It is a strange time for those people who graduated from college in the past year or so and then started their first job.
Many of these people, often referred to as Gen Z (born after 1997), finished college taking classes remotely, and they began their career working remotely.
So it’s not out of the ordinary when a recent story in the Wall Street Journal posed the question as to whether some of these individuals will ever work in an office.
Remote work, for many people and companies, seems to have become the default approach to work.
And many of these Gen Zers seem to prefer it that way, liking the flexibility that such an approach offers.
In a survey from the fall of 2020, 69% of Gen Zers said they would like to work remotely at least half the time. Yet in that same survey, nearly half of respondents reported an increase of anxiety and depression ascribed to remote work.
As reporter Alex Janin notes, working from home can make anyone lonely and anxious, but experts say these effects are more pronounced for Gen Zers—who have spent a lot of time on screens from the start.
Compounding the problem, young adulthood, from ages 18 to 29, is a particularly lonely time of life for many, with or without screens, says Jeffrey Arnett, a professor of psychology at Clark University. Working in an office, Dr. Arnett says, allows relationships with colleagues, from friendships to mentorships, to form more naturally.
That means young remote workers may miss out not only on professional relationships but also on friends and potential romantic partners, says Johnny C. Taylor Jr., president and chief executive of the Society for Human Resource Management.
The potential problems aren’t just personal ones, of course. Working remotely presents Gen Z with significant challenges on the job:
- it is a problem for any remote worker to build a professional network, but even harder for younger workers
- Because young millennial and Gen Z workers generally have less experience and less power at work than other age groups, they often worry about whether they are on the right track.
- the sense of feeling among younger remote workers that they are “out of sight, out of mind” could be somewhat true. A survey in 2021 by Society for Human Resource Management revealed 42% of supervisors say they sometimes forget about remote workers when assigning tasks.
- Remote workers also may be more vulnerable to misunderstandings and bad feelings at work, in part because they are not able to form strong relationships or to build on existing relationships with people they have met.
I did like what a Harvard professor had to say about the issue, noting that employers have to take some responsibility in being more proactive in engaging younger workers, particularly those who are working remotely. This is especially critical in light of a survey by Bankrate which found that more than half of Americans planned to look for a new job within the year. And among those surveyed, twice as many Gen Z workers as baby boomers and Gen X workers said they were likely to start the search.
I also believe that employers should make a clear case of the advantages of being at the office as opposed to working remotely.
A friend of mine, a high-level executive at a large firm, said that he was surprised how few of the younger employees came into the office when given the option. With the office nearly empty, he noted it would have been a great opportunity for these younger workers to spend quality time with higher-level executives, an opportunity that was not normally available. Such opportunities should be noted so that those who want can take advantage of them.
I also found the following attitude a little concerning, but perhaps it’s me being old:
“Sometimes people just aren’t feeling it and they just want to stay at home and do their work, which is fine, as long as the work is done.”
I think a lot of people over the age of 30 have days where they “just aren’t feeling it”, yet they still go into work. I think taking the easy way out when faced with such a dilemma is not the best way to show your work ethic and your sense of commitment to the firm. It’s no wonder that there is a sense of mistrust of young, remote workers.
But perhaps the strangest part of the article, for me was, was the following:
A young remote worker had the chance to meet face-to-face with his colleagues at a rented co-working space in Manhattan. Filled with anticipation, he arrived early, took a selfie in the bathroom, settled into a seat in one of the office’s ergonomic chairs, and took part in the meeting.
As one of my colleagues likes to say, “Wait, what?”
*image from TRC Global Mobility