The world is changing, and so is the workforce, as it grows younger and its values vary with the times—creating challenges for business leaders who need to find new ways to connect with young people.
- Heather McGowan is the co-author of The Empathy Advantage: Leading the Empowered Workforce, which releases on Wednesday, March 8.
- Speaking With Forbes, McGowan says the workforce has faced three years of unexpected and rapid transformation—including technological innovations, pandemic restrictions, and the rapid shift in millennial gender norms.
- These changes are evolving how executives and managers connect with and lead younger employees.
- McGowan says that leaning into those changes can help create purpose-driven employees that buck recent trends like “quiet quitting.”
Why It’s Important
The millennial and zoomer generations have long been understood to be different and less conventional than previous generations—being more tech-savvy, less interested in older ways of thinking, and more open-minded to radical new ideas.
This has made it difficult for some managers and business leaders to understand or connect to younger employees, who they see as lazy or entitled. However, these young people represent the future of the workforce. Learning to communicate with and lead them will be the secret to success for businesses and industries.
McGowan recommends several considerations for leaders who want to foster meaning and purpose in their younger employees’ work—the first being to structure work so that young employees are always learning. She says skill development is a powerful incentive for young employees to feel belonging and meaning in their work.
Her suggestions come in how leaders frame work for their employees. Borrowing from other contemporary business leaders, she suggests managers design jobs around “homes,” giving employees specific functions and projects—a primary role, temporary assignments, and a research area.
Leaders should also frame assignments as “tours of duty.” McGowan notes that this sets expectations for employees regarding commitments, responsibilities, and goals. Finally, leaders should “sculpt” jobs based on life interests, finding ways to engage employees more with their work based on what drives them. With larger projects, employees functionally “consult” on specific aspects of a larger project, focusing on one part that excites them.