Written By: Dan Schawbel for LinkedIn
Move over Millennials, step aside Gen Z, here comes Gen Alpha! Today’s children will shape the future of work in profound ways that would seem unimaginable in the past. While the oldest Alpha is only ten-years-old, born from 2010 on, their behaviors, attitudes, and preferences are already being affected by both the proliferation of technology and the uncertain times we live in. This generation was named Alpha because Alpha is the first letter of the Greek alphabet and it’s the first demographic born entirely in the 21st century. Growing up during a pandemic, recession, mental health epidemic, remote work experiment, and technological revolution will both define the Alpha’s as a generation and have a lasting influence on whom they become as they eventually enter the workforce.
They will be the most diverse and educated generation
Like the prior generation, Alpha’s will be the most diverse and educated, which will impact workforce composition in a positive way. You will see more female and minority leaders because organizations will have a more diverse talent pool. They also grew up in a time of great racial, social, and political division and witnessed the unnecessary conflicts that have had dire consequences for our civilization. By the time Alpha enters the workforce, there will be enough diversity in leadership positions (Even in 2020 there’s Kamala Harris, Barack Obama, 37 female CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, etc.) that they’ll already think diversity is the norm and will see no barriers to ascending the corporate hierarchy. They’ll want their generational composition to reflect that of their employer and it will.
Gen Alpha will be the most educated generation but will redefine what a “real education” resembles. For one, they will prioritize skills over degrees, real-world simulations, and on-the-job training over classes and will expect highly personalized and engaging training. They will take classes and have experiences in their childhood that will prepare them to run future workplaces. With an early introduction to smart tools, an affinity to voice, AI, and machine learning, they will learn at a faster pace and be able to apply that learning in new ways. They believe in shared learning since they are highly collaborative, and want education to come to them, and not them to it. This means that virtual learning will continue to be in high demand, especially classes that are gamified because they are playing and watching games from an early age. Alpha’s will think of collecting skills like collecting coins in a video game, allowing them to level-up their careers.
They will be prepared to thrive in our tech-enabled workplace
Every generation has access to more of everything in their childhood because technology continues to advance at an accelerated pace. Alpha’s have access to more tools, resources, and people at an earlier age than any other generation. This accessibility gives them a massive competitive advantage as they age but has the side effect of further expanding the generational digital divide. Older generations will struggle to connect with Alpha workers, whose technology dependency has made them want instant gratification and prioritize texting and voice over human interaction. By learning about topics like artificial intelligence and coding in school, unlike prior generations, they will eventually be able to fill the growing labor demand, potentially leaving everyone else in the dust. Their knowledge of the skills and topics that are transforming our society will force every other generation to follow their lead.
Alpha’s look at phones that don’t take pictures as fossils. They view Alexa, Siri, and chatbots as companions helping them to accomplish their goals and serve their needs. They believe a smartphone is a human right and would gladly trade their privacy for more social media followers and a more efficient lifestyle. Alpha’s take technology for granted to a point where they might define it as something else entirely, drawing no distinction between real life and virtual life. Technology to the Alpha’s isn’t mean to just serve their needs to collaborate with their peers, but also as a channel to transform the world around them.
They will desire to work at innovative world-changing companies
Gen Alpha’s reliance on technology will be beneficial to workplace innovation, as is their rebellious nature against the status quo that has left their parents (Millennials) in a worse financial position than their parents (Baby Boomers). As a side effect to Alpha’s ambition to make work and societal change, and societal change through work, they will perpetuate our workplace burnout crisis. By never disconnecting, they will do self-imposed harm to themselves that will impact other generations trying to keep up at the same pace. Instead of a 9-to-5 workday 5 days-a-week, we will have a continuous workday 7 days-a-week without any parameters, which will increase productivity temporarily at the cost of their mental health and long-term value contribution.
But, despite burnout, Alpha’s will demand even more from their employers than Gen Z’s and Millennials. They simply won’t work for a company that doesn’t align with their values and that isn’t producing a product that benefits society. When they think of innovating, it’s more about improving the world we live in, especially on key issues they are personally faced with like climate change, student loan debt, and income inequality. Knowing that they might never receive social security or healthcare coverage, they will seek new innovative ways to exist especially since they’ll be living longer lives.
The Alpha’s are an aspirational generation having grown up admiring the lifestyles of influencers, thinking they can triumph over life’s many obstacles while pursuing their passion with purpose. To Alpha’s innovation is having the “latest” and “newest”, which drives their innovative spirit. They will seek continuous improvement, motivated by their values of helping others, but also desiring recognition for their successes. It’s not enough for them to innovate, they need their peers to see that they are innovating to have a sense of fulfillment in life.
How to recruit and retain the next generation using their playbook
There will be a learning curve when it comes to appealing to the Alpha’s workplace preferences. For one, Alpha’s won’t separate work and life because work and life will be completely integrated by the time they enter the workforce. This is due to the fact that they were raised by parents who worked remotely for at least a year during a pandemic, normalizing the work-from-home trend. Alpha’s won’t want to work for a company that doesn’t provide flexibility regardless of what the job description entails. They will choose a company partially based on their flexible policies and will be more inclined to work for less money to have more control over when, where, and how they perform their duties.
Aside from offering flexibility, Alpha expects companies to support their emotional, physical, and mental well-being in a new social contract. The Alpha’s will suffer from more mental health issues than prior generations and demand companies to be a support system as they get through their hardships. They want employers to treat them as human’s first before workers and will yearn for their team to act as a work family and support system.
Alpha’s will be working for longer and redefine what retirement means. All variables kept constant, they will live longer and therefore changing jobs, careers, and gigs more than previous generations. Retirement benefits won’t be as elusive to them because of their short job tenure, view of retirement, and lack of faith that the system will reward them for loyalty. But, that of course may change as they age into the workforce.
The demand for employee recognition will continue to rise because of the Alpha’s desire for constant social validation. Alpha’s are looking for similar validation they get on social media but from their teammates. The next generation of collaborative tools will play into their desire for validation with similar stats and team messages that will make them feel good about the work they are doing and their value as a person.
They won’t work for a company that isn’t technologically advanced and will deem them extinct and irrelevant. They want a customized employee experience in a physical office or at home. They have no patience for a workday that isn’t seamless and for an experience that isn’t engaging. They won’t work at companies that have archaic offices, and for leaders that don’t embrace the same technology as they do.
Recruiting Alpha means using the tools and platforms they are already using (such as TikTok) with contextual content that appeals to their interests. It means offering them employee benefits that cater to their needs and solve their problems like flexibility, workplace wellness, and virtual learning. And, most of all, if you want to recruit top Alpha talent, you have to be perceived as an alpha company from a leadership, technological, societal, and innovative perspective.
Their vision for the future of work
Alpha’s are optimistic about the future despite all the challenges we face. But, regardless of the size problems that they will help solve and the policies they will champion, they will be best prepared for the future. Alpha’s have started their careers earlier, have more information at their fingertips, are tech savvier, smarter, and will make us all better. With all the positive change that Alpha’s will bring to us, we will have to adjust to the workforce they are transforming instead of them adjusting to what we’ve already created. They will shatter old work norms and recreate the workplace based on how they interact in their personal lives.
In order for all of us to co-exist with the Alpha’s, we need to be open to learn from them and embrace the changes they make, while also being careful of the trends that will continue to negatively affect us like burnout. The Alpha’s will be an overall positive force for good at work, bringing all of us closer together. When we unlock the potential of Alpha, and decide to collaborate with them instead of fear them, we can all create a better working world together.