for themselves!

Our young panelists agreed that the key to success and their preferred approach is agile working. Everyone talks about this concept. Our talent representatives really live it. The definition of this trendy term is more or less this: Don’t work hard, work great! It’s not about how long you stay at the office or if others perceive you as incredibly industrious. A radically agile workflow simply reflects a strict target-oriented way of working, not a performance of duties. If a project allows a free Thursday, jump into the lake! (Especially if it’s as hot as on the day of our summer panel.) Martina Kraus, software developer at inovex GmbH, explained that if you have an important job to do for your customer, which happens to take place on a Saturday, you’re happy to pass parts of the weekend on their working grounds. Chances are good you still feel relaxed from that day at the lake!

Vivid agility is the opposite of a dull attendance recorder.

Another of our digital talent representatives, Robert Reiz, who is working at LivePerson as a Senior Software Development Manager, shared an anecdote about a practice you might want to call “institutional agility”. He explained that some of his colleagues in Germany have quite curious routines: They are working between 1 and 10pm. The reason for this is that in doing so they have a large overlap with the working hours of their teammates in Atlanta. Apparently, they adapted quickly and have already come to appreciate those unconventional working hours. Brunch time every day…!

BASF’s CIO Stefan Beck told an insightful story as regards young talents’ expectations of their work life – which also revealed a great deal about the new generation’s values. He reported that he once worked with a remarkable colleague who was listed in BASF’s program for high potentials. This young man was a born leader and already managed 20 employees in a very successful way. However, one day, he said: “Stefan, please put me off the list again.”

Why is that? Most people of Generation X (born in the 1960s) would have killed to be part of this program. “I actually fear to be promoted”, he said. “I see you and others in leading positions, I’ve witnessed how much you work and how stressful your daily business is. I don’t want that.” This young professional preferred to work a limited number of hours so he could spend more time with family, friends, execute his hobbies, or be actively engaged in a club. The values of power and prestige have become outdated to some extent. Personal fulfillment, extra-professional engagement and the careful caring of a personal network have become the new priority champions.

The “Millenials” want a healthy work-life-balance – as demonstrated here, rather fittingly, on London’s Millenium Bridge.

Values also play a major role on a different level, stressed Stefan Beck. Applicants increasingly ask critical questions about the societal mission and the sustainability of a company. Working in a chemical company, he certainly knows what he is talking about. Therefore, a tricky part of employer branding and job interviews is the assurance that the leadership has an eye on the firm’s social responsibility profile.

Are digital natives too demanding?

Where does this impression stem from?

“Do you offer regular home office options?”

The company reps explained that they’ve recently been surprised how often young professionals ask about home office options in the very first interview. They wouldn’t have dared to do that. However … they admitted that they definitely had this question in mind when they had their first interviews – a question that represents the more general thought of “what can you offer me, guys?!” This question may seem bold but it’s also a valid way to create transparency from the very start. It can serve as a good tool to prevent false expectations and early frustration – and, at worst, a speedy dismissal. So being brutally honest and straightforward can save time and nerves on both sides.

“I can work anywhere I want.”

With the right educational and professional profile you can easily switch from one job to another these days, especially in the IT sector. And a needed talent is a job hopper indeed! If you are among those most wanted persons and don’t want to build a nest in a specific firm, you can jump between employers until you are fully satisfied. Whether they like it or not: Companies have to convince specialists to stay. Every day. Eager for new experiences and the best possible projects as well as working conditions, many young professionals otherwise decide to bring about their vocational happiness somewhere else. A workplace that doesn’t please will cause a leave. “I have ten headhunter inquiries in my mailbox – per day”, said Martina. She clearly doesn’t have to take the first bait.

What amplifies swift job hopping is the fact that nowadays there seems to be hardly any emotional connection to one’s employer, as Stefan Beck observes. The newcomers on the job market have a more pragmatic mindset. They don’t want to boast with big names (“Hey, I’m working for Apple!”) but strive for fascinating projects, permanently changing challenges, and solid offers for their professional development.

Everyone prefers well-designed coworking spaces to dull and grey bullpens!”

Gen Y and Z employees only want to inhabit the best-looking workspaces on the planet. Sure.

Sabine Sauber has recognized these new needs early and turned the idea into a prosperous business – Design Offices GmbH. She stressed that within the fast-paced, disruption-oriented digital revolution there is also a kind of counterculture, a digital defiance. Being surrounded by digital devices and tools throughout the whole workday, many young professionals seek a certain portion of digital detox by working in an appealing analogous environment. The rest of the panel quickly and determinedly assured that well-designed workspaces are generally much preferred to working in dull and grey open space offices. That’s some profound agreement between the generations right there!

“The expectations of young professionals are not higher – just different.”

Are the new generations of employees too lazy and too demanding? Surely, they have new values and thus new demands, which makes necessary to rethink a company’s organizational structures. This is certainly a challenge. But the young talents are still eager to achieve something. They don’t lack determination for performance. They just need to be motivated differently. Not with power, capital and prestige but with a sense of self-fulfillment, freedom of expression, enjoyable workspaces and great projects. “The demands of the digital natives are not necessarily higher – just different”, concluded Sonja Mechling, CEO of Heidelberg Digital Unit.

This provides valuable insights for HR managers in the advancing “war for talents”. If the needs of the young talents are so different and companies still maladjusted, it is of paramount importance to identify and understand these needs in order to develop the right recruiting strategy. Based on that, corporates can find innovative concepts to attract, motivate and retain talents of the generations to come.

“Know what you want!”

Just for the record: There are always and have always been individuals who strive to have a top position. Stress-resilient high performers going many, many extra miles are not a dying breed. Although the new generation may yield the impression that such people will become extinct, it must be noted that ideas and ambitions about one’s career have always been different among individuals, regardless of trends. These things have been the same 20, 50 and even 100 years ago, evaluates Stefan Beck. Some people strive for more, others do exactly as they are told. (And quite a few other types are located in between those extremes).

As for all generations, it is not only the values that have to be discussed. Each and every individual has to decide according to which values they want to live and work. Young talents have to find out what type they are on the scale between workaholic and lazybones, emphasizes Sabine Sauber: “You simply have to know what you want in life. What are your goals? From there, you can head off to identify your expectations and the nature of your preferred workplace as well as your way of working.”

“It’s important to grow mutual understanding.”

Both conflicting parties at our panel discussion demonstrated a great deal of sympathy for the other side. The consensus of the evening was: No party is simply right or wrong. The newcomers on the job market rather clearly express what they expect and the companies try to accommodate these wishes as best as possible – while observing all given limitations. This is a solid basis to preserve a spirit that Sabine Sauber termed “understanding”. The better this understanding is cultured, the better we can create a working world that is favorable for all.


Thanks again to the panelists and all guests for questions, answers, stories, opinions, experiences and the comfortable afterwork atmosphere. Big thanks to Design Offices for providing such inspiring rooms and culinary delights – which are both invaluable food for great thoughts. The Hackdays team is looking forward to further bright events with you!

About the author:

This article was written in a well-designed, creativity-inspiring workspace – Jonas Koehler’s home office.

All photos taken from www.pexels.com and our own cameras.

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