The post-pandemic era has well and truly begun. With changing times come changing expectations, and as with every new movement, expectation around ‘how things have been’ has evolved. A key focus of where this change is necessary is in the workplace. It’s no secret that what the majority of the UK’s employees now expect in the world of work has changed and it’s vital for business leaders to take note if we are to remain a leading nation in technology and business.
Rob Walker, UK&I MD, Cognizant.
One thing is certain: the events of the last few years, subsequently resulting in the phenomenon we now know as the ‘Great Resignation’, have seen the power of ‘how we work’ move into the hands of employees. This may sound ominous for senior management but, living in a democratic society that we celebrate, business leaders should see it as an opportunity to present an evolved way of working; one that will harness and nurture a new symbiotic relationship between employees and the workplace.
There’s great fear in change, but there’s also room for opportunity. One thing that history has taught us is that those who don’t embrace change, or aren’t open to it, are those that get left behind and are at risk of eventually becoming obsolete.
A shift in workplace expectations
We can’t ignore that today’s employees, especially Millennial and Gen Z workers, have grown up with unlimited knowledge and information at their fingertips. This privileged access to knowledge has led to a heightened awareness of the deep-rooted issues that plague our society. The global events of the past years, beyond just the pandemic, such as outcries against social justice and unprecedented natural disasters, have pushed people worldwide to question their life and work choices.
There is particularly a movement towards the idea that, if one is to spend most of their life working, they must be provided with a greater sense of ‘purpose’ at work to align with their personal lives and improve wellbeing. In the context of work, purpose encompasses all the values that drive people’s choices, actions and attitudes – from wider social and environmental goals, to professional and personal objectives of a healthy work-life balance. This sense of ‘purpose’ is now one of the key business themes of our age.
This sentiment has been solidified in the findings of recent Cognizant research, which found that young workers (between the ages of 20 and 40) now expect employers to be highly committed to having a positive impact on the environment, wider society, and to take interest in their purposes at work on a far more personal level. More than half of respondents in the study define purposeful work as being passionate about what they do and achieving a healthy work-life balance. With this shift in expectations also comes a shift in how we expect to be led within a company.
A new era of leadership
This ‘enlightenment’ among workers has already begun to greatly affect the business world today and has been the main accelerator of “The Great Resignation”, which has left employers scrambling to fill a never-ending and increasing number of vacancies. But as older millennials reach their early 40s and Gen Z becomes the future of the job market, the career moves of these “purpose-led” generations are increasingly central to businesses’ ongoing viability. Meanwhile, millennials are now those seeking leadership roles, and therefore must be nurtured into a new sense of leadership to continue to attract the newer talent: Gen Zs.
And according to the research, there’s still a lot to be done as currently young people are struggling to live their purpose at work. Fewer than one in five (18%) strongly believe they are living their day-to-day purpose in their work-life. The present situation should spur business leaders to re-examine their playbooks and, with it, what leadership should now evolve to be if it is to bring purpose to their workers and ensure the right values and expectations are in place for the next generation of leaders.
A shift in leadership expectations to remain viable
Few businesses today seriously question that we live in the age of purpose. From pledges to increased minority representation on leadership teams, to partnerships with local community organizations and sustainability promises, companies all over the world have spent the last few years tripping over themselves to show consumers, shareholders and their own staff how engaged they are in promoting outcomes beyond turning a profit.
However, our study reveals a somewhat different reality. What younger workers mean by purpose is actually two-fold. Yes, the majority (65%) say it’s extremely important for their employer to positively impact society in a way that reflects their own values; however, they also want a workplace that fuels their own sense of ‘purpose’, with a focus on concerns and issues that have an immediate, direct impact on their work and personal life. Currently, only 18% of respondents feel that they are living their day-to-day purpose in their work life.
Leadership therefore needs a makeover. Executive leadership style must evolve to meet today’s imperative of winning the war of talent while accommodating a cornucopia of post-pandemic workplace attitudes. After almost two years of working from home, often juggling videoconferences and childcare or other home-related obligations, 43% of respondents see flexibility as a key defining trait of a good leader.
Looking ahead and cementing a new normal
Overall, we know that companies need to step up their efforts to convince the current generation of young, educated workers that they are serious about positively impacting not just shareholders but also employees, local communities and the world at large. Failure to do so, together with an inability to allow young talent to live their own work purpose, poses a serious risk to nurturing tomorrow’s leaders and building a prosperous future for all constituents.