The ultra-disrupted generation: is business ready for them?

09 Sep 2021

The ultra-disrupted generation: is business ready for them?

The most impacted generation during the global pandemic, and offering the biggest challenge to the status quo, how do organisations best harness the talents of Gen Z?

The global upheaval caused by the pandemic has both disrupted and transformed our working lives entirely, and it's hard to remember a time before the pandemic when change has happened so fast and so comprehensively.

With an increase in virtual connections, remote hiring and different expectations of future working, the results of the past year have paved the way for even more change in the 'next normal'. It is into this world that the new generation of leaders must step up to take control, as the Baby Boomer generation increasingly steps aside. 

Ultimately, businesses will need to respond to the fallout resulting from the coronavirus and the impact it's had on their youngest - and possibly future - employees. 

But who is this new generation and how can businesses ensure they attract, cultivate, and retain the best of them?

The next era will be shaped by the maturation of the largest global generational cohort in history — Generation Z.

Making up 24% of the global population, this so-called ‘next gen’ talent, particularly older Gen Z’s who grew up digital and came of age during the COVID-19 pandemic, have, as the AESC points out, been shaped by disruption in meaningful ways. Dagmar-Elena Markworth continues,

“It has set back careers, molded attitudes, increased anxiety about the future, and led to very different expectations about work and corporate life compared to previous generations, even the Millennials who proceeded them”

But, in some ways, enduring such a level of disruption has schooled many to be able to successfully navigate the waves of change that are likely to be a reality in future, and helped embed a growth mindset.

Drivers of change

As the largest generational cohort in history, Gen Z’s attitudes and expectations are primed to shape the next normal. Beyond the resilience, ingenuity and empathy required to survive the pandemic, they are in fact, more than likely to be the drivers of that change themselves.

Transparency, accountability, trust and a focus on stakeholder capitalism will be key to successfully engaging with Gen Z in the next normal.

For example, they have an expectation that both the private and public sectors shouldn’t just stand back and watch, instead, they should use their influence for good in the causes of social justice, identity politics, the fight against climate change, and other matters they deem important. These generations, especially Gen Z, see no problem with using their own influence, whether it’s as a consumer, a voter, employee, entrepreneur or influencer to ‘be the change they want to see in the world’.

Clearly, this has huge implications for companies wanting to recruit young leaders. Jürgen van Zwoll says:

“There is no place for moral ambiguity in corporate culture. A fair-for-all culture that engages with society’s issues is an essential start.”

Business as a force of good for society certainly has some way to go if the findings of the Deloitte Global 2021 Millennial and Gen Z Survey are to be considered. Fewer than half (47%) of millennials believe businesses have a positive impact on society, with 70% feeling businesses focus on their own agenda rather than considering the wider society. Furthermore, 59% of Gen Z’s agree that businesses have no true ambition beyond financial gain.

Three steps to succeed

EY offers three steps for thriving in a Gen Z-led future.

They suggest treating sustainability as a competitive edge, not looking at it as purely a matter of compliance. It means adopting sustainable operating practices and showcasing your company’s positive environmental credentials in an authentic way and a core of corporate purpose.

Secondly, it is important to make a genuine commitment to equality and be transparent about progress you make. Admitting to currently falling short is not a big problem, provided that it is backed up by your strategies and a clear plan for improving the situation with forward-thinking.

Finally, you must move ‘at the speed of societal change’. Understanding what you should change is just the start, you must move quickly to create genuine transformations. Fortune will not just favour the brave, but the speedy too.

Wise senior leaders will look to Gen Z talent to be their weathervanes: to tell which way the social winds are blowing, providing insights that can help build a richer and more inclusive culture.

Values and flexibility, please

These new generations want to work for a company that shares their values, but that’s not all.

Gen Z members will be looking for flexibility in their work schedules, with a high level of autonomy, and good, frequent feedback from their managers. The lockdowns changed a lot of things: it proved that office workers can be trusted to do their jobs remotely and that good engagement and communication within teams and with managers is essential, to name just two aspects of the working environment.

Investment in their career advancement is also a must for the new generation, with the opportunity for regular upskilling in order to keep pace with changes in technology for example.

Of course, many of these points have equal validity when applied to other generations, they are not exclusive, but it is in the Gen Z cohort that they have become so telling, since they have had very little other working experience to relate to.

The skills challenge, whatever the generation

Reskilling and upskilling your workforce to maintain productivity in a world of rapid change is the cornerstone of success. But that comes with its own challenges that surpass the generations.

So, how do you innovate fast enough to keep up with changing markets whilst keeping up with skill innovation too? New products and services require new skills from your workforce to drive success.

As Forbes points out, “Modern human resources executives are thinking more about their enterprise’s talent supply chain than ever before. This pipeline of skills needs to be transparent, easy to access and mapped to the right work opportunities. With this nimble list of skills diversified throughout an enterprise, HR executives can begin to assemble the right talent for now and for upcoming, mission-critical tasks.”

'Next normal' influencers

To succeed in this next era, leaders would do well to pay close attention to the unique needs of the upcoming workforce and purposely engage this new generation.

Gen Z’s attitudes and expectations will be highly influential in shaping the ‘next normal’, and we may just see change for the better with the forward-thinking perspective of Gen-Z. Businesses should be actively seeking out young talent right now and forge a future making the most of their talents, finding its next leaders within their ranks, and they’ll stand to reap significant performance gains.