Future of Work

5 ways in which the workplace could serve young people better

Today's young people have different expectations of the workplace than previous generations.

Today's young people have different expectations of the workplace than previous generations. Image: REUTERS/Robert Galbraith (UNITED STATES - Tags: SCIENCE TECHNOLOGY BUSINESS)

Natalie Pierce
Head of Global Shapers Community, World Economic Forum
Laurent Freixe
Executive Vice President, CEO Zone Latin America, Nestlé
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Future of Work

This article is part of: World Economic Forum Annual Meeting

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  • The COVID-19 pandemic has negatively affected youth employment.
  • Young people are seeking jobs that prioritize well-being and that are in line with their values.
  • The World Economic Forum's Global Shapers Community is helping business shape the future of work for young people.

The Annual Meeting 2023 took place last week under the theme Cooperation in a Fragmented World. Back to its traditional January slot, it convened 2,700 leaders, including many top executives, at a pivotal time for the world and the next generation.

To help shape the future of work, business leaders met with young people from the World Economic Forum’s Global Shapers Community at Davos 2023. Here were the top five takeaways:

1. Youth employment must be a top priority worldwide

Job losses due to COVID-19 disproportionately impacted young people. According to a recent report by the ILO, employees under the age of 30 experienced a much higher percentage of unemployment during this period than older age groups. Youth were left out of the labour force, or failed to enter it altogether, amid lockdowns, revenue losses and fundamentally changing expectations of work.

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Global Shapers called on executives in Davos to create meaningful economic opportunities for youth; according to the perspectives of young people from over 45 countries, this means better pay, more transparency, equitable treatment, work-life balance and greater growth opportunities.

“The future of work is being reinvented, and youth is our future. The companies that attract the best young talent will be the ones that fulfill their aspirations for purposeful work and possibility to truly contribute. COVID disproportionately impacted youth. At L’Oréal, we want to play a role to support youth – both through learning opportunities to develop critical skills for the future, and meaningful job opportunities,” said Blanca Juti, Chief Corporate Affairs and Engagement Officer of L'Oréal, to the Global Shapers.

2. Young people want jobs with purpose that prioritize well-being

Young employees want meaningful work and, more than previous generations, are willing to quit if they can’t find it. As captured in the “Quiet Quitting and the Meaning of Work” session, young people are rejecting jobs that are unrewarding and have toxic workplace cultures, unrealistic workloads and the “always-on, always-available” mentality.

According to TNM’s A-Gen-Z Report, the hashtags #quietquitting and #greatresignation have more than 500 million combined views on TikTok, signifying how important this topic is to young people.

Global Shapers shared that many of their peers are stressed and burned out; simply put, they will only work for companies that prioritize purpose and well-being. Young employees want to know that their work matters for people and the planet, and they want paid time off, mental health support, on-the-job coaching and to know that their managers fundamentally care.

As Joseph Solis (Chicago Hub) shared in the session “Youth Calls to Action”, young people are inspired by – and aspire to be – leaders who are empathetic, compassionate, authentic and truly self-aware. “A company’s success is both its social and economic performance. This means supporting career development, upskilling young employees, promoting a culture of flexibility and nurturing well-being in the workplace,” said Christophe Catoir, President of Adecco.

Ashish Kumar Gupta, Chief Growth Officer Europe and Africa, Diversified Industries at HCL Tech, built on this sentiment and shared with young delegates in Davos: “The future workplace must be redesigned to operate in a distributed, hyperconnected, collaborative and agile space that offers flexible work schedules and better work-life balance.” This is not only what young employees need, but what’s good for business too.

3. Young people want transparency from their employers

“Young people today see work differently. In the post-pandemic world, transparency is everything. Employees want democratized information, open hiring practices and equitable treatment,” said Arthur Sadoun, Chairman and CEO of the Publicis Group.

Global Shapers highlighted that young people want to work for globally aware companies. Young employees have no interest in jobs that are damaging to the planet or promote division. They want to believe in their work’s mission and are prepared to #quietquit or walk away if their employers don’t live up to their commitments on sustainability, diversity, equity and inclusion.

Young innovators particularly called on CEOs at the Annual Meeting to decarbonize and dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions in their operations and supply chains, as well as to consciously prioritize women and gender-diverse people in the workplace to ensure their voices are heard and valued. Young employees want CEOs to take a leadership position on social and environmental issues – and those who make an effort will be favourably regarded, while those that #greenwash, or as Pratik Kunwar (Kathmandu Hub) coined in Davos #youthwash, won’t.

“A positive culture in the workplace is essential for fostering a sense of pride and ownership among young employees,” said Blake Moret, Chairman and CEO of Rockwell Automation. “We must encourage courageous conversations on diversity and inclusion in the workplace and increase awareness of the impact of differences and group dynamics around privilege.”

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4. Learning opportunities will make young employees stay

Young people are worried about what the future holds. They are fearful of economic downturn, high inflation and worsening debt, social fractures, planetary risks and geopolitical tensions. However, they’re also hopeful. Young people are realistic, resilient and understand the power of learning.

Global Shapers shared that youth are alert to changing circumstances and want to explore risk and resilience issues in the workplace. Young people challenge themselves about blind spots and are quick to adapt when needed. These are valuable skills that CEOs and organizations should tap into.

In a rapidly changing world, Global Shapers also shared that young people seek out employers who provide learning and development opportunities and trainings to employees. Young people want to solve the world’s toughest problems and want to use their working time to develop solutions, learn from leading thinkers, analyze options and inspire action in the companies that they work for. Executives must harness young employees’ sense of purpose, need for learning and desire to make a difference.

“Organizations need to invest in young employees through educational and upskilling opportunities to create a more resilient world of work,” said Laurent Freixe, Executive Vice President, CEO Zone Latin America at Nestlé and Global Alliance for YOUth Chair. “When facing the challenges ahead – people and skills must be our core focus.”

5. Inter-generational collaboration starts with listening

The World Economic Forum is committed to ensuring young people get a seat at the table in decision-making. That’s why 50 Global Shapers were invited to Davos to raise awareness for critical global and local issues, and to advocate for urgent action.

However, inter-generational collaboration can’t end here. Young people must be integrated into decision-making at every level of society, and this includes workplace focus groups and boardrooms too. Inter-generational parity matters, and Global Shapers revealed that this starts with dialogue.

“As business leaders, we must plan to do as much listening as talking, and to think critically about how we as companies can join forces with young employees to make progress on the issues that matter,” said Nicola Mendelsohn, Vice-President of the Global Business Group at Meta.

According to Global Shapers, successful businesses must connect with young employees and listen to their wants and needs. Executives should listen first, then understand and meet young employees where they are. There is no one size fits all for meaningful youth integration, but business leaders who actively listen, identify unmet needs, and offer tangible ways to fill in existing gaps, will be rewarded by young employees’ loyalty, passion and commitment.

In Davos, youth activists called for corporate commitments to achieve age equity on boards. More than half of 500 S&P companies have no board directors under 50 years old. We have a shared responsibility to shape the future in collaborative ways and increasing youth representation on boards is one way to accelerate this change. Let’s give young people this opportunity.

Conversations between leading executives and Global Shapers were made possible thanks to the Global Alliance for YOUth, launched at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in 2019. As summarized by the Chair Laurent Freixe: “The Global Alliance for YOUth is a business-driven movement of like-minded organizations passionate about working together to help young people around the globe get the necessary skills and opportunities to thrive in the world of work, today and tomorrow.”

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

Related topics:
Future of WorkFuture of WorkJobs and SkillsYouth PerspectivesDavos Agenda
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