Gen Z Hits the Workforce Amidst a Pandemic

The group most equipped to work from anywhere has challenges too

Over the past year or two at Haworth, we have spent a lot of time getting to know members of Generation Z in an effort to learn about their perspectives and needs as they enter the global workforce. As the oldest members of Gen Z are officially entering the workforce en masse, organizations with an excellent understanding of this group’s needs, desires, and expectations will be best positioned to take advantage of their extraordinary and unique talents. In the midst of a global pandemic, this is truer now than ever.

In many ways, Gen Z may be more prepared to take on a global pandemic than any other generational cohort today. Of course, the first thing that comes to mind when many people think of Gen Z is their tech savviness—and that they might as well have grown up with a smartphone in-hand. As “digital natives,” they have never known a world without digital technology or the internet. So, we certainly can understand how they may be the most prepared group ever to work 100% virtually. We also know Gen Z has followed the lead of the Millennials in demanding improved work/life integration, indicating they are able to balance the challenges of working from home while producing quality work on time.

However, Generation Z also faces many unique challenges that older members of the workforce may not, as we learned from deploying the Leesman 2020 Global Working from Home Survey across 10 Haworth locations, worldwide. Recognizing the issues members of Gen Z may be facing, and helping them resolve these issues, will allow organizations to capitalize on the knowledge and skills of their best and brightest Gen Z workers.

For instance, college and job prospects for Gen Z have changed dramatically over the last few months. After a decade of continual economic and job growth, graduating Gen Zers could have reasonably expected to have a number of potential career opportunities. However, this is no longer the case, as the global pandemic has caused major economic disruption and increased unemployment. According to Pew Research Center, nearly half of young adults ages 18 to 29 say they or someone in their home has lost a job or received a pay cut since the pandemic began. This is a significantly higher rate than for older age brackets, indicating the disproportionate impact of unemployment on young adults, including those in Gen Z.

For younger members of Gen Z who were looking forward to walking across the graduation stage and going on to their first year of college, the impact on universities has radically transformed their experience. In many cases, students are taking classes solely online, hindering some of the personal skills development that comes with in-person learning. They are also missing out on key social experiences that help prepare them for real-world work environments, not to mention in-person conversations and the variety of ways work takes place. The traditional pillars of a successful career—a quality education and meaningful work—are difficult for many members of Gen Z to properly attain in the current environment.

As such, organizations need to think carefully about the best ways to reach Gen Z, and empower their growth for long-term gains. By recognizing the problems these young adults and teens face as a result of the pandemic and adapting to their needs, organizations can successfully gain their trust and unlock their full potential, creating mutually beneficial relationships.

In interviews with members of Gen Z, we learned about their experiences in joining a new job or organization remotely, particularly as a young adult. One thing is certain: Technology doesn’t pose much of a problem for Gen Z. Having grown up with computers in their hands constantly, members of Gen Z are highly proficient at using digital communication tools and managing their work online. Combined with our knowledge that Gen Z prefers the work/life balance offered by more flexible work arrangements and schedules, we can infer Gen Z is actually quite comfortable working from home. Gen Zers’ desire for mentorship and professional guidance keeps them regularly in touch with their leaders and mentors, as they seek to learn the nuances of their new jobs.

Altogether, organizations certainly don’t need to worry about the productivity or efficiency of the work their Gen Z employees are doing at home, or anywhere else outside the office. In fact, members of Gen Z told us during the pandemic that they value being measured mainly by the quality of their work, rather than by who they are personally in the workplace. So let your young employees know you trust them and value the work they are doing. It will keep them on the right track and empower them to take command of their own performance to deliver the best possible results.

On the other side, there are major issues with joining an organization remotely. The biggest challenge brought up by Gen Zers was the inability to build deep relationships with coworkers that enable better collaboration and improved communication. Knowing nonverbal cues and subtle movements play a large role in effective communication between two people, working only remotely severely limits one’s ability to fully grasp the nuances of a conversation. This, in turn, can hinder cooperation and collaboration.

In a traditional workplace environment, new workers could easily develop efficient communication with their coworkers through a lot of time spent face to face, in both productive and casual conversations. However, Gen Zers onboarding remotely don’t have the same opportunities for quality interpersonal communication with coworkers. To combat this, organizing casual social time for full teams, smaller groups, and pairs on a regular basis is important. It will build camaraderie and make your Gen Zers feel like part of the team.

Ultimately, Gen Zers are facing many of the same challenges as the rest of us during this global pandemic, but they are facing their own unique subset of issues as well—issues that present challenges to their long-term career opportunities and goals. It is important for organizations and employers to recognize these challenges, so they can reach out to and empower their Gen Z employees in the best ways possible. Empathy and support from leaders will be important to them as they learn and grow into their new positions at work and in life.

For more on our Generation Z findings, read my research brief, Preparing for Generation Z.

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