One of the more intriguing cultural changes over the last two years is how people have started to talk about Gen Z and the future of the workplace.
Before COVID, the focus was on how Gen Z would reshape the office, the employer-employee relationship and the notion of work itself. Survey after survey documented the desire for flexible arrangements, with experts predicting that Gen Z’s tech savvy would translate to a more autonomous and connected workforce that might “gravitate toward — and even enjoy — camera interactions in the workplace.”
You only have to read the New York Times’ piece Young People Are Going to Save Us All From Office Life to sense the collective eagerness for Gen Z to unravel the structures keeping employees stressed and overworked.
More than two years of a pandemic and roughly a billion video calls later, how Gen Z views the workplace has become more difficult to parse. Conflicting surveys illustrate a young workforce both content to remain remote and longing for in-person feedback from managers. Gen Z admits to feeling less productive and more unmoored working from home. They are unsure how to connect with their colleagues, build and use professional skills and advance their careers without in-person connection.
Some of this dissatisfaction is related to Gen Z’s life stage. Would your first apartment have been conducive to a comfortable and focused work environment? As someone who lived in an illegal loft in Brooklyn with five roommates in a bedroom made of plywood, I can say probably not.
There’s also the issue of the type of work that’s often delegated to people in their early careers.
One of my first jobs involved hours of data entry for a startup. I cared tremendously about the company, but the work was mind-numbing. Besides observing work culture norms and forming relationships with colleagues, being in the office meant I felt connected to the more strategic work happening around me. I can’t imagine what it would have been like to enter those thousands of pieces of data sitting at home alone.
Post-Covid, employers must stop focusing on short-term solutions and start thinking holistically about how to find, retain and nurture the next generation of hybrid employees.
Let Gen Z learn in their own style
Gen Z have grown up with the world’s knowledge at their fingertips. As we adapt learning and development to a hybrid workforce, employers should prioritize modular and decentralized systems that allow Gen Z to chart their own path and choose learning formats that fit their style.
Employers should also consider learning and development for soft skills. Gen Z are as likely to turn to the internet to navigate a new software system as they are to figure out how to network. Platforms like TikTok provide a wealth of career guidance and allow employers to rethink how they communicate professional advice to younger generations.
Engineer serendipity at work
Professional growth relies on formal and informal networks of support, community and knowledge sharing. Creating these networks remotely requires more than just video conferences and Zoom happy hours (please, don’t do that).
Gen Z is already incredibly adept at finding and navigating online communities. Workplaces that balance employee resource groups and mentorship programs with informal, employee-led initiatives can help Gen Z employees deepen ties with their coworkers and build the relationships they need to succeed.
Respect the side hustle
Gen Z is highly entrepreneurial. The rise of the creator economy and lower barriers to entry have led Gen Zers to embrace their side hustles to build their brands, enhance other skills and monetize their passions.
Treat this as a design feature instead of a bug. Employers allow Gen Z the opportunity to use talents they’re building in their side hustles – from optimizing social content to securing funding – will have a leg up when it comes to retaining and nurturing talent. Embracing side hustles can even help your company by harnessing Gen Z’s collective entrepreneurial mindset.
Bring Gen Z into the decision-making process
Gen Z are purpose-driven. However, they are highly skeptical that businesses can have a positive impact on society. According to Deloitte, 69% of Gen Z believe that businesses focus on their own agendas rather than society. This generation is unafraid to challenge the status quo, well-versed in call out culture and immune to platitudes about social impact.
In a remote work context, businesses need to work harder to demonstrate accountability and transparency, from how HR complaints are handled, to where they stand on issues like universal basic income, to where they are donating (just ask Disney). Gen Z are used to having their voices heard. Offer greater access to leadership to bring them into the decision-making process.
While there may be some growing pains, the path forward is to a workplace with more flexibility, choice and balance.
Maybe Gen Z will save us from office life after all.
Hannah Hickman is VP, client strategy and head of the youth culture practice at Sparks & Honey.