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From Millennials to Gen Alpha: Lessons in workplace evolution and leadership

Half gen alpha, half millennial

Generation Alpha are the first generation to be categorised entirely in the new millennium. Born between 2010 and 2025, this generation is widely defined by the birth – and use – of the iPad.

Often the offspring of Millennial parents, there’s current discourse on Gen Alpha surrounding their behaviour, inattentive nature, and technology obsession. But isn’t this criticism a rite of passage that every generation goes through?

The same was done for Millennials (born 1981-1997) over the years. Remember the discussions about the harms of TV and video games? Now at the oldest age of 42, the Millennial generation has provided a template for us to apply to Gen Alpha. What can we expect from them and how can we handle them in the workplace? We find out.

Disloyal

What was said about Millennials? 

“The Millennial work ethos is often described using terms like ‘job hoppers’ and ‘commitment-phobes’.”

However, in the modern age, there are limited benefits to staying in the same company. Millennials prioritise work/life balance, and if a company doesn’t support that, they will find another that will.

What can we expect from Gen Alpha?

Generation Alpha will not work for a company that doesn’t align with their values. Brought up in a time of speaking out and regular rallies to petition for their beliefs, this generation will thrive off employee activism. Leadership expert Ryan Hopkins, author of 52 Weeks of Wellbeing, says “They’re going to demand a lot from their workplace, as they should”.

We already see this happening with the increase in ‘woke’ Generation Z employees. The Business Roundtable has a statement on the Purpose of Corporation signed by 181 CEOs of companies like J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. Alex Gorsky, chairman of the Board and CEO of Johnson & Johnson says, “This new statement better reflects the way corporations can and should operate today. It affirms the essential role corporations play in improving our society when CEOs are truly committed to meeting the needs of all stakeholders.”

Essentially, modernising business practices are going to drive new employees to your company. Tricia Griffith, Progressive Corporation president and CEO, says the best-run companies “invest in their employees and communities. It’s the most promising way to build long-term value”.

Technology obsessed

What was said about Millennials? 

This tech-savvy generation was brought up with the invention of the internet, and the rise of the mobile phone. Matthew Hennessey in his book Zero Hour for Generation X, calls for Generation X to “take a stand against tech-obsessed Millennials”.

But are they really tech-obsessed, or just brought up in a new era of technological advancement? Millennials are the ones who helped to bring businesses into the 21st century, especially to streamline workplace processes and increase efficiency.

What can we expect from Gen Alpha?

For Generation Alpha, the same could be said. Labelled ‘iPad Kids’ on popular social media platforms like TikTok, or ‘iGen’ by the Times, this generation is already getting a bad rep, but aren’t they simply adapting to a new way of working? One that may not be invented yet?

In fact, leadership expert Gaia van der Esch admits she already feels as though she is falling behind on the advancement of technology. She says, “I feel slow compared to Generation Alpha.”

However, she iterates the importance of upskilling current generations to make way for the incoming ones. Van der Esch says it is important to make sure older generations “have the capacity to understand the generation that is coming into the workforce”. Without this, we will have a huge gap of skills.

Said to be the most technology-literate generation in history, how will Generation Alpha affect the workplace? Mark McGrath, technology director at Bud Systems, says, “Catering for Generation Alpha, and indeed all future generations, will require the use of artificial intelligence and intelligent automation.”

Brought up with the birth of the iPad and AI, these digital natives will be tech-reliant, but this isn’t a bad thing. Rather it is a way to promote global understanding. This is a generation that will be up to date with the latest news happening.

Maybe it seems like they are spending too much time looking at a screen, but with the plethora of information at their fingertips, businesses are much more likely to benefit from these tech wizzes than suffer.

Disrespectful

What was said about Millennials? 

Millennials will be unable to form connections with older workers. They are disrespectful to their elders and superiors…

This is in reference to Karen K. Myers, Professor at the University of California, in her Millennials in the Workplace article.

Millennials desire more open communication and transparency by their superiors, including the preference towards a lack of formality. Myers says this can “cause senior level workers to feel disrespected” as they have not “earned these considerations”.

The ability to communicate through different mediums is an adaptable and transferable skill that has caused Millennials to thrive.

What can we expect from Gen Alpha?

Van der Esch says, “Authority and hierarchy are still seen by the older generation as the number one rule.” For Generation Alpha, this is likely to be slightly different. As a generation brought up on social media, they are likely to be more aware of their privacy, so open communication will be essential.

Dale Carnegie in his book Listen!: The art of effective communication, says “Communication creates – or destroys – relationships”. And what could be more true? It is the employer’s responsibility to adapt their communication style around the next generation of employees.

Generation Alpha’s communication style is also likely to be different. With the increasing use of social media and technology as the primary source of communication, this is likely to translate into the workplace. Favouring fast replies from instant messaging over emails, and video calls over in-person meetings, we are already seeing such changes in the workplace. However, it is likely to become more in demand, especially with the increasing desire for remote working.

Keeping their organisational communication style at the forefront of their mind will be an effective use of a business leader’s time. Learning to navigate the newest systems and implementing them into your workplace early will drive beneficial outcomes and employee satisfaction.

Self Centred

What was said about Millennials? 

Prefaced as the ‘look at me’ generation, Millennials are validation seekers, who look for frequent praise and instant feedback. This generation doesn’t wait for yearly reviews; they actively seek to improve their work continuously.

Instant gratification is now the way of the world. Through social media, you can get feedback and praise almost immediately.

In fact, a lot of companies are beginning to phase out the annual appraisals in favour of more frequent reviews. Whilst this may be more like quarterly reviews and less instant, this is a move towards a more feedback-driven workforce.

With webpages on topics such as 5 reasons why your company needs real-time feedback and why immediate feedback is important on the rise, it is clear this is an increasingly popular trend.

What can we expect from Gen Alpha?

According to Keshawn Cupid, CEO of leadership development organisation Modern Kaizen LLC, instant gratification “can also mean being able to accomplish our goals more quickly and efficiently”.

Dan Schawbel, managing partner at leadership and research agency Workplace Intelligence, says Gen Alpha’s “technology dependency has made them want instant gratification”. But is this really a problem? Instead of focusing on the negativity of instant gratification, why not embrace it and appreciate a generation that will want to be successful in their roles and not have to wait a year for feedback?

Ryan Hopkins questions whether it is any wonder that Generation Alpha want immediate validation. He says that assuming once a year is sufficient for feedback is “completely unaware”.

How can you prepare your workplace for Generation Alpha?

Hopkins says, “Don’t assume just because something has always been done a certain way that it’s going to be best.”

For Millennials, this all stems back to simply a different way of thinking, and why would this be any different for Generation Alpha? A person’s generation is defined by the culture they were brought up in. Whilst Millennials were brought up with the increase of terrorist threats like 9/11 and the invention of platforms such as YouTube, Generation Alpha were brought up with a global pandemic and a flurry of technological breakthroughs.

This is simply the beginning of a “cultural change,” Van der Esch notes. This is an adaptation of workplace norms that will be needed to encourage the next generation of workers:

  • Consider looking at your company values and understand this is likely to be what drives a Generation Alpha employee to your company
  • Get on board with AI training courses that adapt to different types of learning
  • Become open to different communication styles
  • Scrap the yearly and quarterly reviews! It’s time to give more instantaneous feedback to your employees.

“It’s really a matter of rethinking what leadership looks and acts like, and starting to question yourself, what you’ve learned, what you’ve been taught, and teaching yourself a new way of leading.” – Gaia van der Esch

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