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Culture Duets with TikTok and Egon Zehnder

In the post-Covid era, organization and workplace culture is at the top of everyone’s mind. The traditional cultural norms of the office are being challenged as we see more and more Gen Zers joining the workforce. Egon Zehnder and TikTok partnered up to facilitate a conversation – or rather a duet – between CEOs and Gen Zers about workplace culture. The groups have more in common than one may expect. They are interested in the same end result, but the ways in which they get there may diverge. Exploring the differences – and similarities – between tenured leaders and future leaders offered surprises around commonalities, and valuable insights into how to bridge the gap between the two cohorts.

The importance of growth

CEOs and Gen Zers alike highlighted the importance of growth in their careers. However, the two groups think about growth in the workplace quite differently. Gen Zers talked about growth as a self-driven move to learn skills and gain experience. Some viewed shifting jobs – or job hopping – as a way of fast-tracking the learning experience. One Gen Zer said “I would leave my job as soon as it becomes stagnant, because it means there is no more room to grow. Learning ​ often goes hand in hand with discomfort and being challenged.” Gen Zers place a lot of value in diversifying their skill set as job security is limited in the modern workplace and having a broad set of skills provides them with multiple avenues should they need to find new work – or to create opportunities for themselves.

CEOs felt differently, as many of them had spent the majority of their careers in a workplace culture that placed a lot of value on company loyalty. As one CEO said, “Retaining the same job was the norm historically because stability was the priority – you had no other choice.” Interestingly, the tenured group did not view job shifting as a red flag as they could see that the cultural attitudes toward work are changing. They see a benefit to the flexibility and diversity of working in different companies, sectors, and roles as it provides a great deal of experience.

Remaining in the same job runs the risk of stagnancy – “Do I have 20 years of experience, or do I have 1 year of experience repeated 20 times?” ​

The CEOs’ understanding of growth has changed over time. This is challenged by many of the Gen Zers’ approach to growth, which is to grow early and grow often.

Trust is a cornerstone

The rise of remote working and distributed teams has required a shift in how trust factors into the workplace. Gen Zers generally place a high value on trust because they want their employers to have confidence in their ability to deliver and add value. It was important for many of them to be given responsibility early on in their careers. Gen Zers talked about how having goals, such as KPIs or a deliverable, is valuable as it provides a structure and something to work toward. CEOs were pleasantly surprised to hear that the younger generation wanted KPIs – the common assumption is that they want to be given freedom to do what they please.

Gen Zers do want freedom, just not in the way CEOs thought they did. They want to be told that there is a goal to achieve – but they want to be trusted to meet that goal in their own ways without being micromanaged.

As one Gen Zer put it: “It is great to be given a goal – the what. But I want more freedom in delivering that goal – the how.”

From the perspective of the CEOs, the desire to foster greater trust and transparency is there, but the future will require finding a balance between autonomy and accountability through frequent alignment on expectations, consistent communication guidelines and shared performance metrics.

The complexities of work-life balance

One of the biggest differences in workplace culture between CEOs and Gen Zers was the attitude toward life outside of work. Gen Zers felt strongly about having a balanced life, where work is one of many equally important elements. They talked about the tendency in older generations to define oneself by their career and Gen Zers do not wish to continue this trend.

As one Gen Zer put it: “If I don’t want to be in the office every night, it’s not because I don’t like working or I’m not ambitious; it’s just that I value my life out of work just as much. My work is not the only thing that defines me.”

CEOs also expressed the value of having a life outside of their work, but the attitude toward the work-life balance looked very different when they were entering the workforce. The norm at that time was that work was the priority and other elements of one’s life came second to their job. CEOs are in agreement that this shift toward the importance of a balanced life is positive, even though it is a change to the culture that they have experienced during their working lives. Once again, what was initially thought to be a dissimilarity in how Gen Zers and CEOs view work life is actually more a shared value than a fundamental difference.

Being validated versus being valued

The attitudes towards recognition differed between the groups. The CEOs talked about how the traditional career model views promotions and salaries as indicators of a good job. Gen Zers were generally more interested in feeling that they were having an impact, getting effective feedback and recognition. It is not uncommon for the views of younger employees to be downplayed as they are often the least experienced person in the room.

But Gen Zers felt this attitude should change as they are still contributing and so they should be in the conversation. “We’re doing the work, but our names are not on the reports. We’re ghost writers. Or we’re creating the presentations, but not delivering them.”

They are not asking for a pat on the back or to be validated, but rather to be seen and treated as someone who adds value to the work that is being done. As one of the Gen Zers put it: “I want to feel valued, not validated.”

Being valued means being recognized for their contributions, as well as being rewarded for their impact. While monetary compensation is key in these uncertain times, benefits that are relevant to their life stage are also a priority. "Most benefits offered by companies are not geared towards my generation" said one Gen Zer. The common benefits of parental leave and retirement contributions are not catered to the younger generations, and Gen Zers suggested more age-appropriate offerings such as tuition support for those wishing to study further, better health insurance, and financial counselling.

Meeting in the middle

The similarities of the two groups were present throughout the conversation – but this came as a surprise to many at the table. The question is – why have these similarities not been uncovered before? It is because a safe space for CEOs and Gen Zers to connect is rare outside of the environment we created. In the day-to-day life of Gen Zers working in a company, there is much less clarity on where to speak in order to be heard. As a generation, Gen Zers are accustomed to having channels where they can make their voice known – but they are not finding this in the working world. CEOs also felt a disconnect with their younger employees and wanted to understand how to keep the dialogue open.

We believe organizations can benefit from creating a space where everyone can communicate. There is a gap to be bridged here and those in the middle tier of a company are well positioned to mediate these conversations. The insights that arose from the conversations between CEOs and Gen Zers are valuable in creating a workplace that works for everyone – from interns to C-level employees. It is not often that there is a space for people from either end of the employment spectrum have a safe space in which to collaborate and talk to one another about what it means to work together.

How can we move forward?

1. Growth

Coming to a common understanding of what growth looks like in the context of an organization can create opportunities for always-on learning. Consider forums to exchange skills from one another, like reverse and peer mentoring via Lunch & Learn Sessions.

2. Trust

The new work order calls for new practices. With a shared appreciation for KPIs among both groups, ensure that company-wide goal-setting frameworks (such as objectives and key results) are understood, ​ adopted, and visible to all. Focus on achieving the outcomes – as opposed to monitoring the detailed inputs – as a measure of success.

3. Work-life balance

The last couple of years have blurred the lines between work and life, shifting the concept of work-life balance into a 'work-life mesh.' Aligning between the personal and professional sphere is top of mind for generations across the board, so champion diverse programs that enable individuals to make the most out of both.

4. Being valued

Recognition matters – however, modes of recognition must evolve. Being valued is important so consider anytime feedback tools and reward schemes to reinforce positive performance. But getting a seat at the table is king, so ensure that contributors are given credit – and a chair – where it is due.

Companies that want to create and sustain harmony and collaboration within the full team can start by prioritizing these areas. There are more similarities between these groups than there are differences, so if we can start the conversation then we can begin real change that can improve not only the way companies work, but also have a positive impact on how each and every employee feels about their colleagues and their workplace – for CEOs, Gen Zers, and everyone in between.

For more information please contact

Golnaz Bahmanyar


Hana Habayeb


Laura Luelsdorf


Annie Arsane

Head of Business Marketing Middle East, Turkey, Africa, and Pakistan, TikTok

Shant Oknayan

General Manager, Global Business Solutions, Eastern Europe, Middle East and Africa, TikTok