Gen Z work ethic

May 02, 2023 •

6 min reading

How Gen Z work ethic and attitudes are impacting the workplace

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One of the major challenges that is currently giving leaders in our hospitality industry a hard time is coping with the pressure coming from Gen Z work ethic and attitudes. Today's generation expect more engaging and meaningful jobs and are far less likely to adhere to the traditional, purely vertical, "chain-of-command" style of leadership that still characterizes many hospitality-related organizations (HROs). Not to mention the dimensions of ethics and social responsibility that many people of this new generation want to find in the very nature of their work. These challenges are now pushing leaders to rethink the siloed work model still too prevalent in our industry and reshape it into a more cross-functional, collaborative and human-centric way of working.

Collective intelligence from cross-functional and collaborative ways of working

Horizontal working modes typically imply, for example, that employees from department “A” be given regular opportunities to collaborate on cross-functional projects with employees from departments "B", “C", "D”, or “Z." You name them. When these cross-functional collaborations multiply throughout/across the organization, here is what you get in the short term: the sharing of new ideas, knowledge, and best practices.

In the medium term, these cross-silo collaborations may even shape employees’ career development paths—that is, by helping them develop a wider panel of skills and expertise. When this happens, your organization starts developing "collective intelligence" as a result of all the relationships that can now spontaneously sparkle within this "constellation of interconnected employees."

Organizational transformation: Where should HRO leaders start?

Managing and cultivating relationships between the employees of this larger system is critical and increasingly challenging for leaders, who must:

  • Actively listen to and understand the needs of each of these stakeholders;
  • Efficiently and transparently manage information flows that are both very dense and multi-directional;
  • Deconstruct silos to facilitate synergies, within their organization and beyond;
  • Build trusting relationships, including aligning words to actions.

As a result, new issues are emerging. Or, to put it another way, old issues that were considered non-strategic, not sufficiently taken into account, or simply ignored, are now coming to the fore through 2 paradoxes to solve.

Individual vs. collective: personalize or co-construct?

How can HRO leaders take into account the individual needs of each employee while encouraging the mobilization of collective intelligence?

Internally, this paradox strongly relates to the decision-making process and delegation. Leaders must seek to involve their teams as much as possible in the decision-making process in order to ensure a high level of ownership and accountability and ways forward that are appropriate and adapted to the realities of the field or industry. In this perspective, each person thus becomes an instrument of the implementation of the strategy and the associated objectives and will seek to mobilize all of their resources (i.e., energy and skills).

Enabling employees to take more ownership in the decision-making process and doing more delegation will also enable all employees to increase their skills and autonomy. A mutual understanding of expectations will thus align individual capacity for action with the organization’s collective project.

However, in order to create the conditions for effective mobilization of collective intelligence within the team and beyond, the leader must create/develop a favorable working environment. This means allowing each person to feel safe and confident to express themselves (i.e., psychological safety), give their opinion, share their difficulties, dare to ask for help knowing that they will receive it, and give and receive feedback with an aim of continuous learning, respect, and appreciation.

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Facilitator vs. manager

How can the leader allow each person to develop while ensuring that performance is achieved? How do you achieve high performance while ensuring that the means employed are ethical and compatible with the sustainable development of society?

The aim here is to reconcile human and economic aspects in the context of performance management. It seems obvious today that the success of organizations depends above all on their ability to mobilize every single employee. Motivation is like a multiplier that will lead each person to use their skills to the maximum by committing themselves fully, which will ultimately have a significant impact on the economic and financial indicators.

However, this optimum presupposes an alignment of the work activities with the needs, motivations, and capacities of employees and appropriate support, based in particular on constructive feedback. The latter will make it possible to value individual and collective successes, as well as to challenge inappropriate actions and behaviors in order to help each person develop.

HRO leaders must allow each employee to become a player in their own career by complementing the projects offered with the development of technical and behavioral skills. The new deal consists of offering each employee opportunities to increase their employability and, in so doing, outlining the next stage of their professional career, even if it is with another employer.

The resolution of this paradox also implies a transformation of the leader's posture: they must be a facilitator and no longer just a manager who is anchored to their sense of power within a hierarchical structure. It’s all the opposite.

The leader must serve their team and no longer enslave each of its members in order to satisfy personal interests or those of a minority. He or she must embody the values of the organization and set an example to bring out the behaviors that will give life to the organizational culture in a real and profound way. In the workplace, this means supporting each person in their development, whether in their position or through mobility or management of cross-functional projects, in order to increase their employability while providing the skills required to meet future challenges.

How can digitalization humanize the workplace?

Another fundamental question lies at the crossroads of these two paradoxes: how can we use the contributions of new technologies and digitalization to humanize the world of work? How can we create a collective with humans and artificial intelligence in an ethical way to effectively manage change and make the most of technological advances, both in the short and long term?

First of all, we need to think about the cooperation between humans, machines, and robots. How can we ensure that HROs remain human in an increasingly technological world? The idea of using machines and robots to serve humans is an attractive one and is likely to lead to colossal complementarities. It requires the ability to mobilize the collective and diversified intelligence of an organization by connecting it to a common and mobilizing vision.

This makes it possible to draw on the need to belong, which resonates in each of us, to create a tight-knit group capable of acting with situational intelligence. It is also a question of extending our perception of diversity to include artificial intelligence in all its forms and putting it at the service of the human teams that make up our organization.

The need for safety suggests that we should also look at the constant changes driven by technology not as a threat but as a great opportunity to reinvent ourselves, individually and collectively, to create a sustainable capacity to evolve based on our developmental potential. In other words, it is a question of learning to shift our comfort zone as we learn, to navigate permanent change with ease and pleasure. It is about turning constraints into opportunities by taking a different look at the world around us. This also implies perceiving uncertainty as an infinite source of opportunities.

As an organization, one of the critical issues is being clear about the culture on which we want to build the value of "working together." This is based in particular on the expectations of the individuals who will be responsible for serving a team.

Following the COVID-19 crisis, it is very difficult to predict how the economy will evolve in the medium term. The ability to react quickly and well is certainly important, but even more so is the need to reinvent oneself fully to increase the resilience[1] of organizations in the future. Many HROs have had to take drastic measures to survive, and the less resilient ones have not had the opportunity to put such actions into practice. They simply disappeared.

The balance between the actions to be deployed to stay alive and those to be invented to build the performance of tomorrow is difficult to find. In this context, there is a strong temptation to focus in the short term on purely economic indicators, leaving aside the human and ethical aspects.

Building ecosystems for robustness, agility and innovation

The ability to find effective solutions will also depend on the sharing of best practices and increased freedom of action and decision-making. The bureaucracy of highly-centralized and vertical HROs, already a powerful break before, is now a major risk for the survival of organizations as these can no longer afford the luxury of being mediocre.

HROs will likely benefit greatly from collaborating with others in their sector, or even other sectors, to create ecosystems that will bring robustness, and agility and facilitate innovation. To counter the macroeconomic impacts of the crisis, the networking of all parties will be decisive, and openness on the social and societal role of each organization will be required.

It is time to extend the raison d'être of HROs beyond mere financial criteria. Globalization now unites us all, and it is together that we will find the solutions. We will have to overcome the temptation of the stowaway and dare to create alliances that were previously unthinkable.

Written by
Dr Stefano Borzillo
Written by
Dr Stefano Borzillo

Associate Professor of Organizational Behavior at EHL Hospitality Business School

Nicolas Quoëx
Written by
Nicolas Quoëx

Co-founder of Skillspotting

Isabelle Vernet
Written by
Isabelle Vernet

Head of Département de la Jeunesse