The 4G workforce: how organisations around the world are adapting to the arrival of generation Z

generation z workforce diverse

As organisations expand, evolve and become more multinational, they bring in many different populations and generations of employees and managers. When you bring them together and ask them to produce results, we have to help these workers overcome their differences to be as effective as possible.

Goldman Sachs’ Chief Leadership Officer, Jason Wingard sums up the challenge and opportunity facing those organisations that, for the first time in corporate history, are contending with workforces that integrate baby boomers with generations X, Y and Z. Or, put in more simplistic terms, it’s about what happens when Steve Jobs (BB), Jay-Z (Gen X), Emma Watson (Y/Millennials) and Brooklyn Beckham (Z) find themselves working alongside one another.

One study found that 64% of workers believe that there are fundamental differences in how each of the employees in the above scenario will work, and nearly two thirds (63%) expect workplace tensions to increase as a result. We roundup the data-backed initiatives smart organisations will take steps towards to ensure this doesn’t happen.


1. Listen to understand

Preferred communication styles are one of the foremost differences between generations of workers.

A growing body of research indicates that each generation has very specific needs and desires where their workplaces are concerned. For example, whereas generation Z, brought up in the digital age, has a preference for communicating via technology, 75% of baby boomers prefer face-to-face communication. And Millennials and Generation Z, it has been indicated by various reports, are much more focussed on work/life balance and flexibility than the financial benefits desired by their senior counterparts.

Organisations can seek to better understand each segment of their workforce by ensuring they capture age data when they carry out anonymous engagement surveys. This can help throw up any loyalty or commitment issues that might be lurking due to one or more generations’ needs being overlooked.


2. Create learning environments

Those fresh to the workforce aren’t prepared to wait until they reach the upper echelons of the hierarchy to receive the kind of focused learning and development that their seniors have received on their paths to leadership. Studies suggest that the generation fresh from university views the workplace as a continuation of their education – in fact they view on-going training as the number one benefit that will attract them to an employer (cash benefits fall into a surprising third place). And furthermore, while they are loyal to employers while it suits them, Generations Y and Z will move on if their personal development needs are not met.

Younger generations are chasing education more than financial rewards.

Smart organisations will employ a range of learning and development options to meet the various needs of their workforce segments, from formal classroom learning, to on-the-job mentoring to online L&D platforms.


3. Redefine the career ‘ladder’

One of the much-publicised discoveries about younger generations is that they expect career advancement to happen at breakneck speed, leading to one of the biggest criticisms among older workers that organisational newcomers are progressing – or at least demanding progress – at an unfair rate. A study by Price Waterhouse Cooper suggests that there are clever ways that organisations can address this tension which don’t involve blocking Y and Z from the growth they crave without awarding undue promotions.


Historically, career advancement was built upon seniority and time of service. Millennials don’t think that way. They value results over tenure and are sometimes frustrated with the amount of time it takes to work up the career ladder. They want career advancement much quicker than older generations are accustomed to. So for the high achievers who do show the potential to rise up the ranks quickly, why not let them? A relatively simple solution, such as adding more levels, grades or other ‘badges’, could be enough to meet their expectations.”


4. Examine comfort levels with giving feedback

51% of millennials think that feedback in the workplace should be ‘continual’.

The annual performance review has become such a workplace staple that anyone who’s been in the workplace for more than a decade or so is used to the idea of being appraised on an annual basis. But for those just joining the workforce, regular (read, daily, weekly or on-going) feedback is an extension of the learning and development they expect to form a backbone of the workplace culture.

Smart organisations will invest time in ensuring Baby Boomers and Generation X managers get comfortable with giving less formal, more regular developmental feedback in a way that satisfies their Y and Z direct reports.


5. Become diversity champions

55% of millennials think workforces talk the talk but don’t walk the walk when it comes to workplace equality.

The business case for a diverse and inclusive workplace is well documented: those organisations that seek to represent individuals of all genders, ages, disabilities, sexualities, educational backgrounds and minorities, have better business outcomes.

For the youngest additions to the workforce, diversity isn’t a nice to have; it’s a key factor in what attracts them to an organisation. Women in particular will go to lengths to ensure a potential employer offers them career enhancement, and are adept at deciphering between lip service and real action.

Organisations that want to attract, retain and advance the leaders of the future, will take decisive action to ensure their talent pipelines are healthy and robust.



SOURCES: Wharton University of Pennsylvania; Coleman Parks Research; PwC; Ricoh Europe;