The Workplace of the 21st Century – Purpose-driven Cultures

We are experiencing a massive generational shift in our organisation’s leadership in the next 10 years. Boomers are on the out and Gen Z on the way in. It’s time to act now.

Overview of current generations (2020):
Baby Boomers: 60-74 years old
Generation X: 40-59 yeas old
Generation Y (aka Millennials): 25-39 years old
Generation Z: 10-24 years old
General Alpha: 9 years and younger

With a growing leadership workforce of Generation Y’s (aka Millennials) and Generation Z’s in the next 10 years, leaders need to take a hard look at their Workplace Cultures. Today Gen Y’s are not your workforce entry graduates anymore who still live with their parents. In fact, over 50% of employed millennials are in leadership positions with direct reports. And the same shift will happen with Gen Z’s over the next 10 years.

The job of leaders today, is to help create workplaces that support younger generations to succeed in their jobs and develop the leadership skills they need to step into C-suite and senior decision-making roles.

With all baby boomers and a large number X’ers leaving the workforce in the next decade, we are undergoing a generational shift in leadership of organisations. A research paper by Deloitte ( shows that in 2014 over 50% of millennials already had a leadership role with direct reports, but they are younger and less experienced compared to boomers at this stage in their career. Younger generations are eager to learn but not in the same way boomers and X’ers have.

Millennials are our future senior leaders and they are hungry for a culture of work that expands their thinking in the service of better projects, business strategy, innovation, technology and so on. There is an amazing opportunity to create legacy by developing our millennial workforce and create the Workplace of the 21st Century. That doesn’t mean we have to answer to their every’ whim but we have to understand what is important to them, what motivates themand what their fears are.

I am working with a client in the technology industry in Melbourne where I run workshops for their High Potentials. Part of the learning program are immersive consulting sessions where the participants work in groups and collaborate on ideas and solutions that are presented to the Senior Leadership Team. The solutions serve to help the organisation with attracting, retaining and developing younger staff. The ideas and solutions these Gen Y’s and Z’s come up with are innovative, new and reflect what younger generations want and need. They prove that Millennials are seeking purpose-driven work and the opportunity to collaborate. The organisation is now running an employee-led annual forum, regular self-development workshops and mentorship programs. They are also in process of totally revamping their online platform for learning and mentorship -led by Millennial engineers!

According to the Deloitte research, Millennials are seeking purpose driven work. They want to invent new ways of doing business and solving problems. They want flexible careers and play to their strengths. They want to collaborate openly and exchange ideas and innovate solutions. Their mantra is

The mantra is: ‘Create business purposeful impacts first. Profits will follow.’

Millennials want to contribute and be part of the organisational change of the Workplace of the 21st Century. Here are some areas to look at:

Don’t leave all tech innovation with your IT Department. Millennials are leading ever-evolving technology. Get them involved in projects that drive tech innovation and help result in better business outcomes, increased engagement and innovation. Cross-departmental collaboration is key!

Skill Alignment:
Only one third of millennials feel their organisation is making the most of the skills and experience they are able to offer. An IT firm I worked with who was facing huge (and expensive) staff turnover came to the conclusion that a lot of millennials knew what they were leaving for but not what they were leaving from. As an organisation, make sure your workforce knows about the immersive development you offer. Use technology platforms for this and put your younger workforce in charge of the functionality and user interfaces.
Also make sure you integrate mentorship and apprenticeship programs with older, more experienced team members. Plus, enable cross-functional collaboration within your organisation. Younger generations want opportunity, not necessarily a title.

According to the Deloitte research, lack of innovation is put down to two things: attitude of senior management and lack of investment.
Senior leadership should compromise to allow for flexibility in developing new processes and approaches to solving problems. Companies that cannot invest large sums of cash into R&D may enable innovation through collaborative strategies, tools, and technologies aligned to strategic business outcomes. Millennials will likely seek to innovate through purpose-driven opportunities of impact, and these do not necessarily require significant corporate investment.

Work-life integration:
Work-life integration is one of the most important aspects in leadership for Millennials. It is about offering flexibility in work hours and location and encouraging a culture of working smart vs. working hard. Older generations often call millennials as entitled and not ‘hard working’. Fact is, the aspiration of a workaholic and super woman is that of baby boomers, not Y’s and Z’s. Shift your culture to purpose driven, project outcome focussed where increased engagement and innovation result in better business outcomes. I was working with a client in Europe where they introduced a ‘work from home’ policy based on performance and delivery of results instead of being in the office from 9-5. It took about 2 years for the shift but was very successful with an increased retention rate AND improved results.

Values based culture
A purpose driven organisation connects deeply to their values. It is simply not enough to choose 4 or 5 values and put them on your website. You need to live and breathe your values. First the values should come from the whole of the organisation, not just the leadership team. Organise work group and round tables and find out what the values are the organisation wants to live by. What the behaviours you want to role-model that validate the purpose? Involve all hour teams and encourage collaboration and transparency.

Community and Communication
Gen Y’s and Z’s are craving community and social interaction. But remember, they are technology natives and are used to use their mobile devices to connect and interact most of the time. A ping pong table and in communal hall doesn’t cut it anymore. Think about apps and social media platforms that can help to connect with purpose. To improve communication between different generations, approaches to feedback should also evolve. Performance conversations should happen more informally and more frequently by using models like SBI (Situation, Behaviour, Impact) or EBI (Even Better If) or even emoticons and other short form comments on user interfaces. Leaders should have an open-door policy for feedback – both ways: giving and receiving

Personal Development and growth:
Due to the access to information within one click, millennials have a ‘don’t tell me what I already know, tell me what I don’t know’ mentality. Millennials and Gen Z’s are more interested in soft skills workshops than any other generation before. They want to know how to collaborate, lead teams, coach and have difficult conversations. They also want to learn how to navigate leadership on a global scale. Think about integrating internships in other countries or opportunities for rotational programs.

Recruiting and Training:
Millennials and GenZ’s are more likely to leave for another opportunity than other generations before them. Research by McCrindle shows that Generation Z is likely to have 19 jobs throughout 6 careers in their lifetime. As an organisation, you need to adapt your recruitment process (faster process, use video applications on mobile and use inclusive language). You also need to think of your brand as Y’s and Z’s trust peer recommendation over anything else (think Glassdoor testimonials). And don’t get upset when they leave. Chances are, they will come back when the right opportunity arises -stay in touch!

For team coaching and group leadership workshops to temperature check your purpose-driven multi-gen culture contact us on

Jessica Schubert

Jessica Schubert is a Leadership Expert, Executive Coach, Facilitator, Author and Speaker. She is obsessed with helping people realise their potential and unlock their inner genius.

Born in Cologne, Germany, Jessica has travelled the world and has spent more than 20 years leading cross-cultural teams in competitive markets throughout Europe and the Asia Pacific. As she worked with and coached her own diverse, cross-cultural teams, she came to realise that learning about yourself and developing interpersonal skills is the most powerful tool to lead and influence people around you.

In 2013 she launched Intact Teams, where she and her team have worked with thousands of leaders in organisations worldwide, delivering custom-designed leadership programs and workshops. These interactive and engaging programs are offered both virtually and in-person, helping leaders and their teams succeed in a complex and ever-changing business environment.

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Jessica Schubert