After a year of working in our shorts and from our homes, I wonder if the wearing of suits will ever be something we will embrace. Or perhaps we are ready to get dressed up for an event, even if it is simply a meeting or jaunt to the office. Will cash be phased out as we are habitual online shoppers now or will we soon be heading back to the high street and return to window shopping. Will we still stand at the bar, or now visit table service destinations, using an app to order our drinks? Will my mum ever return to phone calls now she has discovered Whattsap video calls? I do hope so.
So much is still to be discovered but I am really curious about how the expectations of different generations will be as we return to our lives.
What I have seen is that the pandemic has forced some generations to quickly get onboard with some already existing trends for which GenZ were already adopting. My kids never use email, rarely carry cash and happily chat online with their friends rather than meeting them face to face. Now the boomers and GenX have got on board, surely there is no looking back?
In my book, LeaderX, I write about key moments that shaped the GenX mindset. The ozone layer, Ethiopian famine, Hillsborough disaster, coal miners, strikes to name a few. The Boomers got a man on the moon, Kennedy assassination, Vietnam war, the Aids Pandemic (as young adults) and Civil Rights marches. The Millennials grew up in a shadow of fear after the twin towers and numerous other terrorist attacks and a world online. GenZ became global community members through their phones.
But the Pandemic didn't change just one generation. It changed every generation. It's prolonged impact created new behaviours, ideas, life philosophies that unites rather than divides. Yes, there are those Covid deniers and anti vaxxers that are divided, the woke vs unwoke, but that spans generations.
The generations now, in relation to work, are closer than ever.
So let's have a look at each generation and some of the trends that we are seeing.
The high risk generation
Boomers were in the high risk category of Covid deaths. It changes peoples perspectives. We knew that the 2020's would be the decade of Boomer retirement, and for some, the pandemic has accelerated their decision. Motivated to enjoy their senior years and not take life for granted, we have seen trends in boomers relocating closer to family or moving to that place they always dreamed of.
However, some Boomers who have decided to delay retirement because they have embraced technology and the life balance it gives them. Remote and Hybrid working options has made working more appealing, and on their terms. Boomers reported feeling more productive than younger workers when working remotely, as well as being less anxious during the COVID-19 pandemic. They have changed their mindset when it comes to flexible working and maybe champions of working anytime, anyplace and anywhere.
The early adopters
At the beginning of the pandemic GenXers boasted how they were born ready for this. The 80's was a decade of huge change, crisis and danger. These kids grew up with the cold war, electricity shortages, Aids crisis, stranger danger and no-one was there to comfort them. They grew up resilient and stoical. They are the first adopters of technology, introducing new tools into the workplace to enable them to be slicker and more productive. They championed flexible working, parental rights and rewards and benefits. Everything they dreamed of is coming into fruition in a post pandemic world. They can work from anywhere, be with their families, wear what they want to wear and collaborate with ease, AND be super effective and productive. They have their camper vans and their wifi and they are ready to maximise their lives. They still want to meet up with their team mates, but for collaboration and socialising. The rest of the work can be done from anywhere.
They had it tough
Millennials have often been labelled as snowflakes. They have had their hands held throughout their lives and experienced helicopter parenting. However, I take my hat off to them. Many have worked from home, been furloughed and done it whilst home schooling young children. That's a challenge in itself. They really value spending time with loved ones and not missing out on the key moments in life. For those without young families, we saw many return to family and friends homes to avoid isolation and this has brought a reconnection with old friends, old relationships, the ones that matter.
The millennials are a high risk generation for employers. They are at a cross roads and we don't know which way they will go. Millennials were told that you only live once and there was a whole world and life for you to go out and get. This forced pause, time to slow down, reconnect and stop chasing the next key event in their lives has been transformative. They have had time of re-evaluation. For many, they have reflected on what life is really about and what core values they want to live by in the future. Those saddled with big mortgages and debt might not be able to quit their job, but they are certainly considering how they will work in the future. They are clear about their hard no's and yes's. They will be more demanding about their hopes and aspirations. They will ask for progression, development and opportunity. They won't stick around for the "one day" and will move to employers who give them what they want TODAY.
And for those without the debt, well they can jump ship whenever they want. Expect to see more travelling, relocating, side hustles and start ups. They've been robbed of 18 months of their lives and they don't want to delay getting what they want from life.
The unknown entity
For those kids born after 2000 the world has been very strange for them. A large percentage of their life has been spent in lockdown and in fear. They have all experienced home schooling, no clubs, bubbles, segregation and strict rules. They have stayed connected via snapchat, gaming and TikTok. They missed out on exams, proms, big birthday celebrations and all of the other coming of age activities.
Many didn't get to experience that first job, and if they did, they were onboarded remotely. They may not have experienced what "normal" work looks like. This is their normal. Gen Z’s little to zero experience working in physical offices, lack of opportunities to socialise with, and learn from colleagues along with social isolation may lead to a huge confidence and skills gap in the post pandemic world.
Gen Z feel like their smartphone is part of them. They have it close by for comfort. It's how they communicate, purchase, book stuff, date, get their news, connect to opportunities and everything in life. They are mobile in every sense of the word. They are active, fast, and independent learners who want to connect everything they hear, see and read to the real world. Don't try to take their phones off them. Instead embrace them. Use them to communicate, train, learn, upskill and connect.
As a parent of GenZ, the one thing that amazes me is their short attention span. Multi-tasking is second nature and focus is harder. Information is absorbed in 60 second clips, whilst they chat to their friends and check their feeds. It's how they are now wired. Yes it is frustrating, but it is real. So develop work and learning in short bursts, lunch and learns, bitesized training and watch them grow. Then let them try new things, learning by doing. Help them build confidence and give feedback and reassurance. Otherwise they will try to become the next big TikTok star or YouTube influencer. They know the world is full of opportunities and they will go out there and find them.
But the similarities are clear.
Freedom, autonomy, relationships, fun and experience matter more now than ever. People want to live their lives, on their terms. After having their freedom removed for so long, they will not tolerate an employer who tries to do the same. They will leave. They will move. They will leave you.
Technology has shown everyone that everything is possible.
Now we need leaders who believe it too.