Recent research finds that millennial and Generation Z leaders are changing the world of work—for the better.
By Zoe Harte
Millennials and their younger Generation Z counterparts frequently face criticism over their commitment to the workforce and are often labeled as lazy and entitled and described as “snowflakes.” Yet these younger generations are poised to change the future of work. As these digital natives become the dominant generation in the workforce, they are quickly squashing these misconceptions and bringing their positive influences to build their vision of a new work paradigm.
The third annual Future Workforce Report, conducted by independent research firm Inavero and commissioned by Upwork, paints an entirely different picture of the millennial generation and Gen Z compared to traditional stereotypes. The research reveals this cohort as instrumental in proactively transforming the workplace of today into one that positively reflects the way they want to lead.
The generational mix of today’s office is changing rapidly: By 2028, millennials and Gen Z will comprise 58 percent of the workforce, up from 38 percent today, and the share of baby boomers will drop to 13 percent, with Generation Xers as the remaining 29 percent.
Already, nearly half of this younger generation hold positions of influence—that is, currently at director level or above—and they are using this power to redefine work, leadership, and career management on their own terms.
Two key factors are at play. First, these generations are recognized for being tech savvy, which is integral to their approaches to work. Second, and as important, this cohort of leaders has a healthy skepticism about depending wholeheartedly on their employers.
While earlier generations tended to rely on a company to address their future needs, millennials and Gen Z had a front-row seat as work contracts were broken and their parents and neighbors braved financial setbacks related to the bursting of the dot-com bubble in 2000 and the 2008 “Great Recession.”
Consequently, younger workers are unlikely to envision a 30-year career trajectory with one company or even in one industry. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the average number of years employees remain with one company is 4.2 years. In fact, the median tenure of workers between the ages of 55 and 64 (10.1 years) is more than three times that of workers between the ages of 25 and 34 (2.8 years).
As millennials and Gen Z assume control of their own careers and subsequently adapt the workforce to fit their needs, they are fostering new ways of work that may be beneficial to everyone.
According to the Future Workforce Report, here are four ways that millennials and Gen Z are shaping today’s workplace:
- They are embracing remote teams. Millennials and Gen Z workers don’t remember a time when technology didn’t allow them to work when and where they wanted. As such, nearly three-quarters of those in the younger generations have team members who conduct the bulk of their work remotely, compared to only 58 percent of baby boomers. They see this trend continuing, predicting that by 2028, nearly three-quarters of all teams will have remote workers and 33 percent of full-time employees will exclusively work remotely. That’s likely why they are building an intentional model for a remote workforce and are more likely than baby boomers to have internal processes in place to support them.
- They are invested in reskilling. An overwhelming 96 percent of millennial and Gen Z workers believe it is crucial to provide training to fill the skills gap, yet they are nearly three times more likely than baby boomers to believe that individual workers need to take personal responsibility for their development. Given what they witnessed with their parents and other community leaders, they realize that the person who cares the most about their career is themselves.
- They prioritize workforce planning. While you might assume these younger generations are in a reactive mode, they are nearly three times more likely than baby boomers to name future workforce planning as a top priority and nearly twice as likely to express confidence in their future workforce planning strategy.
- They are embracing an agile workforce. Interestingly, as much as millennials and Gen Z workers are placing focus on reskilling and building their workforce strategy, they aren’t necessarily planning to bolster their full-time staff. If millennial and Gen Z managers don’t have the required skills on staff, they are 50 percent more likely than baby boomers to call on freelancers to fill the gaps on their teams. Accordingly, they are twice as likely to have increased their use of freelancers over the past three years. And this shift shows no sign of abating: Millennial and Gen Z respondents predict that by 2028, nontraditional flexible talent will make up nearly a quarter more of their department spend than it does today.
As these generations dominate the workforce, they will continue to embrace new ways of working—eschewing the outdated concept of “that’s how it’s always been done” and redefining the world of work to fit their lives, rather than the other way around.
With young people assuming a greater role in corporate America, today’s companies are in good hands. These generations have the opportunity to improve the future of the workforce—and their effect is already being felt in this increasingly flexible approach.
Zoe Harte is senior vice president of HR and talent innovation and head of human resources at Upwork.