Preparing for Generation Alpha

2021 will be a key milestone for millions of people across the world; the millennials are turning forty.

Preparing for Generation Alpha

It will be strange to imagine that a group, often maligned as radically minded youngsters that are upsetting the status quo are, by some definitions1,2, now entering middle age.

What of the Millennials?

Generation Y were born between 1981 and 19963; though the term ‘Millennials’ was not coined until 1987.4 They were born during the rise of the information age and an increase in globalisation, a period of economic prosperity that resulted in a higher number of births than the prior Generation X. The eldest of these were shaped significantly by both the wars in the Middle East and the impact of the 2008 financial crisis during their formative years in the workplace.

The narrative of the millennials was that they were ‘flaky, lazy and in need of constant praise’.5 They appeared to give rise to a desire for meaningful work, wanting opportunities to collaborate, seeking freedom of choice and fun in the workplace.6 We will remember, of course, that these laudable aspirations were often derided at the time as symbols of entitlement.

Over the last decade, at a time of low unemployment and talent shortages across many industries, the millennials who came to enter the workforce had a choice. By 2016, nearly two decades after millennials first entered the workforce, organisations began to recognise the challenge and make the change.

Thankfully, as representation of millennials increased, so too has there been greater appetite in businesses for better work and working lives.7 Though the eldest will be reaching their fortieth birthdays this year, the youngest will have just celebrated their twenty-fourth birthday on New Years’ Eve. As a result, their spread of experience and presence within the workforce makes millennials the main demographic. Unless there is a radical shift in retirement ages, millennials are now at peak saturation in the global workforce at around 43 percent.8

 The Rise of Generation Z

Generation Z are the subsequent demographic, born 1997 to 20123 and comprised ten percent of the electorate in the recent US Presidential election.9 Generation Z are the first cohort to have the internet readily available since their early years; viewed as digital natives10 with little recollection of a world before smartphones. Comprising over 13 percent of the global workforce8 this demographic entered the workplace during low unemployment and stable economic growth, now dashed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Just as the 2008 financial crisis shaped the millennials, so too will the pandemic shape the ‘Gen Z’ cohort: loss of their first job, disruption to their education and the resulting repercussions of social distancing and lockdown.

There are certainly behavioural trends that are emerging within this demographic, which are key in the workplace:

  • Human First: Despite the increasingly digital world, one survey indicated that 90 percent of Gen Z prefer a human element to their work.11 This demographic had a clear preference towards working as part of a team either without technology, or as a hybrid of teams and technology, than they would working exclusively within a digital environment.
  • Work/Life Balance is not binary: Achieving a balance of work and life is one of the top considerations for Gen Z but is less of a priority for them as it is for millennials that preceded them.12 Whilst less of a priority by comparison, this generation understand how technology blurs the boundaries between work and life and are choosing to use it to their advantage in choosing when and where to complete work.
  • Social Conscience is key: Across multiple studies, Gen Z are marked as highly socially conscious. Clearly this driving their consumer activity, with 76 percent of Gen Z saying they have purchased or would consider purchasing from a brand to show support for the issues that the company supported.13 It is also having a significant impact on the organisations they wish to join, with 94 percent of Gen Z believing that companies should help address social and environmental issues (in comparison to 87 percent of Millennials).14

Generation Alpha 

The Emergence of Generation Alpha Generation Alpha are the most recent demographic, born from 2013 onwards3 the eldest are in primary education and the youngest are yet to be born. So why would I write about preparing for this generation?

  • Purpose: The growing trends in social conscience will only become greater and Generation Alpha will be selective over working for, and purchasing from, those businesses with a purpose that goes beyond profits and increasing shareholder value. Redefining a business’s purpose and creating the necessary change that flows through to behaviours can take years, certainly until it translates through to the market and employer brand. Those organisations who have not yet re-examined their purpose in a post-Friedman15 light will need to make this a strategic imperative to be ready for the future workforce and consumer market.
  • Technological difference: Although Gen Z are the first digital natives, it is Generation Alpha that have been born entirely into a digital world. Their early education is already being shaped by screens and voice-controlled devices. Whilst it has been the Millennials that eschewed voice for text, we can expect Alpha will reverse this trend. The speed and formality of email are likely to be seen as wasteful, despite its ubiquity, and there will be an expectation of communication channels within the workplace that add genuine value. At the same time, this level of digital dexterity from this generation will come at a time where automation and technological advances are expected to have replaced and augmented many roles. This will see Alpha perfectly placed to undertake the new higher value tasks within the workplace.
  • Vital wellbeing: The proximity of information and brands will mean that Generation Alpha will likely make their career decisions earlier than their predecessors. These choices, combined with greater life expectancy, will mean that Alphas will spend longer working than current generations. With increased blurring between work and life, the impact of the workplace will be more pronounced on this generation than others. The current trend of higher mental health reporting by Gen Z16 will grow under Alpha who will both see less associated stigma and are more likely to require support as a result of increased pervasiveness of technology.17 Organisations that continue to ensure the prioritisation of wellbeing services will find this will continue to deliver an important return on investment.
Generation Alpha
The reality is that a new generation is coming and the eldest of the cohort will enter the workforce towards the end of the decade and are projected to comprise up to 10 percent of the global workforce by 2030.18 In planning terms, that time horizon is the equivalent of the age of austerity. Rather than reliving the experience of being caught off-guard by Millennials, organisations that start now with planning for the inevitable arrival of Generation Alpha will find themselves best prepared for the future of work.

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Written by Adam Gibson

Chartered FCIPD FCMI, Strategic Workforce Planning Leader

Click here and use the discount code AHR20 to get 20% off the purchase of Adam Gibson's new book - ‘Agile Workforce Planning.’

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