Posted: 27 Jan. 2022 10 min. read

Preparing for the disrupted generation workforce

Businesses must adapt to the unique, next generation of workers

By Jeff Schwartz and Gretchen Alarcon

Every generation has its crises, but the class of students receiving their caps and gowns this past year have dealt with more than many others.


  • As toddlers, they heard their parents speak in hushed tones about something called “9/11.”
  • As middle schoolers many saw their family lives thrown into chaos by the Great Recession.
  • Throughout their school years, active shooter drills were a part of everyday life.
  • In college, the world around them was roiled by political polarization, protests in the streets, and talk of the looming calamity of climate change.
  • Most completed their senior years in isolation, due to the global pandemic.
  • While they look forward to the benefits of a longevity dividend that will see many of them live till the age of 100, many will hold 12 to 14 different jobs during that time.

Disruption is woven into the fabric of these young people’s experience, and their concept of “normal” is nothing like that of those who came before them. The business leaders who are welcoming them into their organizations need to recognize that unpredictability and crisis have likely shaped their perspectives on work and their environment.

A new normal

In the wake of a global pandemic, business leaders are eager for a return to normalcy. Yet what is normal to people in their 40s and 50s is based on the relative prosperity and stability of the late 1990s. Today’s young adults can’t identify with that definition. As they enter the workforce, they see little about the future that is certain and much that probably worries them.

No one knows what the post-pandemic workplace will look like, but we can make some educated guesses. One is that more of our relationships will be virtual, transitory, and disconnected. Many jobs that exist today will be performed by machines in five years, and many young people will spend much of their careers working with or next to smart machines and robots.

Short-term work assignments will likely dominate the labor market, with the gig workforce projected to surpass the full-time workforce in size by 2027, according to a study by Upwork and the Freelancers Union. Many people will move back and forth between full-time and temporary employment. New jobs will be created that we can’t even imagine now. Technology change will constantly shift skill needs, rendering whole categories of jobs obsolete while inventing new ones that require constant training and adaptation.

Questions for leaders

Business leaders need to think of how they will incorporate different perceptions and expectations of this new generation. They will need to ask questions such as:

  • How should we instill loyalty in workers who were reared in an environment of uncertainty?
  • What will be the essential skills and capabilities that define success for the next generation?
  • Are college degrees and standardized test scores effective indicators of future performance?
  • Will organizations need to offer more on-the-job learning?
  • How will continuous learning be integrated into work life? Also, how will work and personal lives be integrated?
  • How can businesses confront sustainability and social equity issues to meet the expectations of their new workforce?

While business leaders recognize that changes are coming, many also report they are unprepared. Deloitte research found that 70% of organizations say leading multigenerational workforces is important or very important to their short-term success, but only 10% say they are very ready to address this trend.

Demanding and transient

We can make a few assumptions about the new breed of knowledge worker. Thanks to the rise of virtual organizations and the gig economy, they will have more options about whom they work for. Businesses will need to compete to find and keep good people more than ever.

Where the next generation works will take on more importance as employers increasingly offer flexible employment options. A recent Prudential study found that “one in three American workers would not want to work for an employer that required them to be onsite full time.” These expectations will likely create new challenges to fostering teamwork, ensuring accountability, and securing sensitive data.

Loyalty may be elusive. The 2019 Deloitte Global Millennial Survey found that 49% of millennials would quit their current job in the next two years if given the choice—the highest share in the survey’s history. 

The next generation is also likely to be more skeptical of businesses and less trusting of their leaders. Employers will need to show concrete commitments to sustainability and corporate responsibility while balancing profits with purpose. Workplace arrangements must become more adaptable to the requirements of the people working there, accommodating flexibility while also ensuring that people are safe, motivated, and productive.

To fill jobs in fast-growing fields, employers won’t have the luxury of tapping into university graduates who already have the requisite skills. Training and skills development will be an ongoing process. Leaders will need to heed the analogy drawn by Tom Friedman that future workers will be like Olympic athletes who train without knowing what sport they compete in.

Bright spots

Although there are many challenges, the disrupted generation will also bring new perspectives and assets to the workplace. We can anticipate that they will be:

  • More open to and accepting of change, given that it has been such a constant in their lives
  • More flexible in accommodating new skills needs
  • More collaborative and sharing and thus less likely to create organizational silos
  • Less invested in doing things the way they’ve always been done
  • More willing to question established norms and challenge assumptions. While this is a double-edged sword, leaders who embrace new thinking will create more resilient businesses.

Organizations must prepare now for this next generation of workers. Start by engaging them in conversations about their expectations and motivations. Experiment with reverse mentoring. Ask how they would do things differently. You may be surprised at how perceptive they can be.

Read more about Deloitte and ServiceNow here.


  • Jeff Schwartz is the Retired Principal, Deloitte Consulting LLP, Senior Advisor, Future of Work.
  • Gretchen Alarcon is the VP and GM, HR Service Delivery Business Unit at ServiceNow.

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