Millennials and Gen Z are Changing the Culture of the Workplace

In the bygone era, prior to the late 1980s, life in corporate America was good. It was comfortable. Predictable. Secure.  All you had to do was go to college (or not), get a job, work your way up, and then, 40 years later, retire with a full pension. By 1988, “downsizing” had come into favor as a quick way to boost both shareholder value and earnings per share. In 1993, IBM, which had previously never reduced its workforce, laid off 60,000 people. Pensions were a quaint thing of the past, and the onus of planning for retirement was transferred to employees in the form of 401(k) plans, which are not guaranteed and are subject to market volatility.

Although Millennials and their younger counterparts, Gen-Z, are often characterized as unmotivated “snowflakes,” quite the opposite is true. Both Millennials and Gen-Z workers are, on the whole, a highly motivated and productive group. They are not, however, motivated by the same things that sparked Baby Boomers or even the famously apathetic Gen-X into action. Millennials and Gen-Z have always lived in a world in which employment is largely on employers’ terms. Gen-Z in particular, in addition to not knowing life without a handheld supercomputer, is likely to have had parents who struggled to pay crushing student loan debt. These generations realize that there is much more to life than status, prestige, and money. And they are not afraid to voice this.

Just last week, employees of Wayfair, an online consumer products retailer, staged a walkout and protest over company activities, which they believed ran contrary to their core values. This job action involved about 500 exempt, non-union employees, and was led by a 28-year-old employee. Similarly, Nike employees have protested changes to the company’s childcare policy while tech giant Google has experienced numerous employee protests over rampant, organizational sexual harassment. All of these actions have resulted in bad press for the companies, and have shone a light on the new employer/employee relationship. The People are no longer afraid of The Boss, and they will speak out when they think something is unjust.

If you’re an employer that believes there is “company time” and “personal time,” you’re behind the times. These younger workers understand that work can be accomplished, with a high degree of productivity, anywhere at any time. They are not interested in being tied to a desk or working set hours. Savvy managers are aware of this and focus on RESULTS, not on the clock. Similarly, any company that does not engage in formal acts of social responsibility is going to have a tough time recruiting these new workers. Both Millennials and Gen-Z want to know that their work contributes to the greater society at large and that it has a purpose beyond merely increasing shareholder value and EPS.

Does your company have a distinct pattern of hiring people who are precisely the same? Do your hiring managers base their hiring decisions on a gut feeling about whether or not they’d like to interact with candidates socially? Many do. But that’s not going to fly with the younger generation of workers. More than 60% of Gen-Z workers surveyed indicated that it is MOST IMPORTANT to work with people with diverse educational, experiential, and skill levels. More than 70% want a diversity of cultures and ethnicities represented, and 77% of Millennials indicated that a company’s level of diversity significantly impacts their decision to work there.

All of these shifts in attitudes are positive. If your company wants to be an employer of choice, it needs to make sure that it recognizes the changing values of the incoming workforce and adjusts to conform. Both Millennials and Gen-Z are acutely aware that the only constant in their careers is themselves and their personal brand, and as such, are highly motivated to develop both.

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