Today’s young employees are the engines of the knowledge economy and tomorrow’s business leaders – and according Citrix Systems’ “The Born Digital Effect” research, they’re primed to deliver an extra $1,9-trillion in corporate profits.

But they’ll need some help to pull it off.

Made up of Millennials (born 1981 to 1996) and Generation Z (born after 1997) workers, the Born Digital are the first generation to grow up in an entirely digital world, and now account for most of the global workforce.

“These young employees are different from previous generations in that they have only ever known a tech-driven world of work,” says Donna Kimmel, executive vice-president of chief people officer at Citrix. “To shore up their future business success, companies must understand their values, career aspirations and working styles and invest in their development.”

Citrix, together with Coleman Parks Research and Oxford Analytica, conducted The Born Digital Effect, a study that combined global opinion research from 1 000 business leaders and 2 000 knowledge workers in 10 countries to understand what the Born Digital want from work with economic modeling to quantify the impact they can have on business and the larger economy.

And it revealed that when it comes to understanding what engages and motivates younger workers, leaders are out of touch.

Among the key findings are that job stability and work-life balance matter most to employees. Faced with an uncertain job environment, younger workers are most focused on fundamental work factors like career stability and security (87%) and a good work-life balance (87%). This is poorly understood by leaders, who think their young workers value access to the latest workplace technology and opportunities for training.

In addition, leaders overestimate office appeal. Ninety percent of Born Digital employees do not want to return to full-time office work post-pandemic, preferring a hybrid model instead:

* Over half (51%) want to remain working from home most or all of the time.

* 21% would like hybrid working with more time in the office.

* 18% would like hybrid working with time evenly split between home and the office.

* Only 10% would like to be in the office full time.

However, 58% of leaders believe that young workers will want to spend most or all of their time working in the office.

While they may prefer to work remote, Born Digital workers do recognise that social interaction is crucial in a business context (68%).

“As companies move forward in enabling work from anywhere, they will need to provide opportunities for employees to come together both physically in offices and virtually from home to keep them connected, engaged and prepared for the future of work,” Kimmel says.

More than anything, the Born Digital want employers who give them flexibility and choice. Although a five-day week is still a popular working pattern, the Born Digital believe that they should be given the opportunity to work a four-day week if they choose (17%). They also expect to be able to decide when to begin and end their working day (27%), and a few want to work unstructured or output-based hours (7%).

They also want to be given freedom and recognised for their performance. When asked to identify the three most important aspects of company culture they look for in choosing an employer, the Born Digital cited:

* Autonomy, or the opportunity to work in a high-trust environment (83%).

* Compensation that recognizes and rewards performance (81%).

* Strong and visible leadership (79%).

The research shows that young workers and leaders inhabit different digital worlds. Only 21%of business leaders use instant messaging apps like Slack or WhatsApp for work purposes, compared to 81% of Born Digital employees. And only 26% of business leaders like using these apps for work, compared to 82% of Born Digital workers.

Purpose is a privilege, not a priority, the study indicates. Only 30% of Born Digital employees would leave an organization that lacked purpose, compared to 69% of business leaders. And only 28% of Born Digital workers would leave a role if they felt the culture did not reflect their personality adequately, compared to 58% of business leaders.

As the data makes clear, today’s business leaders are clearly disconnected from what the Born Digital really want from work. And in order to unlock their full potential and the value they can deliver, they need to plug in.

The future is in their hands

“Successfully attracting and retaining the Born Digital will require organizations to invest in the work model and tools to create the flexible, efficient and engaged work environment that this next generation of leaders craves and thrives in,” says Tim Minahan, executive vice-president of business strategy at Citrix. “And there is clear commercial benefit to doing so.”

To quantify these benefits, Citrix worked with economists to build an economic model that assessed the impact of Born Digital employees on companies’ profitability, examining the relationship between the size of a country’s Born Digital population and the profitability of that country’s businesses.

“As the model shows, businesses in countries with above-average Born Digital populations can see an increase in corporate profits equivalent to more than the entire market capitalization of the FTSE 100.”

Countries in the study with relatively well-developed education systems or younger populations compared to their peers – such as the US, China, the UAE, Mexico, the UK and the Netherlands – are benefiting most from the Born Digital dividend as their above-average Born Digital populations are helping to ensure their businesses enjoy greater profitability, now and in the future.

Conversely, countries with relatively older populations such as France, Germany and Japan or lower levels of higher education among the younger population such as India, have the potential to reap greater rewards if they invest in higher education and digital infrastructure, actively recruit younger workers, and adapt their workplaces and working practices to suit them.

“The Born Digital are the C-Suite of the future and in 2035, the success or failure of business – and the global economy – will be in their hands,” Minahan says. “To secure it, companies need to cultivate younger workers and adapt their workplaces and working practices to groom them today.”