Flexible leadership for the next generation

In our cultural landscape, it’s easy to believe that the different generations in the workplace are at odds with each other. But the truth is far from Boomers vs Millennials.

Learn more about how you can adapt to harness the potential of every employee, no matter their age.

As people continue to extend their careers into later stages of life and new generations enter the workforce, we find ourselves in an unprecedented era of intergenerational collaboration. 

In the zeitgeist, it can feel as though the different generations are at odds with each other, with a focus on what separates Boomers from Millennials, Gen Z from Gen X, and so on. Yet, across diverse generations, there are many opportunities to learn from differing life experiences, passions, opinions, ideas, motivations, and ways of working. 

As leaders from older generations, if we get to grips with what Millennials and Gen Z want from their workplace, we can learn to adapt for the better while learning how to motivate and keep people engaged in their roles. 

Understanding Millennials and Gen Z

Millennials, often dubbed “digital natives,” were born between the early 1980s and 
mid-1990s. They grew up in an era marked by rapid technological advancements and economic uncertainties, shaping their values and attitudes towards work. Millennials prioritise meaningful work that aligns with their values and aspirations. They seek opportunities for growth, mentorship, and a healthy work-life balance.

On the other hand, Gen Z, born from the mid-1990s to the early 2010s, represents the first true digital generation. Raised in an era of smartphones, social media, and instant connectivity, Gen Z values flexibility, autonomy, and diversity. They are entrepreneurial-minded and crave authenticity in their interactions with leaders and organisations. 

Whereas many people from past generations have made working their lives, building their identities around their careers, it’s a common trait of younger generations, particularly Gen Z, to strive for a work-life balance that prioritises their quality of life, and their life outside work, over their careers. 

“Increasingly, Generation Z workers – those born between 1997 and 2012 – are insisting we write a new script for work. Having observed older workers experience burnout, time poverty and economic insecurity at the grindstone, they’re demanding more from workplaces: bigger pay cheques, more time off, the flexibility to work remotely and greater social and environmental responsibility. Many of these values were millennial preferences, but for Gen Zers, they’ve become expectations – and they’re willing to walk away from employers if their needs aren’t met.”


Of course, everyone is different, so these typical generational traits won’t apply to everyone. However, by understanding what motivates people and being open and adaptable to change, you can lead engaged, motivated, productive teams of Millennial and Gen Z employees. 

Here are four fundamental principles to keep in mind when leading younger generations:

Be flexible

Younger generations have seen their colleagues get increasingly burnt out by work. So, as Deloitte notes, Gen Z and Millennials’ are reprioritising the importance of work with a much stronger focus on achieving a better work/life balance.” As leaders from older generations who have grown accustomed to strict workplace rules, it might feel challenging to unpick the notion that ‘more hours equals more work’, or to let go of the idea that working from home is less productive than working from the office. Flexible ways of working adaptable working hours, hybrid working, job-sharing or four-day weeks allow people to make their work fit around their lives and working styles. Being open to flexible working means employees are happier, more engaged, less stressed and work more efficiently and productively with the time they have.

Develop, empower, feedback

Younger generations value investment in their professional development. The 2022 Deloitte Global Gen Z and Millennial Survey found that 29% of Millennials and Gen-Z workers chose to work for their current organisations due to the learning and development opportunities. So spend time working with employees to uncover their long-term career goals and support them to achieve them. Used to the regular and instant gratification of social media, Gen Z and Millennials are also known to want to have plenty of direction and feedback. Regular check-ins and adopting a coaching management style can help guide, empower and build confidence. Learn more about harnessing the power of coaching here

Be authentic and values-driven

Gen Z and Millennial employees look to their organisations for strong moral values, with nearly four in ten (44% of Gen Z and 37% of Millennials) saying they have rejected assignments due to ethical concerns, and 39% and 34% respectively have turned down employers that do not align with their values. Moreover, these generations have a strong desire for authenticity, so values-driven initiatives–from DEI to sustainability–need to be woven into the organisation’s fabric to feel significant. As The Future of Commerce puts it, younger generations want to feel authentically connected to their work. “They want to understand their part in the wider picturethey want to know why the work they’re doing is important to the company; why the project where they fit in the broader picture. They also like to know their company shares their values and stands for something beyond its products or services. Whenever possible, connect their work with the why behind it.”

Build communities not hierarchies

Everyone has the potential to contribute brilliant ideas. In fact, it’s often those who are closest to the issues who can work out how to solve them. Agile leaders understand this and are open to ideas and creative thinking from employees at all levels of seniority. Build in plenty of opportunities for cross-organisational teams of different generations to get together and collaborate. By breaking down hierarchies, leaders collaborate with employees to harness their individual strengths rather than taking a directive and top-down approach. 

At NKD, we can support your leadership teams to develop skills that will help them become inspiring managers and exceptional role models for the next generation. Find out more about our Leadership Development solutions here.