Book a Speaker
Grow Membership
Reduce Turnover
XYZ University YouTube Page LogoXYZ University Instagram Page LogoXYZ University LinkedIn Page LogoXYZ University Twitter Page LogoXYZ University Facebook Page LogoXYZ University Vimeo LogoXYZ University RSS Feed Logo
Generation Y
Generation X

Adjusting To The 21st Century Workforce

I was listening to a sports program on the radio the other day where the DJs were discussing a recent issue at Minnesota State Mankato University. The players refused to practice or play for their newly reinstated coach, saying it was time they were heard. One of the DJs kept insisting that the issue, in part, was that the players hadn’t been included in the decision. The DJ arguing with him kept wondering aloud why the players would have been included in that decision, since when does their buy-in matter and why should they have a voice in the decision making?

I was listening to a sports program on the radio the other day where the DJs were discussing a recent issue at Minnesota State Mankato University. The players refused to practice or play for their newly reinstated coach, saying it was time they were heard. One of the DJs kept insisting that the issue, in part, was that the players hadn’t been included in the decision. The DJ arguing with him kept wondering aloud why the players would have been included in that decision, since when does their buy-in matter and why should they have a voice in the decision making?

Well, employee buy-in matters in the 21st Century workplace. If you want your employees to practice and play, they need to feel like a real part of the team; they want to be heard.

A recent Deloitte report suggests that global business growth is being jeopardized by organizations’ failure to adjust to a 21st Century workforce. It states that employers aren’t ready to address the shift in employee values and expectations on the job which could potentially result in a crisis of leadership and retention. We think they’re right.


If you want to stay competitive, you’re going to need strong talented leaders. Yet, 66 percent of respondents in the Deloitte report claim to be weak at creating leadership programs for Millennials.

Guess what? You need leadership programs for Generation Y; they’re your future leaders. It’s as simple as that. If you aren’t investing in young leadership, you’ll be stuck in the past, irrelevant and probably out of business. Hiring to fill gaps is expensive; develop your leadership from within. Your 21st Century workforce wants you to help them reach their career goals, and you’ll need their leadership in the future.

Simple. Win win.


The 21st Century employee is not as motivated by a paycheck as generations past. It’s going to take more than a pay bump to retain your top talent. Employees are looking for employers who are willing to work with them to develop their skills and keep them relevant in the changing workplace. Employees are looking for a cause they can believe in; they want to feel passionate about their work, understand their purpose. When organizations invest in them and give them something to invest in, that’s what helps to create loyal employees.

Unfortunately, according to the Deloitte report, 38 percent of respondents rated themselves weak at integrating social, community and corporate programs that are aligned with career goals of employees. It’s time to get better. Organizations need to help their talent reach career goals while working towards something meaningful, not just a paycheck.


The world is changing. How we do business is changing. The workforce is changing. HR needs to be making changes too. Sadly, they are currently lagging behind, playing catch-up. Thirty-four percent of Deloitte survey respondents describe their HR departments as just “getting by” or under-performing.

The Baby Boomers are retiring, Generation Z is entering the workforce. We are facing a workforce crisis, the largest shift in human capital this country has ever seen. This is no time for HR departments to be getting by or under-performing. HR needs to be up on the latest tools and trends that affect their ability to attract and retain talented employees.

It’s time to adjust for the 21st Century workforce, it’s not going anywhere anytime soon, and if you don’t keep up, your business isn’t going anywhere either. It’s time to listen. Your employees are telling you what they expect, and if you want to keep them, you need to adjust. Meeting expectations is going to mean change.

Yes, we know change is scary, but not changing is downright terrifying.

Zs came of age in an era of disruption

In many ways, it’s symbolic that Generation Z is named after the last letter in the alphabet because their arrival marks the end of clearly defined roles, traditions, and experiences. After all, Gen Z is coming of age on the heels of what has been referred to as the most disruptive decade of the last century. America has become an increasingly changing and complex place.

For example:

  • ‍Zs were born into a “modern family era” in which highly involved dads help out at home, and the nuclear family model (two parents, married, with children) represent only 46% of American households.
  • ‍Zs are the first generation to be born into a world where everything physical, from people to places to pennies, has a digital equivalent.
  • From the time they were infants, Zs had access to mobile technology. As a result, their brains have been trained to absorb large amounts of information, and Zs are especially adept at shifting between skills and subject matter.
  • Zs tend to have crystal-clear memories of sitting up for the first time at six months old because they can easily and quickly reference the photos and videos their parents shared on social media or saved in the “cloud”. 

Members of this generation have undoubtedly been shaped by crisis and disruption. This generation will largely be responsible for confronting the aftermath of the Great Recession, high youth unemployment, the effects of climate change, terrorism, energy sustainability, and more. These dark events have undoubtedly made this generation more cautious and pragmatic, but they have also provided this generation with the inspiration to change the world – and their grit will likely allow them to do it.

Coming of age during disruption means that most Zs will be comfortable being the disruptors. While Millennials tend to be collaborative and innovative, this generation tends to be sincere, reflective, thick-skinned, and self-directed, and will likely approach work in much the same way.

Zs were raised to be competitive

In the era following World War II, Boomers (1946-1964) were born and eventually became the wealthiest, most prosperous generation in history. Raised to aspire for the American Dream, this very large generation moved into positions of power and influence, and served as the workforce majority for 34 years.

With the American Dream alive and well, Boomers had no reason to teach their children, mostly Millennials, about competition. Instead, they taught them to focus on academic achievement and to be team players because if everyone works hard, everyone can win.

Enter Generation X (1965-1981). In contrast Boomers, Xers came of age during a time when change and economic and political uncertainty began to take root. They have lived through four recessions, struggled with debt and economic decline most of their lives, and watched the best educated and accomplished generation of all time (Millennials) graduate during the Great Recession and become the most debt-ridden generation in history.

Gen Xers can be defined by their independence and anti-status quo approach to life, and they have taught their Gen Z children to be competitive, believing only the best can win. They have encouraged their children to be realists, finding something they are good at and aggressively pursuing it.

Xers have raised their Zs with an intense focus on competitiveness -- in academics, sports, and other activities. This approach to parenting has many implications, but one stands out in terms of business: Gen Z is likely to lead.

Millennials in the workplace created and aggressively advocated for collaborative work environments. In fact, their aversion to leadership has been so strong, some Millennials sought out companies that boasted boss-free or team-managed workplaces.

In contrast, Zs have been raised with an individualistic, realistic, and competitive nature. They have been taught the skills to successfully defy the norm. This means we’re going to see the pendulum shift away from collaborative workplaces towards a widespread demand for, and pursuit of, leadership development.

Zs are career-focused.

While Millennials have been criticized for their “delayed adulthood”, Gen Z is showing signs of “early adulthood”. Educators and parents often describe this generation as being more serious and contemplative about the world. Zs are thinking about their career paths and exposing themselves to career training at an earlier age than Millennials. It’s probable that some of this early onset of adulthood is caused by parents, who are pressuring their children to be competitive and successful and to avoid the debt that plagued both the Gen Xers and Millennials.

The numbers from our global research found 46% of Gen Z said they know what career to pursue and 51% have taken a class at school focused on their career interests. Forty percent joined an extracurricular program (team, club) based on their career interests.

Zs are seeking financial security. 

Zs have been shaped by the aftermath of the Great Recession. They watched Millennials become debt-ridden and are concerned about falling into the same trap. XYZ University’s survey results show 66% of Zs said financial stability is more important than doing work they enjoy, which is the exact opposite of Millennial survey results.  Also, 71% of survey-takers have a paying job.

Zs value leaders who are positive and trustworthy.

When presented a list of leadership traits, Zs ranked positive and trustworthy the highest. While Millennials and Gen Zs both value trust in a leader, Millennials usually cite collaboration and vision as most important. In other words, Millennials focus on the outcomes leaders inspire, whereas Zs are more likely to consider leaders’ attitudes and personalities. To Z, what leaders encourage others to do isn’t as valuable as how they make them feel.


Zs want to be challenged.

Both Millennials and Gen Zs place a very high value on feeling challenged and appreciated in the workplace. However, according to our survey results Millennials rank appreciation slightly higher than challenge, whereas Zs rank feeling challenged slightly higher than appreciation.

Time will tell how Zs go down in history, but we know this generation’s influence on history will be unlike any other.


Does your organization have what it takes to engage the next generation? Take this quiz to find out.


Sarah Sladek is CEO of XYZ University. Our generational intelligence can assist you with engaging and retaining young talent and members.

Take the first step towards your future.

Looking for a game changer at your next event or a strategy unique to your organization?