The life and work environments of younger employee generations

Workspaces of Tomorrow

IBA editorial team IBA editorial team ·
6 Minutes

At least four different generations are working in companies today: baby boomers (1946 – 1964), Generation X (1965 – 1979), Generation Y (1980 – 1994), also known as millennials, and Generation Z (1995 – 2010). Soon Generation Alpha, which is also called Genα or Gen Alpha, will also be at the starting blocks. What sets the younger generations apart, and what are their expectations regarding work? An initial categorisation.

Many statements have been made about the young employee generations. Generation Z has often been called too demanding and leisure-oriented. Its members supposedly regard work as a means to an end and have no emotional connection with the companies they work for. Generation Y is motivated by money, but it does expect its work to be meaningful. These are excerpts from research findings and expert opinions about the life and work environments of young employee generations.

A study: Deloitte Global 2023 Gen Z and Millennial Survey

The Deloitte Global 2023 Gen Z and Millennial Survey, which was conducted in 44 countries among 4,483 members of Gen Z and 8,373 millennials, provides an informative picture of these generations. From the younger generations’ perspective, satisfaction with the work-life balance and flexibility in the workplace have improved. In many places, remote and hybrid work stand on an equal footing with other work arrangements. The younger generations also judge employers’ activities in the area of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) much more positively today than in previous years. The health factor has developed rather negatively. The pandemic has led to an increase in both physical and mental complaints. As in previous years, high living expenses are the greatest worry of Generations Y and Z. It is followed by worry about unemployment and climate change, in second and third place respectively. Rising rents, inflation and higher mobility costs are causing huge problems for the young generations. Young employees are also rethinking the role of work in their lives. Although 49 % of Generation Z and 62 % of Generation Y members say that work is centrally important for their identity, both generations are striving in equal measure to achieve a good work-life balance — a factor they consider very important when choosing a new employer. Their interest in part-time models is also growing. However, a reduction in working time is not a realistic option for most of respondents, because they cannot afford the salary cut this would entail. Both generations appreciate the advantages of remote and hybrid work. Three quarters of the survey respondents who are currently on a flexible work schedule would look for a new job if their employer asked them to work in the office full-time.

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A study: Young People in Germany 2021

Simon Schnetzer, a youth researcher, futurologist and, since 2010, publisher of the “Jugend in Deutschland” (Youth in Germany) trend studies, regularly conducts studies of the younger generations. His 2021 study of Generation Y is based on data gathered from 1,005 survey participants. 45 % of the participants said that money was their biggest performance motivator, followed by fun at 42 % and meaningful purpose at 31 %. Generation Y members are questioning the perceived significance of many areas of life. As a result, a sense of purpose and the potential of work to create meaning play an important role in their jobs as performance motivators and bonding factors. What makes Gen Y members stand out: They grew up in the analogue world and grew into the digital world. Events such as 9/11 and the financial crisis shape their value system.

On the basis of data from 596 participants of the 2021 study “Jugend in Deutschland”, 44% of Generation Z members believe that fun is the biggest motivator of job performance. It is followed by money at 39 % and goal attainment at 32 %. By comparison with Generation Y, Generation Z members are more satisfied with their physical health and future prospects. By contrast, they are less satisfied with their financial situation and their balance between work and leisure. What makes Gen Z stand out: They grew up with smartphones, social media and artificial intelligence. For them it’s essential to receive recognition in the form of praise, appreciation and prompt feedback. If Gen Z members’ work is fun, there’s no stopping them. The word “fun” as a synonym of pleasure often represents a pleasant working atmosphere, varied activities and respectful dealings with others. If this is not the case, the members of Generation Z are more open than other generations to career changes. Besides, they consider it very important to separate work from private life. Generation Z members prefer regularly scheduled times for work and leisure and are not in favour of concepts such as work-life blending.

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What’s becoming increasingly important for companies

For companies, that meant it’s now time to act. It’s important for them to understand the young generations and what they want from work — and to meet them halfway and support them in the areas they are most concerned about. A value-oriented corporate culture is just as important here as the provision of equal opportunities for all groups of people. Job recruitment processes also need to be rethought. Remuneration, advanced training, financial security and the opportunity to work flexibly in a pleasant atmosphere are becoming important advantages in the competition for talented young people.

In a few years, Generation Z will be followed by Generation Alpha — what Simon Schnetzer calls “the digital generation”, which has been dealing with smart phones, social media, apps and digital assistants from early childhood on as a matter of course. The members of Gen Alpha perceive the world as networked, digital, global, mobile and virtual. That’s why they regard modern workplaces, flexible work models and smart tools as standard features when they are selecting their employers. They are growing up with diverse equal-opportunity structures, and environmental protection and sustainability are important issues for our time. That’s why it’s becoming even more important for employers to put a sense of purpose in the foreground and pay attention to diversity in teams in order to remain attractive as an employer. And that doesn’t even start to cover recruiting. The process of recruiting new employees will become much more mobile and make use of artificial intelligence.

Titelbild: unsplash.com, ©Wesley Tingey