Does working from home bring more work-life balance? What will it mean to go "back to normal"? And who exactly is doing all this great resigning? For many of us, the future of work feels pretty uncertain — maybe even stressful. 

In this episode, we explore employee desires with Anne Fannon (MA '03), director at the Work-Learn Institute, a research unit that pulls insights from Waterloo's world-renowned co-op programs. She offers valuable information about what the youngest workers want from their careers, and how tomorrow's most successful employers will meet their expectations.

Takeaways from Anne

Insights go beyond co-op

Waterloo's co-operative education program collaborates with more than 7,000 employers spanning across the globe. The Work-Learn Institute (WxL) taps into thousands of work-integrated learning experiences to provide insights for talent strategies that will resonate with young employees. As the war for talent ramps up, all employers can leverage these insights to attract, recruit and retain top talent. (1:10) Work-Learn is also an incubator for innovation in work-integrated learning experiences, helping the University adapt to the changing labour market and societal needs. Anne points out that Waterloo employers can access these findings to improve their practices — for all employees, not just co-op students. (1:50)

The importance of workplace values

There is a values gap between Generation Z and today's employers. While employers could correctly identify some of values young employees prize most — self-direction and benevolence — their organizational values did not align with them. (3:00) This gap is a potential risk for employers looking to recruit young talent. According to research from WxL, young employees are willing to turn down a job that doesn't align with their values, even if it's a fit for their skillset. (4:17)

Best practices for recruiting

The onboarding process is critical to recruiting and retaining top talent. Employers should be thoughtful about how they welcome new employees and the way they advertise positions. (5:29) WxL investigated the things that attract students to apply to a position, and identified a several items that should be included in job ads and onboarding materials: organizational values, diversity and inclusion practices, and learning opportunities for employees. (5:54)

Insights from top co-op employers

Co-op employers are a microcosm of the broader labour force, and Anne suggests that all employers could implement successful co-op strategies with their full-time workforce. (7:28) Some best practices from Waterloo's top co-op employers include: taking time to articulate and live their company values, providing development opportunities, making space for innovative "stretch projects," and articulating how meaningful an individual's work is to the organization. When an employer does these things for a co-op student, both parties gain a better experience from the work term. (8:45) If short-term employees can unlock value with these practices, imagine the benefits employers could see with full-time employees.

Traits aren't necessarily unique to Generation Z

In many ways, the things Generation Z is seeking from work are the same things we are all seeking. Anne speculates that young employees may just have more clarity about what those things are, and are therefore more vocal. The pandemic has made us all reflect on what we want from work, and many of these realizations can be connected to what WxL has uncovered with their research. (12:10) As employers, we need to take each person's preferences and needs into account, especially if we want to retain and benefit from the unique skills each employee brings to their job. (13:03)