10 January 2022 17:01:37 IST

How Gen Z is changing the grammar of work

Growing up in a participative economy, Gen Z expects freedom within a framework and flatter organisations.

Recently, Unicode, not-for-profit organisation responsible for digitising language, released 37 new emojis, one of which is a yellow smiling face dissolving into a puddle. Next year, they plan to release a disco ball, a saluting face and a troll. My mind immediately associated this innovative effort with the new generation’s capacity to revolutionise the future Indian workplaces.

The true digital natives, the techno-savvy generation which grew up online, is totally open to digital disruption, unfazed by it. They have been impacted the hardest by Covid19 — yet, they are the ones stepping up to lead the change. Activism, empathy and awareness form their pillars of purpose, especially for issues such as environment change and social equality.

They are the 472-million strong Gen Z segment, which will constitute a fifth of the Indian workforce by the end of 2021, and form the majority of future consumers. How will they change the game in the post-pandemic, digital-first workplace?

Driven by purpose

Like every other generation, they want different things from work. Salary is a very important factor, but they also opt for interesting work in a purpose-rooted organisation for lesser money. In the Randstad Employer Brand Research 2021 country report for India, their top EVP factors included salary, work-life balance, safe work environment, organisation reputation and good learning.

There have been reports of Gen Z job applicants feeling demotivated followed by several rejections during Covid. As employees, they have struggled to balance work and life in the remote work landscape. Yet, they seem to bring a sense of positive purpose to the workplace. They feel that the pandemic is an opportunity to improve their lives, and that everyone around the world is in this together.

Gen Z wants a company which shares their powerful belief in this inclusive purpose. Their organisations must thus do well and do good with agility to outpace the changes in business and society.

Expressing fully

Organisations that shifted to remote work, initially out of compulsion, actually found it worked well for them — and many have become advocates of the hybrid work model.

While this fits in very well with Gen Z’s strong preference for flexible work, employers must understand that for this generation, the hours and location of work are smaller specks in their broad canvas of flexibility. They bring their whole self to work, where work values co-exist with personal values. Organisations should give them broader flexibility in terms of space and time, and reimagine work models beyond the simplistic bucketing of contractors, freelancers and gig workers. This will accommodate their passion for community involvement and other creative projects.

This flexibility of freedom is Gen Z’s powerful contribution to the future of work. They prefer flatter hierarchies. They want clear expectations without being told what to do. I believe we should give this generation their ‘freedom in the frame’. In fact, I would throw them into the responsibility zone of middle management even before they are ready, and make them positively vulnerable. They are smart, they are curious, and they will find the ‘how’ easily.

Entrepreneurial edge

Growing up in today’s participative economy with the ‘do-it-yourself’ technology advantage has created an entrepreneurial spirit in this generation. They will form the multitasking and digitally native task force of organisations, and their ‘get-things-done’ attitude will be a great advantage for organisations.

While they value their independence at work, Gen Z still looks for structure, direction and learning. And they will ask for it persistently and assertively. Employers must provide them openness, responsibility, motivation and meaning.

Covid-19 has, in many ways, reshaped the way we live, work and conduct business. Digital transformation, sustainability and equality are the key agenda of organisations today. While these may be overwhelming to the older generation, Gen Z employees have taken a giant leap forward as fearless disruptors with their committed belief for a better and greener future — and are willing to hold themselves accountable towards building it. Organisations must leverage the vibrant potential of this generation by

· Giving them ownership and responsibility of their work, so that they can drive success amidst sweeping changes

· Providing them avenues for learning and mentorship with leaders, so that it fuels their curiosity to be true innovators

· Genuinely practising diversity, equity and inclusion, both in letter and spirit

· Letting them know about how their work contributes to the company’s goals. Gen Zs believe in purpose and social impact, and need affirmation that their company’s sustainability initiatives are not merely a compliance exercise, but create actual competitive edge

This will be generation that will live to tell the tale of Covid-19. It may be their story, but we can be their inspiration in building the future.



(The writer is MD and CEO, Randstad India.)