The changing requirements of a contemporary workplace culture: Understanding the impact of a major generational shift

In the past five years, there has been a significant shift in the generational balance in the workplace. Millennials are now the dominant generation in the workplace, and Gen Zs are a rapidly growing part of the workforce

The changing requirements of a contemporary workplace culture

Gen Zs are about 5% and will rise to 30% of the workforce by 2030. This shift is rapidly driving a significant change in the world of work with a specific emphasis on workplace culture. Neither Millennials nor Gen Zs tolerate unhealthy workplace cultures, and they are far more likely to demonstrate their lack of tolerance by simply going and finding another job. Gen Zs are also the first truly digital natives who have grown up with technology and social media. They exhibit a natural proficiency in using digital devices, applications, and online platforms. They adeptly use technology for communication, collaboration, and problem-solving, having been exposed to digital tools early. Leveraging this attribute of the Gen Zs is essential for organisations as they navigate the changing landscape of artificial intelligence, technological advancement and social media. Organisations must focus on building great workplace cultures to attract and retain Gen Zs. 

The younger generations are known for being tech-savvy, socially conscious, and much less tolerant of what they deem to be unacceptable organisational behaviours and ways of doing things. As they climb the corporate ladder, take on leadership roles and eventually take over running corporations, businesses will have to take note of their unique perspectives and adapt to their preferred ways of working and their expectation of how they are treated in the workplace. Businesses are going to have to review their ways of working and their operating procedures that the Traditionalists, Baby Boomers and Gen Xs built. Specifically, traditional attraction and retention strategies must give way to more contemporary practices.

As we continue to navigate an employee-focused market in which good staff are hard to find and retain, organisations will have to rise to the challenge of developing new and innovative ways of supporting the younger generations in their employment journey. Their demands on organisations will define the battleground for staff attraction, retention, and engagement. While the Millennials started the workplace shift, the Gen Zs have increased the pressure on organisations to adopt a fresh approach to workplace engagement. Businesses with the foresight to implement strategies to meet these challenges will set themselves apart and win the war for talent, and those who don’t will end up in a world of pain. With less than one-third of employees reporting that they are engaged and energised by their work, there is already an uphill battle to make organisational adaptations to meet the changing workforce dynamic (Gartner). Research shows that 90% of Gen Z believe their engagement would increase with the implementation of succession planning and effective progression strategies (Bullseye Engagement). 

So, what are the critical aspects for organisations to focus on in providing a contemporary workplace that will attract, retain and engage the younger generations? 

Ensure a psychologically safe workplace culture that authentically delivers a values-based culture that the leaders live 

This will be the defining factor in the attraction and retention of the younger generation. They will not tolerate a culture where bullying and harassment are allowed and will expect leaders to ‘walk the talk’ and authentically live the workplace values. 

Diversity and inclusion embedded in all aspects of workplace behaviour

The younger generation is passionate about diversity and inclusion. And the breadth of diversity is increasing. If your organisation’s executive and management team are not diverse, don’t expect to attract and retain the younger generations. They will openly challenge the lack of diversity in succession and promotion, and if nothing changes, they will simply go somewhere else. 

Provide clear paths for career advancement 

The younger generations value transparency and openness in their career planning and advancement. Organisations must provide clear criteria and expectations for promotions and succession.

Offer diverse opportunities for continuous learning and skill development

The younger generations emphasise personal and professional growth. Implement programs and initiatives that support ongoing learning and development. This needs to include all new media options, such as podcasts, webinars, online conferences, and other innovative learning strategies, not just workshop-based learning. 

Offer mentoring and coaching for those seeking the next stage of career advancement 

The younger generation is far more attuned to their needs and happy to seek support through mentoring and coaching. The younger generations highly value leveraging mentoring for professional and personal development.  

Emphasise work-life balance and build organisational practices around it

The younger generations place a high value on work-life balance, and companies that support this balance and their well-being will become the employers of choice. Offer flexible work arrangements, wellness programs, and resources to help employees achieve a healthy work-life balance.

Focus on Well-being and Mental Health

Mental health and well-being have become a high-priority issue demanding businesses respond to. Global research (Dimensions International’s Global Leadership, 2021) reveals that in the context of COVID-19, nearly 60% of leaders reported burnout. Research also shows that 44% of employees have experienced daily stress (Gallup 2022). The NHS  (The Guardian, 2022) is projecting that 10 million people will need new or additional support for mental health over the next three to five years. 42% of Gen Z’s have already been diagnosed as having mental health or neuro divergence (Gallup 2023), and this is going to have to be a significant focus for organisations moving forward. 

Organisations that want to navigate the dynamic and challenging working context effectively must ensure their leaders deliver what is required. By embracing the younger generation’s perspectives and preferences, businesses can create a more dynamic and inclusive workplace that fosters a psychologically safe workplace culture and enhances employee attraction and retention.

Dr. Lynda Folan
Dr. Lynda Folan

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