The Staffing Show - Hannah MacDonald

On this episode of The Staffing Show, Hannah MacDonald, co-owner of Better Together, joins David Folwell to talk about all things Gen Z. As a member of Gen Z herself, she shares her own journey in the staffing industry and provides meaningful insights into this up-and-coming generation of workers. She touches on how this generation’s unique background has shaped their values and work ethic and how Gen Z workers can be a valuable resource to any company.

David Folwell: Hello everyone. Thank you for joining us for another episode of The Staffing Show. Today, I am excited to be joined by Hannah MacDonald, who is the co-owner of Better Together.

Hannah, thanks so much for being on the show today. Super excited to have you here, and talk about Gen Z and how to communicate with Gen Z.

To kick things off, could you give a little introduction on yourself, and tell us how you got into staffing?

Hannah MacDonald: Yeah, absolutely, David. Thank you so much for having me today. It’s such a pleasure to be here, and I’m so excited to be chatting with you about this.

I got into staffing by blood. My father is an owner of a staffing agency, and I grew up in the industry. I have very vivid memories of sleeping under his desk in the staffing industry, attending so many association dinners in the evenings, and all of the things. So, I gradually transitioned into the staffing industry.

Then, about a year ago, I opened up a new company with him, the Better Together Group, and we started it here in Orlando, Florida. We’re co-owners in it together now, and we still have a side business in Canada that we run at the same time.

Folwell:  Awesome. And tell me a little bit about, who is Better Together. What is your guys’ organization structure?

MacDonald: Yeah. The Better Together Group is a group of three different agency partners. We have Revolution Staffing, and they hire specifically for truck drivers. We have Essential Staffing who hires for permanent placements. And then, we have Help Unlimited who does laborers, both light industrial and skilled.

Folwell: That’s great. And what’s unique about the Better Together approach?

MacDonald: Yeah. The Better Together approach, it’s a little bit different, because they’re all niche individual companies in a group of companies. When people come work with us, they still have the pleasure of working with individual agencies that specialize just on drivers, and we know everything we need to know about them. Yet they don’t have to go outside of our organization to start connecting with somebody else about laborers. They have that twofold approach without creating the messiness in between that lots of companies get to when they use too many agencies.

Folwell:  Awesome. That makes a lot of sense. The conversation that we’re going to have today, and for all of the people that are listening to this, we’re going to be talking a little bit about Gen Z. And Hannah is an expert in what Gen Z needs, how to communicate with Gen Z. So, we’re going to be going a little bit off our normal path of talking about the future of staffing. Actually, I shouldn’t say that. This is the future of staffing.

MacDonald: That is the future.

Folwell:  This is the future of staffing, but instead of talking about tech, we’re going to be talking about how to communicate with Gen Z. To kick things off for this part, why are we talking about the importance of working with Gen Z? Why do you think this is such an important topic?

MacDonald: Yeah. Well, Generation Zs are on the rise. You’ve had three years of Generation Z graduating from university who’ve entered through the workforce. And there’s so many more of them to come. I think there’s 72 million Gen Zs. They’re about to take up, I believe it is, by the year of 2025, 24% of the working world. And they’re going to be a large part of your organization. So, it’s just important to kind of preemptively plan for what they’re going to be like and how we can best communicate, manage, recruit, and retain them.

Folwell:  Yeah. It makes a lot of sense. And it’s also funny having this conversation. I’m an elder Millennial, as I would say. And I remember when I entered the workforce, all of the conversation around, how do we communicate with Millennials? And I was like, “Well, just be human.” I was like, “Seems pretty straightforward.” Then, you get into the workplace, you realize that maybe that’s not how things have been done, historically.

With that, could you just tell me a little bit about, how is Gen Z different?

MacDonald: Yeah, absolutely. Gen Zs and Millennials, while they seem to meld together just a little bit, are actually quite different. Gen Z, first of all, are raised on technology. They were born into it. They have known it since the time that they were little. I have memories of growing up, and being a Gen Z’er myself, I don’t have any times when I couldn’t just be like, “Hey, Mom, can I play with your cell phone in the backseat of the car, because I’m bored?” These Gen Zs, all of them, have grown up on technology. They’ve never had a time when they haven’t had access to it. And that changes them a lot.

That changes them a little bit through globalization. Globalization is completely different for Gen Z. We don’t necessarily see the same boundaries that different generations have, previously. Whereas other generations might have had to write a handwritten letter, prepare something, send it in the mail, I’ve had experiences talking to people on the other side of the world, looking at the exact same screen at the exact same time, communicating in real life, just like we are, today. And I’ve had that since I’ve been really little.

Those kinds of boundaries are completely unrealistic for Generation Z. They don’t really see them. And then, the last thing that changed them was COVID. Unfortunately, I know no one likes to talk about it anymore. We’re done. We’re over it. But it really did change Gen Z. It had a large part to play in some of their most formulating years. It’s affected the way that they think, and the way that they work, and the way that they communicate, and all of the above. So, it’s really had a big change on who they are as people.

Folwell:  Could you tell me a little bit about your experience as somebody who is part of the Gen Z group, and what it was like entering the workforce?

MacDonald: Yeah, absolutely. Oh, my goodness. My story of entering the workforce was really, really interesting. I was living in Florida, originally. I was living in Orlando, and competing in wakeboarding competitively. I loved it. It was so much fun. I’d gotten to be in Worlds. I had won a trophy. I felt like the biggest deal.

And then, cue COVID. It happened. That was great. And I finished my education, came to the end of it, and being in a family business, got pulled back across the border, back to Canada, where I was put in a chair to work full-time from 8 to 5, and all the things. And I hated it. It was so bad when I first got transitioned.

I didn’t see any kind of flexibility. I didn’t understand, necessarily, how to communicate with the other people that I was working with. We were all of different generations. And I was the first person under the age of maybe 30 to walk through that door in a really long time.

There was so many different barriers in my way, of creating a job that actually helped me be successful where I was. And there’s going to be a lot of barriers that are also in the way of your Gen Zs. They might not be competing. They might not be moving across the country. But they are changing from their current positions, which is their school life. They’re very used to that. And they’re transitioning into a career job where they don’t necessarily understand what that means. Especially because of COVID, they really don’t understand what it means to work that eight-hour shift, or to be in those types of situations. There’s going to be a lot of barriers, just like for me there was. There’s going to be a lot of barriers for Gen Zs as they come here, into their full-time careers.

Folwell:  Yeah. You’ve talked a little bit about the barriers of, not necessarily with COVID, going into the office, working from home, et cetera, but what were some of the barriers that you saw in the day-to-day in terms of how people communicate, or how things were in the workplace?

MacDonald: Yeah. I think one of the first things that was really challenging was, there was a lack of flexibility. And flexibility is defined in every organization completely differently. And that’s up to their prerogative. But as a general statement, flexibility is going to be really important to Gen Z. It actually might be the most important thing to Gen Z. Above all else, above location, above pay grade, flexibility is going to be top priority. In fact, 70% of Gen Zs say that if they had flexibility in their working job and they were offered that from the moment, they would immediately accept a position rather than waiting it out. Seventy percent’s a big number.

That was the first thing for me. And I saw that a lot through working hours, working days, working jobs. Flexibility doesn’t actually have to be about that 9 to 5. It could be about the duties that they hold within there. A great example for this, for us, is we have brought in an immense amount of interns to our team. And they like their jobs, and it’s good. But they want some opportunities to learn some other things. So, once a week, we allow them the ability to put down their current job and step into another role, and pick that up, and work with somebody, whether that be a direct manager, or someone they’ve never worked with before, to learn outside of their current area of expertise, and create some flexibility in what they’re learning and doing each day.

That’s the first thing that was really hard, was there was a lack of flexibility. It was so rigid coming in, “This is what you do each and every day, and this is what you go home doing each and every day.” And that’s fine. That’s great. We like consistency, too. Don’t get me wrong. But that rigid form was really challenging for me. And it will be for a lot of Gen Zs as they come through.

But then, some of the other things that we see that are less vital, but still important, Gen Z struggles a lot with imposter syndrome. And we’d originally expected that Gen Z wouldn’t struggle with imposter syndrome, because of the technology that they have. They have lots of resources to go back and fall on, to look for and use. They shouldn’t necessarily be feeling that angst and anxiety as they come through. But because of COVID, they didn’t necessarily have those educations. They didn’t necessarily have the same experiences that previous generations have had to lead them forward. And so, they have a lot of fear coming into the workforce about, “I don’t know what I’m doing. How do I know if I’m doing it right? How do I know what to wear to work? How do I know who to ask this question?” Everything is extremely overwhelming. And a lot of them struggle with that, as well.

Those are two of the main ones. I also see lots of educational changes, right now. And that’s going to be a bit of a barrier. That’s actually going to be more of a barrier on the alternative side, from employers looking at hiring employees. But that’s a whole other issue.

Folwell: Yeah. And the imposter syndrome one that you brought up is really interesting. And I could see how the perception would be that Gen Z wouldn’t have that problem. Because you’re thinking, “All right. Well, they’re highly confident. They’re competent with technology. A lot of them have good educations.” But then, when you start thinking about, well, there’s social media impact, and the fact that everybody’s seeing other people performing at their performative social media accounts where they’re presenting or spending all this money or doing whatever they’re doing, it’s always looking at other people’s experiences, and feeling like maybe there’s a gap there, which I think maybe could drive part of that, as well.

MacDonald: Absolutely.

Folwell: You just started talking about the educational importance. What are those changes? Or how do you see that impacting Gen Z?

MacDonald: Yeah. Millennials were one of the most educated generations. They actually were the most educated generation. And that’s amazing. That’s impressive. Love that, right?

Folwell: Yeah.

MacDonald: Generation Z is not going to be like that. Because education is free in the form of YouTube and Wikipedia and LinkedIn education, and all the tutorials you could possibly imagine. And they’re free, at the tip of your fingertips. You can teach yourself to do anything. And so, Generation Z has grown up on the DIY YouTube generation.

They know how to learn themselves. They know how to push themselves forward and try to learn something, individually. That’s all what COVID taught them. And so, it’s going to be really hard for them to come out of their high school degrees and say, “Yes. I want to invest this X amount of money moving forward, to get this education,” which hypothetically could be free online if they did enough research and looked hard enough to find the information that they were looking for.

Now, they’re not going to get the same credibility. They’re not going to get the same resilience. It misses a lot of these different factors. But because they grew up in a recession and are now experiencing whatever we’re experiencing right now, I don’t necessarily want to call it that. But they grew up in a recession and they’re experiencing today’s world, they’re terrified of accumulating a ridiculous amount of debt. With education being free through internet, it’s going to change the way that Gen Zs go about their post-secondary degrees. And it’s going to be challenging for employers to move into a mindset of accepting people who don’t necessarily have the status quo of what they’ve seen in previous years.

Folwell:  Yeah. That makes a lot of sense. And with that, I know you have some additional thoughts on how organizations could approach working with Gen Z. Could you share a little bit, or dig a little bit, into that?

MacDonald: Yeah, absolutely. The first thing that I think of when I think of this, is the concept of just trying to treat them with the most respect that we can. And this might seem silly and juvenile. Of course, we’re going to treat them with respect. But oftentimes when people come up in these junior roles, they go get coffee, they file papers, they answer phones. And that’s great. But they feel very left out and undervalued and undermined. And in a generation where they’ve sought after their own educations, and they’ve pushed themselves forward with technology of things that you’ve never seen before, they have a ridiculous amount to add. They’ve got so much value. And so, sometimes if they’re coming up in your organization, and they’re not feeling like they’re giving the value that they have, they’re going to feel disrespected, in a regard. That’s the first thing that I talk about, just human-to-human respect. Just start there.

The next thing I try to talk about is communication, in terms of talking. When I talk to you and you talk to me, the first thing I want to do is listen. I want to listen to you. I want to try and understand what you’re saying, so I can grasp the concepts that you’re trying to deliver to me. And then, I want to speak.

But oftentimes, what we do is, we just talk back and forth, and we don’t actually listen to each other. And we don’t actually understand one another. We don’t actually learn from one another. We’re just talking at each other. That’s not the goal.

I recommend listening to your Gen Zs, trying to understand what they have to say, and learning from them. Because they do have some valuable information that you might not, just based on the fact that they were born in a different generation. Those are the first two things, respect, and then listening with communication.

After that, I talk about mentoring, not management. Mentoring is great. Mentoring is conversations. Mentoring is, “What did you learn from that? And how can that affect you in the future? And how can I help you move forward?” It’s not, “Hey, what did you do today?” Gen Zs have the potential to feel slightly attacked by the concept of management, and very loved by the concept of mentoring. So, I would always recommend a mentor versus a management style. And that’s the third thing that we talk about, there.

Folwell:  Yeah. I think those are all really good points. And I think it’s important for everyone that is listening to this to think about how you’re communicating with your Gen Z employees, also with everybody. I think these are lessons, as you’re talking about it, I feel like this is a good way to approach leadership as a whole, which makes a lot of sense.

The one thing that I was also thinking about is, I did a little bit of reading on Gen Z before this, after we had had our initial conversation. And I also saw quite a bit of information about how there’s a shift from this need-to-know to full transparency in terms of what’s going on within the organization. And I think that ties back to respecting the individual, and also making sure that you’re listening to them and really just being respectful of what they want to know about the organization, and being communicative about that.

You also, I know, had a point about making sure that you’re keeping employees engaged, and giving them the things that they’re hungry for. Is there anything more that you’d like to elaborate on that?

MacDonald: Yes, absolutely. Are you familiar with Dan Mori, at all? Does that name ring a bell?

Folwell: Yeah, yep.

MacDonald: Yep? I’m a longtime fan of Dan’s. And we previously did a different podcast where we chatted for a little while. And he actually used this statement. So, I don’t want to take credit for it. That’s the only reason I say that.

But he told me. He was like, “You need to feed people what they’re hungry for.” The analogy that we’re using now is, if you dangle a steak in front of a really hungry person, they’re going to try and run for it. It’s not any different with Generation Z. There are things that they desperately crave to learn, things that they so aggressively want to know and understand and learn about, and you can use that.

But when they’re just collecting coffees, or just pushing paperwork, or just trying to do X, Y, Z, it’s really challenging for them to feel hungry, for them to feel that drive and that desire to get excited and move forward.

For our Gen Zs, like I said, we put them in one spot a week where they’re super interested and excited to learn. For most of them, that ends up being in marketing, which I love, because I’m our marketing manager. And I love working with our Gen Zs. So, it’s great. But we just give them a little bit of time and a little bit of runway to try and create something that they’re genuinely passionate about that ties back to the business, and how the business can run forward.

Folwell:  And I’ve always loved the idea of the helping people connect to things they’re passionate about at work. But how do you do that in your organization? I’ve always found that that can be difficult. And I’ve also looked at my career, and hasn’t always been the first job I’d go into, or the role that I’m in isn’t necessarily the thing I’m most passionate about, day one. And what I’ve taught myself for years is to be passionate about being competitive, being passionate about doing a good job, and actually that part of it. Are you trying to align it that way? Or are you actually doing it from a structural standpoint, where you’re saying, “This is the role you want. This is the type of work you want.” How are you setting that up for the interns, or for anybody at your organization?

MacDonald: Yeah. I would say, we always take a both/and approach. I talk about this all the time when people are asking me questions. They’re like, “Well, would you rather have this or would you rather have this?” And I’m like, “Why don’t you just put those two together? It sounds so much better.”

Folwell: Both.

MacDonald: Yeah, both of them. I’d like both.

Folwell:  And some more.

MacDonald: Yes. Exactly. It’s that, both of them, and then double it if you can. But yeah, that’s exactly what we try to do.

Sometimes, it is about the physical act of doing something. Sometimes it is, this person wants to learn about social media. That’s a really easy one. Lots of Gen Zs love learning about social media. Super easy to teach them about that. We can pop them into our marketing team. We can say, “Hey, I want you to learn these things. I want you to do these things. I want you to implement these things. You’re interested in it, and they’re tasks that need to be completed. That’s wonderful.” 

But at the same time, we absolutely run down the same path as, “Let’s be passionate about competitiveness. Let’s be passionate about communication. Let’s be passionate about making money and making the business bigger and better, and getting orders and putting them on the board, all of the wonderful things that we need to do.

A lot of that comes from driving those factors in things that they’re passionate about, and watching them see those things come to fruition, and then, explaining and showing them how those same types of effects and motivations can be beneficial in other areas that they’re working, if that makes sense.

Folwell:  Yeah. That makes a ton of sense. And I think it’s great if you can connect those dots. And it’s amazing to see, just for my own experience, when you are able to get the right person into a role that they are passionate about, and it’s something they actually enjoy, it’s incredible. I think it’s cool that you’re doing that with the organization.

With that, do you have any closing comments on Gen Z? Any last thoughts before we jump into the personal side of questions?

MacDonald: I’d be so curious. Do you have any Gen Zs on your team?

Folwell: Possibly. I’m not sure.

MacDonald: 1997, ’97 to 2012.

Folwell: Maybe one.

MacDonald: Maybe one. Do you see a difference from your own generation, from Millennials, to the people that are coming up, to your youngest employees, in the work habits that they hold?

Folwell: Maybe some. I think our team has a pretty strong culture around working hard, transparency, open communication. So, I think that there’s some things that are maybe where we cross boundaries a little bit more than other organizations. We’re also smaller. I think I can see hints of it, but maybe not as strong as maybe an older organization.

MacDonald: Yeah. Fair enough.

Folwell: Yeah. How about you?

MacDonald: Oh, my goodness. Yeah, absolutely. We have probably ten Gen Zs and five or six Millennials. And I would categorize Millennials as the “We Generation.” They love working together. They love being in teams. They love collaboration. And that’s great.

And I see Gen Zs, and they love individuality, and working alone, and being their own team. Not that they don’t love communicating with other people. Not that they don’t love working with others, and being in the office with others. But they definitely prefer for their work styles to be 100% them, comparatively to Millennials, which are very much, “Let’s all get in it together, and do it side by side,” which is just fun.

Folwell: Now, I’m going to be thinking about that the next time I have a meeting with the person who’s on the cusp. I’ll have to ask if they want to do one of our collaborative working calls.

MacDonald: There you go.

Folwell:  Make sure that I’m respecting that. With that, let’s go ahead and jump into the speed questions here at the end. What advice do you wish you were given before entering the staffing industry?

MacDonald: I think that I wished somebody had told me, when I was younger, just how incredible it really can be. Because I grew up in it, I had a negative stigma towards it, to be honest with you. I grew up never wanting to work in the staffing industry. I didn’t want to work with my family business. I was not interested.

And it was really hard. Because in the midst of COVID, I had to make that decision, and that transition happened naturally, which was great. But after I did come into it, after I started to learn about it, after I saw the vastness that is the staffing industry, I was amazed by how big it is, how much goes on in it, and the amount of just opportunity that there is within it. I would’ve had no idea.

And there’s so much learning to be done in it, too, especially if you’re just coming out of an education, you’re trying to understand what the working world really looks like. Staffing industry shows you all of the different industries through its own. So, it’s very interesting.

Folwell: Awesome. And in the last five years, what new belief, behavior, or habit has most improved your life?

MacDonald: I wake up every morning. And as soon as I wake up, I go outside for a walk, and I listen to an audiobook. And I’ve been doing that for about a year and a half, getting up, moving my body. So great. Getting outside first thing in the morning, so great. Moving before you start working, so great. And trying to listen and learn from something every single morning, whether it’s two minutes around my house, because I can’t possibly do it, or 45 minutes down the block, because I love the book I’m listening to, just every morning trying to get up and out.

Folwell: I love that. And it leads me to my next question, which is, what is the book or books you’ve given most as a gift, and why?

MacDonald: Ooh. Oh. See, now I’m super biased. I just finished my own book last night, just finished it. So, I would give my own book away to people.

But the book that I….

Folwell: What’s the name of your book?

MacDonald: Am I allowed to swear on your podcast?

Folwell: Yeah.

MacDonald: Okay. The book’s name is, Well, Shit.

Folwell: All right.

MacDonald: Yeah. You’ll have to look it up. It’s a nice little memoir. But no, the book that I would give, really, outside of that is probably, Atomic Habits. I’ve read that book three times, and I am obsessed with it.

Folwell: Awesome. It’s a good one. And how has a failure or apparent failure set you up for later success?

MacDonald: I think, if I was going to share a real failure that set me up for success, it would have to be outside of working world, but in one of the first competitions I ever did through wakeboarding.

When you’re a competitive athlete, it’s really awkward and really hard when you’re competing and you’re not performing the way that you want to. And it’s quite embarrassing, to be honest. There was a couple competitions when I first started competing, they were so bad. It was really, really not great. And my outcomes were nothing like what I had wanted them to be.

But at the end of the day, you just have to stand back up. And you just have to keep trying. And I think that learning those in other avenues, and then implementing them in your working world, is so vital to being able to succeed in any fashion. You just got to keep trying.

Folwell: I second that. And the last question I’ve got for you is, what is an unusual habit or absurd thing that you love?

MacDonald: My guilty pleasure is Netflix dating shows.

Folwell: That’s awesome.

MacDonald: I love them. They’re juicy, full of drama, and so entertaining. But they’re so fun to watch.

Folwell: That’s great. That’s great.

MacDonald: Yeah.

Folwell: And any closing comments for our audience?

MacDonald: No, I don’t think so. I think the only thing that I would say is, if you have a Gen Z in your organization, keep in mind that they have a lot of value. They have so much value to give. And even if you don’t necessarily see it right now, it doesn’t mean that it’s not there. You probably just have to keep hunting for it. Keep hunting, keep pushing, listen to them, learn from them, try and mentor them. But they have so much value to add if you’re able and capable of trying to get it out of them.

Folwell: Awesome. Well, thank you so much for being on, Hannah. I really appreciate your insight into how to work with Gen Z. For those of you that are listening, the book is Well, Shit. When will that be out?

MacDonald: Well, Shit, I am publishing it on June 1st.

Folwell: June 1st. All right. Well, get out there. Buy the book. Thanks for being on. Appreciate your time.

MacDonald: Thank you so much, Dave. It was such a pleasure.