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NCNU research reveals secret to retaining Gen Z talent

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"The era of rationalizing unreasonable work demands is over," claims Ouyang Pei-lin (歐陽霈霖), a hospitality studies student with National Chi Nan University (NCNU) whose research on the "anti-authoritarian streak of Gen Z jobseekers" recently captured an award from Taiwan's Ministry of Science and Technology. Her paper was chosen for its insights on how new graduates are information-savvy when it comes to rights and freedoms, hence naturally dispositioned against the totalitarian managerial styles that dictate the Taiwanese workplace.

Ranging from 16 to 28 years old, those who are categorized as part of "Generation Z" are born between 1993 and 2005 – as is Ouyang, who sees her fellow Gen Zers as intrinsically native to this brave, new digital world. Reared by the web, they have adapted to and reaped from the free flow of information and exchange of ideas of across borders. This fluidity is mirrored in behavioral patterns such as a high frequency of job changes, only to be caricaturized as "Generation Strawberries" and other stereotypes of fragility by workplace elders.

Seeing the latest trends reflecting how Taiwan's hospitality and tourism sectors have yet to succeed in retaining talent, Ouyang sought to bridge the gap and mistrust between corporations and new members of the Taiwanese workforce. With assistance from Sharon F.H. Pang (龎鳳嫺), an associate professor with the NCNU Department of Tourism, Leisure and Hospitality Management, Ouyang decided to talk directly to hospitality students, members of the graduating class, as well as professionals working in the tourism industry.

Her 15 interviewees clarified many misunderstandings about Gen Z jobseekers, juxtaposing the widely held stereotype about "their greed for pay" with their untended needs for professional advancement and personal growth. This anticipation for flexibility and individuality in the workplace, however, is often met with the traditional rigidity of Taiwanese management.

Faced with monotonous, repetitive tasks and a work culture that frowns upon self-expression, all the while surrounded by technology enabling the instantaneous exchange of information, they can't help but "shop around" and check out what benefits other companies have to offer, Ouyang explains. "Unreasonable demands build character" is no longer a viable workplace motto, she adds.

Pang, Ouyang's mentor for the award-winning project, speaks from her personal experience studying abroad in Hong Kong and the United States and working in the international service industry: "Those who remain content in their comfort zone may soon lose their competitive edge." She evokes a scene from the 2014 Korean drama "Misaeng: Incomplete Life," in which protagonist Jang Geu-rae joins an international trading company with a high school diploma and a heart full of youthful passion, only to be told "we are not lacking in diligence; everyone here is a hard worker."

On Jang's first day as an intern, he is promptly ignored by his new bosses and colleagues. When he finally receives a lazily delegated task to copy some documents, Jang fails to even locate the photocopier without help. The ordeal ends in comedic disaster as he earns his manager's disdain amid a shower of paper sheets blanking the office floor.

This lack of empathy, from senior to junior members of the company, is detrimental to a newcomer's inclination to stay on board, Pang points out. She also highlights an important passage from Ouyang's research paper linking the successful transformation of managerial culture to higher loyalty among Gen Z employees.

The student researcher offers a few examples of workplace transformation: variety in job responsibilities, digitization of internal communications systems, and transparency in the mechanisms governing wages, bonuses, and advancements.

As for managerial transformation, Ouyang says actions encompass learning how to share tasks and job responsibilities in a different fashion, reshaping company culture to encompass more freedoms and flexibility, introducing more opportunities for new skillsets, and reimagining the office space for work and recreation.

Pang explains that NCNU's Department of Tourism, Leisure and Hospitality Management works closely with industry representatives in curriculum planning and program development. Moreover, guest speakers ranging from corporate managers to entrepreneurs discuss with students – frankly -- the current state of their respective sectors through classroom presentations, campus visits, and picnic lectures. The university's internship network provides the final stepping stone for students to explore their interests in genuine settings and embark upon their careers.

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