Global ESG & Sustainability Leader
Future of Work
Millennials leading the workplace of the future
With baby boomers and Gen Xers on the cusp of retirement, how can firms prepare millennials to take the reins in the workplace of the future?
Millennials leading the workplace of the future
What would it be like if you felt deeply connected to your organization, a sense of total emotional and physical wellbeing, and each day was spent working towards bettering the planet?
That’s the future of work that millennials in the workplace (aged 27-42 in 2023) aspire to today.
Korn Ferry's latest research on the workplace of the future reveals that 65% of millennial workers would feel more inspired at a company with a good ESG policy. With 54% of millennials considering themselves climate activists, the onus is on soon-to-retire baby boomers (aged 59-77) to think beyond their current agendas and build a compelling leadership pipeline before it’s too late. “We’ve been talking about the baby boomers retiring for the last 20 years. And in some cases, they’ve been blocking the millennials,” says Andrea Walsh, Korn Ferry’s Global ESG and Sustainability Leader.
But what about Gen X? Professionals aged 43-58 would indeed be a logical choice to succeed baby boomers, but the past few years have shifted their priorities, causing nearly half of them to actively consider early retirement. So, the challenge for current leadership is to create a workplace that excites millennials – one that anchors future ways of working around purpose. But for some firms, their internal messaging sounds like greenwashing.
“What companies need to be doing is embedding ESG within the business so it’s not just a standalone policy and millennials feel like real action is being taken,” advises Walsh.
She adds that in addition to understanding what employees would like to see, it’s beneficial for leaders to learn how all stakeholders envision an ideal ESG effort. This includes investors, shareholders, regulators, and outside policymakers. This 360-degree approach turns an emotional commitment into a practical, sustainable one because it intersects with the organization’s business need.
Our experts say one key to embedding ESG strategy is through employee development. Our recent report on the World’s Most Admired Companies reveals that an ability to develop talent is what separates the best organizations from the pack. For millennials in the workplace, that means assessing whether they have the "green skills" required – and if not, investing in upskilling. It also means giving younger talent a vision of what lies ahead.
“When I think about the future of work, I think about creating an experience within an organization that provides a career pathway,” says Megan Jackson, Senior Client Partner at Korn Ferry’s consulting practice. Millennials need exposure within an organization to work on different projects and receive mentorship from the higher-ups. They need to be put in leadership positions to excel in their career paths or firms risk disengagement and drop-off. “The ‘inclusion’ part of DEI also needs attention. It’s about belonging,” says Jackson.
The latest technology can also help bridge ideological divides between generations and put purpose-driven theory into practice. “We now use artificial intelligence to understand people in the flow of their day,” says Alida Al-Saadi, Korn Ferry Senior Client Partner, who specializes in life sciences.
AI embedded in the employee experience analyzes behaviors and actions to anticipate issues and deliver solutions like never before. AI delivers training and information to employees directly. If you need a network, type in what you’re looking for and the AI replies with a list of people who know what you need. Or if you’ve been working more hours this week than last, the AI might suggest you schedule more breaks.
Tech is facilitating what Al-Saadi terms ‘the new age of reciprocity’. She continues by saying, “People are asking for a consumer experience in their work lives.” The era of HR and business leaders pushing agendas down the pipeline is over. Now innovations are bubbling from the bottom up, and younger generations need to know that their needs are being met.
The road to the top is paved with good intentions. But millennials have made it clear that intentions are no longer enough to motivate them to continue the climb — companies need to take action. As Al-Saadi says, “People want their impact to matter. ‘I want to be proud of what I’m doing.’”
To learn more about how to inspire millennials in the workplace of the future, download the eBook and watch the webinar, “Workplace of the future: A CHRO's view of the future of work”, to gain further insight into the three key areas our research has identified.