Over the last decade, it feels as if we have spent each moment considering the millennial generation and their impact on the world of work…
But did we figure it all out?
And in another decade’s time, we will have five generations in the workplace, having to function alongside each other, in a world full of pressures, change, and chaos. So as Generation Z join the workplace, how do leaders align strategy and results in preparation for a multi-generational workplace?
I work in HR and a year or so ago I studied Generation Z to understand our consumers alongside our workforce whilst working for Electronic Arts, a leading gaming company. What struck me is how different they could be and how profound their impact on the workplace could be now that this generation are embedding in the workplace as Millennials are approaching 40.
From my research, Generation Z are diverse, multi-cultural, have a high expectation of connection and collaboration and are attentively focused on the global environment. They have been online and socially entertained since they can first remember, they don’t understand physical restrictions and rules-based retail in society. They will seek meaningful work, not just the right career and be driven by the need for pure entrepreneurism; a multi-stage career is their expectation and will be their reality.
In discussion with Chloe Garland, founder of Quarter Life, a coaching organisation focused on helping people in their 20s enter the workplace, she revealed that she found Gen Z to more acute in their expectations, values and beliefs than the Millennials, specifically, they are looking for: -
A sense of purpose
An ability to see the big picture and see the results of what they are doing
Trust and being trusted to add value
Variety, learning and development
A culture which encourages a sense of community
Life or Work? A chance to choose
Yuval Noah Harari in his book Homo Deus, a brief history of tomorrow has helped me appreciate that people are altering their philosophy surrounding the norms of work because of the extension of life expectancy. Our ability to extend life by preventing premature death, should create a youthful, more responsible, less wasteful and caring society, which of course influences our working environment.
Another core influencer in our world of work, pivots on our transition from new technology, to automation, and now Artificial Intelligence which is disrupting traditional structures and practices in the workforce.
So what does all of this mean for employers and society?
It’s going to become more complex, as the future generations arrive at the office so it’s time to get ready for Gen Alpha, the iGeneration, who have never known a day without technology.
Who are the Alphas? They are the kids of the Millennials, they don’t remember the financial crisis although they may refer to the seismic political events of 2016 for a school project, but 2.5m of them are born every year, when they arrive at work in a decade, or so, they will be the largest generational group, two billion of them eventually, the largest generational group ever. This sheer scale will create influence.
Much of our focus over the past few years has been about comprehending our kids’ sense of entitlement, their impatience, transforming us to be researchers and adjudicators on YouTube. According to Forbes, these kids influence their family’s consumption habits, permanently attached to their own iPads or their parents’ phone.
Being mostly only-children, they may be used to getting what they want, instantly, they will crave sustainable lifestyles and deep relationships. Like their parents, the Alphas will mostly grow-up with easy access to material possessions, be technologically literate and will become the most educated, wealthy and healthy generation ever if current trends continue.
How do organisations begin to contemplate creating a positive work environment for people from their 20s to their 70s, when each is an individual with unique needs?
The deepest connection to all generations can be created by offering a great experience, personal & career development and protection of health and
well-being, yet many organisation face pressures budgetary and competitive pressures, Leaders need to invest time and energy understanding their people, and look beyond a one-size fits most approach to management and HR.
With technology and social trends, it’s likely that organisations won’t exist in the future in the same way, PWC predicts that fewer than 10% of all US-based employees will have full-time permanent roles by 2030. It’s easy now to take an idea, market it, become an enterprise, whilst sustaining local and global relationships all at the same time. We’re in a world where a school project can be scaled and sold before graduation. So why would we need conventional careers anymore? We are approaching a period in time where because of longer life expectancy and the disappearance of fixed retirement there will be huge demand for multiple careers and replacement of traditional employment practices.
How can HR professionals prepare their organisation?
It will be essential to tap into the power of multiple generations. Every workforce needs age diversity, experience, ability to share, collaborate, coach and lead. As we already know, inclusivity is key for profits and culture.
And each generation, offers something unique.
Generations at work (was thinking this was a useful table for readers to glance at rather than apply in the text)
Adapted from McCrindle.com.au (Insights) & Meister J (The Future Workplace Experience)
The workforce is also fragmenting, with younger workers content with multiple and varied career steps, with time-outs, working time flexibility and a high expectation of instant reward. Reviewing the dimensions of our style of leadership, approach to management, communications and incentives will be essential as we could conceivably need a different approach for each generational group in your workforce. I’m a big advocate of Lucy Adams of Disruptive HR’s EACH model to segment your workforce and offer targeted and effective people and engagement strategies.
Buckingham & Goodall in their brilliant book Nine lies about work today, suggest that we need to be more honest about work or we will remain wedded to myths and fail to acknowledge the needs of the future.
They offer great perspectives and thinking points when facing multiple generations in the workplace, with the pending change of expectation HR professions should consider whether the existing paradigm is still relevant in the future, consider whether: -
There is an over-reliance on inspirational leaders who are only human?
How can they flex styles effectively in the future?
Goal-setting and performance management is as relevant in a world of super-fast change and innovation?
Does engagement really mean deep connection? How can people use surveys and data to explain complex thoughts?
The concept of potential is still applicable. Today how can you really tell, the long-established characteristics may no longer be relevant.
We have no idea what the job market could look like in the future.
The imminent and unstoppable population explosion, (9 billion by 2050), will require an economy adjusted to tackling resource shortage and focused on addressing our environmental future, and organisations and their people will be charged with influencing change. The opposing outcome could be the creation of an economically and societally disengaged group of billions of young and old people, pushed out either by automation or our inability to manage the transition to a sustainable world. So organisations and leaders need to be aware of these changes, seek genuine conversations and be ready to adapt to be less fixed and traditional.
Someone once said to me that you have to step away from something to truly understand it. Maybe we should all step away and put ourselves in our children’s shoes for a minute?