Today’s young employees are the prime movers of today’s knowledge economy and tomorrow’s business leaders. Growing up in an entirely tech-driven world, this generation is vastly different from previous generations and already account for most of the current global workforce.
The 'Born Digital’ generation and their experience
In Australia, Citrix surveyed more than 1,500 Australian knowledge workers, complementing the global Work 2035 – The Born Digital Effect study. Its findings show that half of the youngest cohort of the ‘Born Digital’ generation (those aged 18 to 24 years old) entered the workforce during the pandemic, and therefore their first workplace experiences were shaped by lockdowns, mandated work from home, isolation, and meetings via video conferences. Thus, they lack the interpersonal, and collaborative office environment that work has traditionally been associated with.
Martin Creighan, Citrix's Managing Director of Australia and New Zealand, says this has fundamentally impacted this segment's perception of how and where work is done, ultimately altering their expectations of how technology should enable them to work the way they want.
“Companies must be mindful of providing the ‘Born Digital’ employees with the correct support, as this cohort is the most likely to be experiencing symptoms of burnout (40%) as a result of working from home. A large portion of this group is reporting an inability to switch off, difficulty focusing and feeling constantly tired,” he says.
“This is why flexibility; employee experience and digital wellness must go hand-in-hand for business leaders. By promoting digital wellness practices in the workplace including the right to disconnect, advocating for taking time to 'unplugged' and separating work and home lives; leaders can ensure the ‘Born Digital’ generation is supported to work in the ways they work best. And those that lead the way in this effort will be the first tap into the (Australian) $2.45 trillion that the Born Digital generation are poised to generate,” he adds.
Tackling disconnect between leadership and employees
Australia’s ‘Born Digital’ have admitted they feel more efficient (31%) and experience a better work-life balance (54%) when working remotely.
“It’s clear that flexible work arrangements will have implications on retaining talent well into the future, with this generation claiming they are also more likely to return to work after parental leave if given the opportunity to work from anywhere (51%). Yet despite the notable benefits of flexible and hybrid working on employee lifestyle, workplace productivity and talent retention, a third (32%) of Australian ‘Born Digital’ employees don’t feel empowered to ask their employer for flexible working arrangements – an obvious disconnect between leadership and employees,” says Creighan.
Some have even become disillusioned by current traditional leadership styles and work practices, with half (49%) of respondents expecting that they will eventually go back to the "old ways of working" instead of companies making a deliberate effort to learn from this experience and adapt to new ways of work
“Of the ‘Born Digital’ workers who have relocated away from a capital city during the pandemic, more than half have said they would seek a new role in order to maintain their new-found flexibility. It is essential that business leaders understand how valuable flexible working is to their employees, or risk losing them to an organisation that does. Having the flexibility of being able to choose how and where work is done, will allow the ‘Born Digital’ generation to fulfill a desire for their preferred ways of working,” he adds.
Globally, more than two-thirds of the ‘Born Digital’ generation believe the pandemic has demonstrated that businesses should invest in more digital technology, but, only 22% of business leaders feel the same. “With this in mind, it is important that leaders come to understand these different mindsets and begin a shift to accommodate the needs of the ‘Born Digital’,” says Creighan.
Need to adapt workplaces, practices for Gen Z's needs
One enduring lesson the pandemic has taught is that the workplace isn’t a destination, it’s an experience – whether in-person or virtually.
“With this in mind, to attract and retain Gen Z talent, business leaders and HR managers need to adapt workplaces to focus on driving collaboration, community and culture,” says Stephen Bovis, Vice President and Managing Director, South Pacific at Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE).
He says at HPE, they use their digital expertise to improve the way team members work, "reinventing and redefining physical spaces, establishing virtual communities for engagement, and underscoring the benefits of physical, mental and career wellbeing".
"The pandemic was a catalyst to reassess the way we work and how we view the office. In July 2020, as part of the HPE Workplace Experience Survey, we found that going forward, more than two-thirds of staff would prefer to spend 20 per cent or less of their time in a HPE office,” says Bovis.
In response, in the same year HPE launched a new hybrid way of working, including in Australia and New Zealand, termed as ‘Edge to Office’.
“As an ‘Edge’ team member, work is carried out primarily outside of the office, wherever people feel most productive – such as at home, a library or coffee shop – and they come into the office a few days each week to connect with their team or have meetings. The offices have also transformed into collaboration hubs, with a place to 'unplug' for 1:1s, team meetings, and informal catch-ups, with limited dedicated workstations, more open seating and collaboration spaces. HPE is responding with initiatives to address what our youngest employees need most right now. Whether this is rethinking our development programs, offering stress management assistance through free wellness app subscriptions such as Headspace, or considering modern family structures via our industry leading parental leave policy,” Bovis adds.
HPE also has the Young Employee Network (YEN) program - an international group of rising talents who are given the opportunity to connect with colleagues and business leaders, strengthen team building and expand their knowledge to develop a new generation of leaders. YEN employees can also participate in an intensive job rotation program, mentoring and workshops to enrich their experience of work and expand the possibilities for their career.
“While our parental leave policies have been updated to reflect changing family structures and career responsibilities, with both new mums and dads receiving six months paid leave after the birth or adoption of a child. However, probably most importantly, we know that operating responsibly and ethically isn’t just the right thing to do, but it is a key differentiator for the newest generation entering our workforce. Lack this, and it will deeply impact your attractiveness as an employer and business partner,” says Bovis.