Gen Z’s Corporate Culture Revolution: How Young Americans’ Lofty Expectations Are Redefining The Modern Workplace

Each year, the status quo in workplace environments shifts further and further from the norms of years gone by. As thousands more Gen Zers pour into the workforce annually, the transformation of professional spaces on both a demographic and dynamic level continues to accelerate. From expanding conversations on corporate social responsibility to advocating for mental health leave, the newest generation in corporate America is ready to shake up office life.

As the first generation born into a post-internet world, these digital natives bring unique skills, experiences, and qualifications to the table. However, along with them, they also have greater expectations for employers. Placing an extremely high value on work-life balance, social ethics, and flexibility, Gen Z is far more likely to reject existing norms of working late, taking work home, or coming into the office on a daily basis. If employers aren’t offering the benefits they desire, they are willing to quit and look elsewhere for somewhere that will. In fact, a recent study finds that 2 in 3 Gen Z workers will leave their jobs within one year.

Research shows that nearly a quarter of Americans of all ages are unhappy with their professional life (22%), clearly demonstrating that employees of various generations can agree that their work lives could be improved. In many ways, corporate culture, as it once was, is firmly in the past as younger generations are set to outnumber their predecessors in the next few years. But that doesn’t mean every tried and true business practice should be thrown out the window. As the workforce evolves, it’s essential to blend new ideas with traditional wisdom to find the best path to a successful future for all.

Who better to ask about the new era of workplace dynamics than a business leadership expert who has lived and worked through the transformation of the professional environment? Dr. Scott DeLong has spent decades of his professional life developing his understanding of diverse workplace environments. Pulling insights from his expansive career, DeLong published “I Thought I Was A Leader…A Journey To Building Trust, Leading Teams & Inspiring Changein 2023. Here are a few of DeLong’s insights on Gen Z’s unique impact on workplace dynamics.

Understanding Gen Z’s Impact

Born between 1997 and 2012, Gen Z is inarguably the most technologically savvy generation in history. As the first generation to be raised with the internet from birth, Gen Zers have a new kind of expertise to bring. “They are digital natives. They grew up with a digital world and they understand that much better than myself, a digital immigrant,” DeLong explains. “I had to learn in order to get as far as I’ve gotten, which isn’t nearly where they are. There are things that we can learn from them, and that is the use of technology and how technology can aid the workforce.”

Position in history has also played a role in shaping Gen Z as a group. Growing up through major world events like 9/11, the COVID-19 pandemic, and various global conflicts, they have developed a distinct view of the world and of the workforce. Pushing for more significant commitments to corporate social responsibility and flexible work options, Gen Z expects more of employers than any generation before them. As DeLong puts it, “They want a meaningful and diverse workplace. It’s a human-centric generation. They are down to the individual, the human level, and more than anybody want flexibility with remote work.”

Of course, Gen Z’s impact on the workforce does not begin and end with a high level of technological know-how. Gen Zers also bring a completely different set of expectations and forward-thinking values to the workplace than previous generations. “What’s toxic today was the norm 40 years ago,” DeLong notes. “That’s what work environments were. And we haven’t evolved.”

Many members of Gen Z are fine with leaving a job that they find dissatisfying or unfulfilling. The key to winning over the younger generation is good communication. “Why do you feel overwhelmed, and how can we support you?” DeLong asks. “Inquire and then listen to the answers. They’ll tell you the truth if you ask them.”

three people sitting in front of table laughing together
(Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash)

Cultivating a Supportive Work Environment

A supportive work environment is more than just tacking motivational phrases on the wall or offering the standard amount of sick days. Cultivating the kind of team that people of all generations want to be part of requires taking a more serious approach to supporting its employees. One of the significant areas of change brought on by Gen Z is a heightened focus on mental health support in the workplace, including advocating for therapy coverage, mental health days, and a healthy team culture.

Employees who receive this kind of support are more likely to go out of their way to be high performers when they are on the clock. This particular lesson is one that DeLong has learned firsthand through his many years of leadership. “I think that if somebody needs a mental health day if they need to take a walk on the beach, we’ll figure that out,” he says. “Their work product is going to be better anyway. It’s almost a selfish act for me to give them more time because they’re going to give it back. They’re going to do more. They’re going to want to produce. They’re going to want to take care of this guy.”

Looking To The Future

With youth comes a certain level of naivety, but it also brings a fresh perspective. While seasoned professionals may have grown used to a particular way of doing things, Gen Zers are entering the workforce with brand new eyes, sharp technological know-how, and hopefully, a willingness to learn. One of the great benefits of multigenerational workplaces is the multitude of opportunities to learn from other perspectives and take the best ideas to sharpen processes and drive better results.

As for the best approach he has found for fostering intergenerational bonds, DeLong describes “this welcoming, inclusive way of treating them as human beings. If the rest of us did that, we would be bridging these generational divides quickly.” At the end of the day, intergenerational relationships are built on the same basic tenets that all relationships thrive on trust, empathy, and respect.

In his most recent book, I Thought I Was A Leader…A Journey To Building Trust, Leading Teams & Inspiring Change,” DeLong dives deeper into his experiences in the workforce and the transformational lessons he’s learned. Delong shares his insights on what it means to be a leader that unites and inspires by exploring subjects like mental health, generational divides, and leading with empathy and humility.

book cover with navy and orange circle and white background
“I Thought I Was A Leader…A Journey to Building Trust, Leading Teams & Inspiring Change” by Scott DeLong, Ph.D.

Have you noticed a change in your workplace as generational demographics shift? In what ways have you seen younger employees shifting the status quo? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comment section below! 

For more information on generational similarities and differences in the workplace, click here.

You might also be interested in:

Note: This article was not paid for nor sponsored. StudyFinds is not connected to nor partnered with any of the brands or people mentioned and receives no compensation for its recommendations. This article contains affiliate links, for which we receive a commission if you make a purchase.