What Every Generation Needs to Thrive and Grow at Work

19 Jun ‘23
4 min
Work performance
Lisanne van Marrewijk
Reviewed by psychologist Paul Hessels
What Every Generation Needs to Thrive and Grow at Work
Although mental well-being has always been relevant, the topic has seen a strong uptick in popularity in recent years. While previous generations cared about mental well-being, the approach and conversations around the topic were different, and often, more secretive. As society evolves, it’s essential that we also evolve our approach to mental well-being.  


Psychologist Paul Hessels is here to shine a light on the evolving needs of employees belonging to different generations and what that means for organisations.


Wellness as a trend


20 years ago, mental well-being certainly wasn’t a priority workplace topic. Luckily, in recent years, mental well-being discussions are becoming more common; a topic that’s brought up in  almost every boardroom. Simply look at the upward curve of Google Trends’ ‘’mental health’’ search term in the UK and you’ll see surging interest in the topic. Even the WHO acknowledges people’s growing interest in mental well-being. 

Challenges related to mental well-being are increasing, particularly among young people


There are many reasons for the increase in mental well-being challenges,  one of which is the pandemic and its aftermath; although it’s not the only one. Paul Hessels explains: “There are various things going on in the world that put us under pressure. We’re talking about financial uncertainty, wars and the climate crisis. It’s one crisis after another and that’s taking its toll on people. It’s only natural that this affects how we feel and behave. Whether you’re young or old.”


At the same time, we’re seeing a new generation arriving in the workplace – one that not only approaches work, wellness and balance differently, but also speaks up about it. That’s forcing companies to look differently at the way we work. And that’s something that every generation benefits from.


💡 The Youngest Generation in the Office: How Gen Z Is Moving Us Towards a Healthier Corporate Culture


How all generations feel good at work


The needs and desires expressed by Gen Z are forming a basis for employers to adapt their company culture. 


“Amongst other things, this generation wants more transparency, an open culture and the opportunity to develop at work. These are factors that matter to everybody, regardless of their generation,” explains Paul. “The difference is that Gen Z is more vocal about their needs and more likely to leave employers who don’t meet these needs.” 


This is forcing companies to look at their culture and practices, and to make changes accordingly. How can they do that? Harvard Business Review explains how these needs can drive us towards better workplaces, more collaboration, and increased motivation. 


1. Open communication


Today, the world is full of uncertainty, and this naturally increases peoples’ tendency to worry and stress. To alleviate this worry, you can communicate transparently across the organisation and at a team level regarding  plans, choices and operations. Whether the news is good, bad, or neutral, communication is key when it comes to putting employees at ease.


This open communication and access to information gives employees a sense of control and alleviates any tension. Paul notes: “I’ve also noticed that some members of younger generations first want to understand why they’re doing certain things. When they’re clear what the reasoning is, they fully throw themselves into their work.”


2. Transparency about development – for people of all ages and generations at work


People thrive on growth and development. We want to make the most of our abilities, achieve goals, and tackle challenges. In fact, self-actualisation is at the top of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.


Organisations can help to satisfy this need by offering development opportunities and being transparent about career advancement. “Presenting a clear plan for growth and salaries in advance helps to manage expectations and avoid disappointment,” clarifies Paul.


First, let employees know what’s expected of them and how they can develop further in their roles. Communicate clearly about which skills and values are important and how you want to see these demonstrated. Evaluate this together during regular development conversations.


Offer employees a range of development opportunities. Consider training sessions targeted at each stage of their career. For example, younger employees might want to learn about managing workloads, setting boundaries, and personal leadership. Meanwhile, advanced employees might be more interested in change management, in-depth leadership or personal coaching.


3. Constructive feedback 


Another way to contribute towards an individual’s growth is through feedback. 


You should give constructive feedback between tasks and projects, and also engage in regular conversations  regarding an employee’s performance and development.


Practise a regular routine with development conversations, which will empower (for example, twice or four times a year) managers and employees to reflect on their skills, achievements, and progress. Additionally, ask open questions that get employees thinking about their strengths and weaknesses. 


“Don’t be shocked if you get feedback yourself. An open culture creates a dialogue that goes both ways,” advises Paul. “Mainly respond to the content of the feedback and give yourself time to figure out what you want to do with it.” 


💡 Read more: Tips for Giving and Receiving Feedback

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4. Clarity about broader goals (and how employees contribute)


We’re driven by things that give our lives meaning and part of this meaning is through our work. That’s why employees like to know how they’re contributing to the broader company goal and mission. 


Make sure your company’s mission is crystal clear and communicate regularly about progress. During the onboarding process, make everybody’s role clear, and let each individual know  how they’re contributing to the mission. Furthermore, managers can regularly talk to their team about the impact they’re having on the company.


A side note from Paul: “Make sure this mission and the impact people are having isn’t just something that’s being preached about by management in a very top-down way. The message should also be coming from different layers of the organisation and through people from different generations. People just listen better to somebody they can identify with.”


5. Space for autonomy and connection


On the one hand, we need autonomy in our jobs and the ability to have a say about where we work, but on the other hand,  feeling a sense of team spirit and connection is essential. 


“During the pandemic, our image of a pleasant workplace shifted and employees came to expect that they should be working in a healthier and more enjoyable work environment. They also want the option to decide for themselves where they want to work,” explains Paul. 


Having a say over where you work creates a sense of autonomy. Forcing employees to work at the office may have the reverse effect. However, you’ll want to promote connection and a sense of team spirit by getting together regularly offline.


This could be for a number of events or meet-ups; from project kick-offs to team breakfasts, celebrating successes, team outings, one-on-one conversations or brainstorms. Also, plan online get-togethers (especially if people also work remotely); for example, consider online coffee meetings to talk about things other than work and make sure that they have the tools at home to brainstorm with other people and form new plans.


6. Normalise and prioritise mental well-being for all generations at work


According to research by Deloitte from 2022, four in ten Gen Zers have quit a job within two years due to a lack of work-life balance and constant stress. 


Further research shows that almost half feel tired and exhausted after a day at the office. They also feel helpless and lonely as a result of pressure at work.


This younger generation feels a lot of pressure and tension at work and this means that they need to be able to talk about it openly and to address it.


Step one is normalising the conversation around mental well-being. Create a culture that promotes well-being by talking about stress, feelings, etc. Paul adds: “Talking about challenges and feelings makes this topic feel normal. But also make sure to shine a light on the positive events at work. Give compliments, celebrate successes together, encourage employees to go for walks during work hours, and let people know that it’s okay if they finish work a little earlier when they need to. This kind of thing also encourages people to be open about mental well-being.”


Also, don’t forget that younger generations generally find it easier to talk about mental well-being. Older generations in the workplace are maybe less comfortable with this. Give them time and space to get used to it and allow them to open up when they’re ready.


Additionally, have managers set a good example by being open themselves about what’s bothering them. Vulnerability and open communication are the keywords here.


Finally, reach out to employees and suggest ways they can work on their own well-being, for example, consultations with psychologists, group sessions, workshops, courses and relevant articles. Wellness means different things to different people at different moments in their lives. So, make sure that there are several different ways to engage with it.


Give each generation the space to develop, release stress, and build mental resilience. With OpenUp, you’re making sure that employees have all the guidance they deserve, right at their fingertips.

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