Dear Business – We’re disappointed. Signed, Generation Next.

Millennials make up half our workforce with Gen Z hard on their heels. Their voices are now contributing to discussions on the current and future state of the world of work and its leadership. Spoiler alert – they’re not impressed.

Before the mutterings about ‘entitled’ and ‘self-obsessed’ and ‘inflated sense of self worth’ start rumbling around the meeting room, what’s causing such disappointment?

According to the Deloitte 2018 Millennial Survey (which this year also included a sprinkling of Gen Z respondents), employers are out of step with millennial priorities. They perceive the top three priorities of organisations in which they work to be generating profit, driving efficiencies and producing/selling goods and services and that these are the last three areas businesses should prioritise. Millennials realise financial success is necessary but they feel businesses should have broader goals, including:

  • Making a positive impact on society and the environment

  • Creating innovative ideas, products and services

  • Job creation, career development and improving people’s lives

  • An emphasis on inclusion and diversity in the workplace

In New Zealand, similar themes emerged from a more broadly focused youth wellbeing survey conducted this year by Ara Taiohi (a representative body for organisations focused on youth development) in conjunction with survey platform Action Station. They found New Zealand young people were interested in a kinder, fairer economy and meaningful, secure work; a country that values diversity, inclusion and kindness; an end to oppression of all kinds - no more racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia or ableism.

That doesn’t sound like entitlement or self-obsession.

It sounds like altruism.

Millennials and the generations following them are facing some huge challenges. They have to find their way in a world of rising demands and diminishing resources. They are intensely aware of the impending impact of technology and feel education and professional development frameworks are not preparing them for what’s ahead. They feel that those who should be heading the clean up mission, the generations in power, are not only failing to pick up a mop but sometimes even deny the mess is real.

On the plus side, they also feel that not-for-profits (first) and businesses (second) are having more of a positive impact on the situation than religious or political leaders. Which is why (to quote Deloitte):

“...Now is the time for business leaders to prove themselves as agents of positive change.”

And you’d better get on with it because otherwise the hyper-connected, tech-empowered, purpose-driven younger generation will just roll their sleeves up, hit their keyboards and do it for themselves, one hashtag at a time.

Gen Next and the gig economy

One way this is happening is through increased participation in the gig/freedom/freelance economy. In the U.S. the trend is being driven by increased insecurity in traditional employment, which makes the terms of freelancing more attractive than in the past. In New Zealand, where employment conditions are generally more generous, it appears to be more connected to the desire for purposeful or meaningful work that sits well with Gen Next values.

Choosing what business to work for, who with and what on is appealing to the values-driven gig artist, as is choosing when and where to work. People are developing a portfolio career based on a range of interests, dialling different facets up and down to meet demand.

This was certainly the view of the NZ teens fronting our October Future of Work MeetUp. Talk of a diverse, multi-faceted career experience drew nods of agreement from others on the Gen Z panel. There was clear dissatisfaction with the combined forces of the traditional education system and parental expectation pushing commitment to a linear path.

The downside of gigging is the potential loss of traditional protections and benefits. At our September ‘Future of Work’ MeetUp commentators spoke about the importance of employers having a duty of care to contractors. This includes approaching the contractor experience with the same attention you give to employees or suppliers; to fully involve them in the organisation rather than keeping them at arm’s length.

Not surprisingly, the trends that are boosting the gig economy are also affecting our permanent workforce. A desire for flexibility was behind the success of Perpetual Guardian’s four-day working week experiment. Fonterra is investing in professional development that is not specifically role-related because they see its value not only for employee satisfaction and career progression but as a potential source of innovation and fresh perspective; developing internal consultants if you like. People who switched jobs every couple of years were once considered risky bets. Now they’re perceived as being up to date.

The lines between temporary and permanent are blurring. The whole fabric of business and work is changing. Flexibility, mobility, adaptability, responsibility are becoming the essential business buzzwords. A commitment to continually reviewing and renewing, to fostering a culture of life-long learning, will distinguish those businesses and individuals that thrive from those that just survive.

Want to reframe your career or business for the future of work? It’s not too late to enroll in our Master of Technological Futures. Gen 6 starts on 6 November.

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