millennials at work

Generations Shaping the Workforce

Generations Shaping the Workforce
Reading Time: 5 minutes

The future of work has been highly discussed over the last few years since COVID-19 hit in 2020. But attributing the changes in the workforce solely to the pandemic can be a deterrent in understanding why and where we are headed. We can’t talk about how events are shaping the workplace, without narrowing in on a key element: people.

It’s generations responding to world-changing events what truly steers socio-economic changes in the long run. And if there are two generations that are defining what the future of work will look like, well that’d be millennials and Gen Z.

A brief(ish) break down

There is a lot to be said about Gen Z and millennials at work, and to be honest, quite a lot of it has already been said. But it is still important to see how the traits of these generations have an effect on our workplace. Especially when thinking about recruiting and retaining the younger generations.

Millions of millennials

Talk about a generation that is not only shaping the workforce but pretty much represents the biggest chunk of it. According to a Pew Research Center analysis of the U.S. Census Bureau data published in 2018, millennials surpassed Gen Xers in 2016 as the largest generation in the U.S. labor force. 

“By 2025, 75 percent of the global workforce is expected to be made up of millennials.”  – Firstup, Key statistics about Millennials in the workplace

But, it’s not just about how millennials are taking over in numbers but also in positions. Let’s keep in mind that these are no longer the youngsters at work. Elder millennials are now also taking up the leadership mantle in top-level positions. Meaning that the way they think and how they have been shaped by major events, is having an impact on corporate policy and work culture.

One of the main things to consider about millennials is that they have never truly known what long-term consistency feels like, whether via exposure to ever-present technology advancements, or destabilizing events such as The Great Recession and the COVID-19 pandemic. That doesn’t mean they can’t or won’t think long-term, but rather that they can’t commit to it fully knowing that everything can change in an instant.

Here are some highlights about millennials provided by Workday’s whitepaper ​​Engaging the Workforce Across Generations:

  • They view the internet as No. 1 resource, and are willing to trade privacy for information and convenience.
  • They expect a lot of guidance and free information.
  • They have a short attention span, and are uncomfortable with ambiguity.
  • They demand transparency.
  • They must see career opportunities or could become impatient and move on.

Plus they are concerned about:

  • Not understanding perspectives and expectations of older colleagues.
  • Not doing everything right. 
  • Disapproval. 
  • Not appearing “smart.”
  • Not having a voice or restriction of their self-expression.

Gen Z: A tik-toking time bomb

Though millennials seem to be the protagonists of the workforce, there’s another big fish entering and already making waves in the pond. These digital natives’ big debut to the workforce may have been disrupted by the pandemic, but you won’t see a more determined, agile, and confident generation that’s actually playing along with the disruption.

“There were brand-new employees boldly asking their bosses to support movements that mattered to them; there were entry-level staff members who were comfortable saying when they needed a day off”, says Emma Goldberg writing for The New York Times, Do Generations Matter? Well, Maybe.

Same as millennials, Gen Z has seen their fair share of uncertainty, but being aware of it from a very young age has molded them into the most adaptable generation so far, that’s also willing to take risks and assert their values to change the world around them.

Centennials’ highlights from the same Workday whitepaper say that they are:

  • Hard-working problem-solvers.
  • Concerned with privacy and cybersecurity.
  • Value-conscious.
  • Very devoted to and personally involved in social causes.
  • In need of prompt and frequent feedback.

Meanwhile, their main concerns include:

  • Loss of privacy.
  • Cyber warfare.
  • Environmental harm (climate change).
  • Global economic instability.
  • Global terror/safety concerns.

Connecting the dots

Of course, it takes diving deeper into each generation to get the full picture, but even understanding the basics can help company leaders connect the dots on how these generational traits impact recruitment and retention.


These generations are not all about the pay. Yes, financial security is still one of their biggest motivations, considering their experience with instability. However, these generations want to see more on the table than just a salary (especially if it doesn’t seem that appealing). 

Here are some of the main things they care about:

  • Flexible work

Taking down the strict 9-to-5 schedule is not a new idea brought up by the pandemic. This has been a thought long brewed by millennials, as seen in Jason Dorsey’s Y-size your business. In this book published a decade ago, Dorsey explains that, unlike Baby Boomers, millennials don’t measure loyalty or productivity in time (meaning the hours or years spent at a company), but rather the effort put into it. So it makes sense for them to have an adaptable work schedule that allows them to give it their best.

  • Training programs

Millennials might be the original sponsors of “job-hopping,” way before The Great Resignation took place. Access to information has always been easy for them, so it’s no wonder they like to visit job boards every now and then looking for a new challenge or something that inspires them out of the rut. They are so used to learning things on their own and they expect to keep learning new skills to avoid stagnation. Which is why companies should make employee experience and development a centerpiece of their retention strategy.

  • More corporate perks

Keeping up with 2021’s biggest workforce changes, employee benefits are still taking the lead on what candidates and active employees are asking for. But in addition to work-life balance benefits like remote work, stipends, subscriptions, and access to well-being tools, there are new perks rising. For instance, Gen Z’s need to give back to the world and get involved in social change has led to them asking for additional paid time off specifically for volunteering in social causes.


Both millennials and centennials care about purpose. So it’s not just where they work but who they work for. Things like employee branding and community involvement probably wouldn’t be as relevant if millennials and Gen Z didn’t care about who they work for….. Or if they weren’t used to browsing the internet for reviews.

Companies now need to put themselves “out there,” which also means meeting young candidates where they are at. That’s where social /digital recruitment strategies take place. Recruiters and hiring authorities need to start exploring new channels and ways to approach these candidates. 

Particularly talking about Gen Z, we know that they spend most of their time on TikTok, but is it only for finding the latest challenge? Well, a trend from 2021 showed that a lot of TikTok users were looking for content creators to get financial advice. Is that wise? Maybe not, but it’s clear that this short and “less produced” video format is an effective way to communicate with this age group.

Is the rise of video job posts like this one, either organic or paid, likely to become a game-changer for the recruitment process? Only time will tell. The same goes for TikTok’s latest pilot program meant to give users an option for creating video resumes. Still, there’s no doubt that both generations are ready to take chances on companies that align with their worldview and work styles.

Diving deeper

This is only the tip of the iceberg, but it’s clear that understanding these younger generations is essential to reduce turnover, increase employee engagement, and ensure company growth. If you are a company leader looking into more sources to broaden your view.

Here are some resources used for this article:

The Key to Find Top Talent
Workforce Trends: Closing the Skills Gap
3 Facts on How COVID-19 Changed Recruitment

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