How leaders can reshape organizational culture for the next generation

January 4, 2023

The next generation wants a human-centred organisational culture, which offers flexibility, purpose and a sense of belonging. 

In brief
  • A great organisational culture will be a human-centred one, which caters to each individual’s employee needs.
  • As the next generation have been identified as the most expected to leave their jobs, it is critical to understand their organisational culture expectations.
  • Leaders must be transparent, empathetic and create opportunities for feedback to create an organisational culture that the next generation desires. 

The workplace is changing, attitudes are shifting, and to attract and retain the best talent, organisations need to be consciously responsive to their workforces’ expectations. With Gen Z or millennials being identified as the most expected to leave their jobs, there has never been a more important time to understand their workplace needs.1 Organisational culture can be defined as ‘the way people collaborate and motivate each other, the way decisions are made, and the way value is created within an organisation.’2 This article focusses on how to shape an organisation’s culture that works for the next generation, providing them with an exceptional employee experience.

In May 2022, we spoke to colleagues on EY graduate schemes and internships to gain insight into their expectations from organisational culture. From our findings, we identified four key themes. 

As the next generation wields increasing power over the workforce,
how can the future be shaped to enable them to thrive?

1. Create a human-centred employee experience

In our findings, a recurring theme was that organisational culture needs to be human-centred, focussing on the people in the workforce. The group mentioned the importance of being valued as an individual, especially picking out their positive employee experience during their onboarding process at EY, where they felt kept ‘in the loop’ and reassured at every stage.

“There was regular communication reassuring us that EY will make the experience as enjoyable as possible. EY teams made me feel like they wanted me at the organisation and I felt valued from the start,” said Anna, EY Graduate.

Leaders need to recognise the importance of treating employees as individuals, taking the time to listen and understand their employee expectations, and responding and acting on the feedback provided. Placing increased importance on an individual’s value allows them to have their voice heard and feel they are an active part of the organisation. A recent article by EY Lane4 Managing Partner, Adrian Moorhouse, outlined why building a human-centred employee experience is pivotal, including five key things that leaders need to do to make this possible.

Organisations who take a human-centred approach to their employee experience will demonstrate they have people’s best interests at heart. Creating a culture where each individual employee feels valued and included is an attractive attribute that the next generation is searching for when applying to jobs.

2. Provide flexibility alongside social opportunities

The recent EY 2022 Work Reimagined Survey states flexibility in the workplace is no longer just ‘nice to have,’ it is an expectation.1 Along with 9 out of 10 employees believing that flexibility in where and when they work is critical to establishing a positive work experience, providing flexible working is pivotal in creating an exceptional organisational culture and employee experience.3

“Something I would now always look for in a job, is flexible working. The fact that you can work according to your own preference has had a really positive impact on my work ethic,” added Lucy, EY Intern.

The next generation has experienced studying remotely and often started their career virtually. However, our findings demonstrated virtual working often led to feelings of decreased engagement and collaboration. They desire face-to-face connection that positively impacts their personal motivations and enriches their experiences. This highlights the importance of providing spaces and events for social interaction as a part of your organisational culture.

Hybrid working provides the balance that the next generation wants — allowing employees to reap the benefits of working remotely and the benefits of working in the office. From being able to be more productive working individually at home, to being collaborative and building relationships in the office, hybrid working caters to every need of employees.

Tom, EY Graduate, said, “It is important to have that balance of being productive, getting your work done and being sociable. For me, flexible working creates that environment.”

Organisations need to provide flexibility to employees, whilst offering opportunities to socialise and network with colleagues. Leaders play a critical role in achieving this by placing trust in people and championing initiatives, such as hybrid working, whilst also setting clear performance expectations. Allowing the next generation to tailor a hybrid-working model that optimises their productivity and provides the chance to collaborate with others.

3. Connect the next generation to a wider purpose

Another key theme raised was the positive impact of an organisation’s purpose. The group expressed the importance of feeling as if they were contributing to a wider purpose as a crucial aspect that they would always look for within an organisation’s culture. This is further supported by research which demonstrates how the next generation expects organisations to stand for something meaningful today and have a clear vision for the value that they plan to create tomorrow.4 Leaders must go beyond focussing on making profit and instead demonstrate their commitment to important causes.5

“Connecting my personal purpose with the EY organisational purpose and contributing to creating a better working world has been really important to me. It would definitely be something I would look for in any future organisation’s culture,” said Saffron, EY Graduate.

Organisations can generate opportunities for employees to align their personal purpose with their organisations through meaningful initiatives that focus on important topics, such as sustainability. The environment is a central concern for the next generation and leaders must provide opportunities for them to participate in supporting a sustainable future.5

Responding to the next generation’s desire to lead purposeful lives and work in a worthwhile environment is key in creating a healthy organisational culture. Our findings identified the positive impact it had when leaders shared their story and connected their personal purpose to the organisation’s. In doing so, it inspired others to align their purpose as well. Providing a line of sight for employees allows them to pursue a common goal and enhances their employee experience.

One way this is done at EY is through shadow boards. Shadow boards enable senior leadership to diversify their views, whilst also providing a learning opportunity for employees to understand the challenges that leaders and the organisation face. The next generation wants to feel they are doing meaningful work and know that the work they are doing has wider-reaching impacts. Organisations and leaders play a critical role in providing this.

4. Provide a sense of belonging to enrich the employee experience

A recent EY article highlighted the importance of a culture that provides a sense of belonging, and its impact on attracting and retaining the best talent.4 Belonging is a key component of intrinsic motivation, and specifically relates to employees needing to feel valued and have a sense of security in the workplace. Our findings demonstrated the importance the next generation placed on a sense of belonging in the workplace,  highlighting how initiatives such as diversity, equity and inclusion (D,E&I) should be at the core of organisational culture.

“I need to be able to bring my whole self to work and be accepted as I am, and I should not have to change myself to fit my role. I need to feel I am being authentically myself,” commented Christian, EY Intern.

In an era of work where employees are physically disconnected, providing a sense of belonging is vital in creating an exceptional organisational culture. The 2021 EY Empathy in Business Survey  states that 48% of the employees have previously left a job because they did not feel like they belonged — demonstrating the key role that belonging plays in the workplace.6 Organisations need to tap into this intrinsic motivation to create an organisational culture where employees are actively invited to participate. One way the leaders can provide a sense of belonging for the next generation is by encouraging and valuing their input in meetings. They can also prioritise creating an environment where employees feel able to participate in sharing their opinions — regardless of their rank. This builds an environment where the next generation can trust they will be heard.

How can the next generation shape organisational culture?

The next generation needs to embrace the responsibility they hold to help shape the culture that they desire. Every employee should be aware of the individual influence they have on organisational culture, feel empowered to have a voice and help enact change. Therefore, they must engage when they are given the opportunity by providing feedback to leadership, or advocating important causes, such as by joining or starting a movement to accelerate change. They must also take responsibility to be socially proactive by encouraging team days in the office to make meaningful connections whilst working in a hybrid environment. The next generation needs to recognise its power to become leaders in creating the organisational culture that they desire.

How can leaders shape organisational culture?

Leaders play a critical role in shaping organisational culture for the next generation. To succeed in the future, organisations require ‘adaptive leadership’ — one that is based on leading with emotional intelligence, focussing on shared values, and fostering continuous learning and development for all.7 Research stated 88% of the respondents felt empathetic leadership creates loyalty amongst employees towards their leaders, demonstrating the importance of leading with empathy to attract and retain talent.Leaders must also reinforce organisational values by communicating them to employees, so that they can be translated into organisational culture. They can do this by delivering compelling stories that are impactful, authentic and simple, which can inspire the workforce in times of change and connect teams to a wider purpose.8

As revealed in the EY 2022 Work Reimagined Survey, there is still a gap between employees’ and employers’ priorities.1 To close this gap, leaders must be transparent with employees, and maintain open communication to build trust and provide reassurance. Leadership transparency is vital in creating an organisational culture with a high-performing workforce. Encouraging feedback — through listening groups — and providing opportunities — through reverse-mentoring schemes and shadowing opportunities — will build an environment where the next generation feels heard and valued.


For a generation that has experienced lockdowns, pandemics, and quarantines during a pivotal time in their education and career, organisations need to consider how these experiences will shape the future of the workplace. The next generation is calling out for a human-centred organisational culture, that provides flexibility, purpose and a sense of belonging. Leaders need to recognise their critical role in shaping a future that provides an exceptional employee experience and enables the future workforce to thrive.

Liz Campbell - Partner, EY Lane4, EY Professional Services Limited

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