Niamh is a recent graduate in digital marketing in her first job. She works in the drinks sector and was recruited remotely just after the pandemic began. She has yet to meet the five other people on her team – three colleagues who decamped to rural locations at the start of the lockdown have made it clear they don’t want to return to the office.

Niamh, who is 24, dislikes the blurred lines that working from home has created between her personal life and her day job. She also resents being frequently asked to jump on a video call a few minutes before her normal clocking off time, pointing out that if she was in the office she’d be walking out the door and unavailable. She goes into the office to break the monotony but says the place is usually deserted and depressing.

All through college, Niamh was looking forward to getting a job in anticipation of greater solvency, a busier social life and a job that was going to absorb her. What she got, she says, is a damp squib. As a result, she’s looking for a new role that isn’t full-time remote and better meets her expectations about work.

Niamh’s job is clearly not a good fit with what she thought she’d be getting when she joined the workforce and a recent study on The Employer of the Future, published by ESMT Berlin and researched by master’s degree student Jan Malte Jeddeloh, suggests that companies may need to start tailoring jobs more if they want to attract and retain young talent.

“Despite some overlapping values, generational differences are visible, underscoring the increasing importance of leisure, work-life balance and individualisation with each generation. These changes require adaptations of job offers for more recent generations,” the author says.

One of the factors playing into how younger generations perceive the world of work are major world events that have influenced their lives, including the wide-ranging consequences of Covid-19 and the global economic crisis of 2007-2009, which was happening when generations Y and Z were growing up.

For many, that meltdown had a direct impact on what was happening at home in terms of cuts to their families’ spending power and parental job losses or insecurity. As a result, these younger cohorts are more cautious and risk averse than older generations and job tenure is important.

Jeddeloh’s study looked at the most and least relevant job characteristics for students studying at one of the 31 colleges that form the Global Network for Advanced Management business schools across 72 countries. The average age of the group was 29, making them tail-end generation Y. They identified the five most important attributes as: salary; type of contract; remote work options; company reputation; and status. The five least important were: company size; bonuses; diversity, equality and inclusion; working hours; and type of work.

The fact that salary is right at the top of the list jumps out as there is a prevailing view that purpose and satisfaction matter more to younger workers than money. With this group, however, apparently not, although they are a specific elite cohort and the study identified a difference in attitude between men and women. Salary mattered less to women.

The findings also pointed up other significant differences in attitudes, depending on gender and cultural and professional backgrounds.

Men were more focused on traditional workplace features, such as salary, career path and type of contract, while women were driven more by what would be considered “new” work attributes such as work-life balance, sustainability, remote working and value alignment.

Participants from western countries also rated new work attributes higher than those from Asian countries, all of which suggests that employers need to differentiate between candidates to be successful in their recruitment efforts, the author says.

To get this research group fired up about a potential employer, Jeddeloh found that the salaries on offer had to be equal to or greater than the industry average. Positions had to be permanent (a reflection of generation’s Y’s need for security, having lived through a global economic crisis) and offer remote work as an option. Employer reputation was also a deciding factor, particularly when it came to sustainability and social responsibility.

Jeddeloh says that with generation Z now becoming visible in much greater numbers in the workforce, (the oldest of them are around 26) and despite many similarities to generation Y, “a new set of values and different patterns of behaviour are entering the job market. This requires employers to understand the needs and wants of the rising percentage of generation Z among the workforce.”

One of the things employers need to be aware of about generation Z-ers, for example, is that for the most part they don’t like working completely in isolation.

Jeddeloh adds that understanding the needs of incoming workers matters because previous research into the person-organisation “fit” to find out whether shared values yield any benefits found that “the perceived correspondence between their own and their employer’s values, the person-organisation fit, predicts not only organisational commitment but also job satisfaction and turnover intentions”.

Ultimately the study comes up with four key recommendations for employers keen to attract young talent: analyse the value proposition; analyse the target profile of potential employees; tailor the value proposition to the target profile; and be transparent, because “comparison of jobs is easy in today’s world; thus, a lack of transparency will lead to a lack of trust”, Jeddeloh cautions.