How millennials and Gen Z are reshaping the future of the workforce

Millennials and their younger "Gen Z" counterparts are used to facing sweeping criticism over their commitment to the workplace. Brandished the work-shy generation of "snowflake" tendencies, millennials are said to expect too much freedom of their employers, and yet 84 percent report to experiencing burnout from their excessive workloads.

However, the post-1980s cohort of employees is actually inspiring meaningful ideas that will change the future of work as we know it. That's according to a new study from human resources research firm Inavero and freelancing website Upwork, which has highlighted four major ways in which the youngest members of the workforce are setting in motion fundamental change.

Those four shifts include a growing emphasis on self-development, remote working, freelance roles and future-proofing strategies. On these core concepts, the report found a major ideological divide between baby boomers and Gen X — those born from 1965 to 1981 — at one end, and younger millennials and Gen Z at the other.


For instance, just one in 10 baby boomers feel they are personally responsible for reskilling as technology threatens the stability of many traditional careers. Conversely, three times as many millennials and Gen Z-ers believe the onus is on them, rather than their employer, to develop new skills.

Meanwhile, the report which surveyed over 1,000 hiring managers based in the U.S., found that younger managers were much more willing to accommodate flexible working requests of their employees — and indeed want them for themselves — then their older colleagues.


Here are the ways in which millennials and Gen Z are reshaping the workforce:

  • Reskilling - With job automation a growing subject of debate, almost all managers (96 percent) say they believe reskilling is important for employees. However, there is a generational divide on the best approach. While the vast majority of baby boomers feel the onus is on employers to reskill their staff, millennials and Gen Z-ers are more likely to proactively seek out self-development and training schemes.
  • Planning ahead - Younger generation managers are more likely than their elders to consider future workforce planning a top priority. Indeed, they are nearly two times more likely than baby boomers to have made progress in developing a flexible talent strategy as well as in investing in technology to support a remote workforce.
  • Remote working - Younger generation managers are more likely to embrace remote working, both for their employees and their staff. Three-quarters (74 percent) of millennial and Gen Z managers have team members who work a significant portion of their time remotely, versus 58 percent of baby boomers. By 2028, 73 percent of all teams are expected to have remote workers.
  • Embracing freelancers - Millennial managers are more than twice as likely as baby boomers to have increased their use of freelancers in the past few years, and are projected to continue increasing their usage going forward. That is due to the value they see in terms of productivity and cost efficiencies.

With the majority of baby boomers on the cusp of retirement, and a new wave of millennials and Gen Z-ers set to join the workforce in the coming years, that gives an indication of kinds of ideas that likely lie ahead, Upwork's CEO Stephane Kasriel told CNBC Make It.

"As younger generations ascend in the workforce and become the majority of managers in corporate America they'll reshape work as we know it," said Kasriel.

Millennials and Gen Z currently account for slightly over a third of the workforce (38 percent). In the next decade, that figure is set to shoot up to 58 percent, making the youthful generations the most dominant in the workplace. With that will come a greater number of them in managerial positions, too. Already today, 48 percent of younger generation managers are director level or higher.

Kasriel explained that it means employees can expect to see more support from their managers for flexible and unconventional work structures.

"The traditional 9-to-5 office job doesn't adequately support the lives millennials and Gen Zs want to live," he said. "They are flexible-work natives, raised during and after the dotcom bubble, where the acceleration of technology has sped up exponentially over time.

"As they ascend into managerial positions, they're ditching traditional, archaic models of work in favor of a flexible, remote workforce. They'll work with more freelancers, invest in reskilling and empower their teams to work remotely."

Kasriel also noted that it creates opportunities for millennials and Gen Z-ers who enter managerial positions to right some of the wrongs of his own older generation.

"They should fix the issues that my generation didn't see coming or didn't have the courage to fix," Kasriel said of millennial managers. More specifically, that should include investing in lifelong learning for employees and encouraging flexible working structures to increase their freedoms and reduce pressures on some of the most overcrowded cities, he said.

"It's time to build the workforce of the 21st century, and the social contract that goes with it," said Kasriel.

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