Access Over Ownership: How Gen Z’s Shifting Priorities Are Reshaping the Global Workplace

Cloud based life

The rapid pace of change in today’s world has given rise to a variety of unique challenges, opportunities, and norms for all of us, but particularly for the next generation entering the workforce. Gen Z has experienced a range of phenomena that are shaping their attitudes, expectations, and behaviors. This frames what they value, how they communicate and even how and where they shop and work. These shifts include “access over ownership”, “awareness over action”, and “knowledge over understanding“. Business leaders, managers, and HR professionals are experiencing a global challenge to fill vacant or new positions. It is essential to understand these shifts to build a future proof culture in a multi-generational workforce. In this article, I am going to expand on the shift from Ownership over to Access.

Access Over Ownership: A paradigm shift in the modern economy and societal behavior, where individuals and organizations prioritize the flexible, convenient, and cost-effective use of goods and services through rental, subscription, and on-demand models, as opposed to the traditional acquisition and possession of tangible assets. This transformative concept fosters collaborative consumption, resource optimization, and sustainable living, ultimately redefining the way individuals and businesses interact with products, services, and resources and especially each other, in an increasingly interconnected and digital world.

This access-over-ownership phenomenon is transforming multiple facets of our lives. Think about how we consume entertainment, utilize transportation, access fashion, or approach relationships. The proliferation of subscription-based services, such as streaming platforms, software, and meal kits, the growth of the sharing economy, exemplified by Uber, Airbnb, and coworking space platforms, the increasing emphasis on experiences and personal growth, rather than material possessions are all indicators of how we have shifted from buying and owning over to renting or subscribing. When considering Gen Z, they have only ever been alive when the access over ownership economy was in full effect and as such, have never lived another way. Prior generations are still in the process of adopting this mindset and will adopt and adapt as services are needed.

Implications for Gen Z and the Workplace

To grasp the fundamentals of what this shift looks like in our own ‘normal’ lives, consider these ongoing choices we tend to make that are now deemed as normal:

  • Unsubscribe when your interest is no longer held
  • Order via Grubhub whenever you want food
  • Watch Nextflix when it suits you
  • Stop watching ten minutes into a show because you’re not loving it
  • Call an uber rather than own a car
  • Athletes and CEOs readily switch allegiance to other teams/companies
  • Drop that relationship because it’s no longer compelling

When it comes to the workplace, some version of these concepts and factors are also at play. Understanding and embracing this shift to access rather than ownership will help you build a healthy culture that thrives within a rental economy.

Some Strategies to Implement:

Emphasize Purpose and Impact: Gen Z employees are motivated by a sense of purpose and a desire to make a difference. Communicate your organization’s mission and values and outline how their work will contribute to a larger goal. The Company Narrative is key here!

Build in Flexibility: Gen Z employees value the flexibility and freedom that access provides them, and will often prefer project-based and freelance work over traditional full-time roles. This has led to the rise of the gig economy and remote work arrangements. Embrace remote work options, offer flexible hours, and design project-based roles to cater to Gen Z’s preference for flexibility and freedom.

Focus on Personal Growth: With access to resources, tools, and learning opportunities, Gen Z prioritizes personal growth and continuous learning. Employers that offer development opportunities and foster a growth mindset are more sought after. A culture of continuous learning, which I refer to as ‘upskill’ should be fostered which encourages growth, supports development, offers access to resources, and provides mentorship opportunities.

Prioritize Work-Life Balance: Gen Z employees will seek work environments that value and promote a balance between their professional and personal lives, recognizing the importance of mental health and overall well-being. Prioritize their health by implementing policies and initiatives that promote mental health, wellness, and a work-life balance, examples being mental health days, flexible time off and wellness programs.