What happens when employers fail to hear young workers pandemic concerns?

Ring Central Blog


Facebook Twitter Linkedin Copy link post URL copied

Jan 25, 2022

Tracking the Generations:
Gen Z 21-24
Millennials 25-40
Gen X 41-56
Boomers 57-65

The younger you were during the pandemic, the harder your adjustment to working remotely.

Among the four generations composing today’s workforce, Gen Z and Millennials faced the most disruption — and will spur the next wave of workplace innovations. In response, employers are shifting their approaches to employee engagement, office planning, and hybrid/remote work communications.

As Gen X and Boomer workers were thriving away from the office, many Gen Zs and Millennials struggled and now, nearly half of these younger workers (ages 21-40) intend to leave their current jobs within the next six months. These are among the key findings of the RingCentral Return to Work study, based on interviews with 9,000 workers around the globe.

Employee retention is one of the most pressing considerations firms face even before office reopenings in 2022. And the way employers engage and cater to dissimilar generations may greatly influence their success. Organizations that fail to attract and keep younger workers won’t find it any easier to vie for talent in a dwindling pond of seasoned workers.

Complicating matters for employers, many younger employees — the same ones who say they rely on offices for social networking and career guidance — indicate they would rather not return to an office. Altogether, 43% of Gen Z and Millennials say they will switch employers if forced back to the office, compared to just 24% of Gen X and Boomers.

As remote work has all but eliminated in-office gatherings, many Gen Z and Millennials have started to reassess their career plans. What many younger workers want now is a choice — not just perks like free food or gym memberships. They also crave socializing opportunities along with mentoring and one-on-one meetings with peers. When they return to an office, they want it to be for a reason– a team meeting, a meeting with a boss or customer, or for professional training.

For example, Gen Z or Millennial workers may appreciate the opportunity to dive deeper into CRM tools, or try their hand at low code/no code application development or integrations. Younger workers may embrace development opportunities as a chance to accelerate their careers. Think of training as an investment in employee engagement — extending a worker’s future with the company.

In our study, half of Millennials, along with 45% of Gen Z workers, say that their career plans or aspirations have changed since before the pandemic, compared to 27% of Gen X and 18% of Boomers.

While the pandemic is having a profound effect on all workers, young workers, in particular, may feel sidetracked by the experience. More than half of Gen Z and Millennial workers say they’re more career-focused now than they were prior to the pandemic compared to only 13% of Boomers and 24% of Gen X workers.

Challenges of working remotely

To understand why remote work has been harder for younger rather than older workers, it helps to consider the challenges each generation faces simply to work from home. From the outset of the pandemic, it’s been widely reported that many younger workers lack sufficient space at home or even adequate bandwidth.

As a result, many Gen Z workers opted to move back into their parents’ presumably larger residence. These factors, regardless of employers’ remote work policies, may also have contributed to workers choosing to change their job or location.

Yet, there’s also a question of whether Gen Z workers have received adequate managerial support. Asked to evaluate their supervisor during the pandemic, fewer than three in five Gen Z’s said their manager was supportive of their needs — well short of the nearly three in four Millennials and Boomers who reported a positive experience.

Of course, making work adjustments impacted all generations. For instance, slightly more than half (54%) of American workers renovated or rearranged their homes to accommodate a pandemic work arrangement. Once again, younger workers had it worse. Seventy-six percent of Gen Z workers were forced to make changes along with 65% of Millennials — far higher percentages compared to Gen X (43%) or Boomers (38%).

As we saw in our comparison of working adults with or without children, while parents initially struggled to find their footing with schools out and daycare centers shut down, eventually most parents embraced working from home. Gen Z workers have sometimes floundered and while some have seized the opportunity to combine work and travel, many others have simply felt isolated or locked out of social or career experiences.

Making human connections

Socializing with colleagues may not happen at water coolers or in lunchrooms the way it happened before the pandemic, but that doesn’t mean it has stopped altogether. These co-worker connections have of course gone digital. And with that momentous change, the very definition of what it means to be connected has changed along with it.

For both Gen Z (46%) and Millennial (45%) workers, the litmus test for “human connections” is found in the expression “feeling heard by someone.” By contrast, a plurality of Boomers (48%) understand the phrase to mean “any casual conversation that is a two-way dialogue.” Fortunately for employers, both of these nuanced approaches can work well over collaborative communications.

One of the starker generational differences concerns their preferences for how they connect with colleagues as a result of COVID. Pre-COVID, for instance, Boomers were nearly twice as likely as Gen Z workers to communicate face-to-face with co-workers. The reason? More than half of Boomers prefer personal forms of communication, compared to only 38% of Gen Z employees.

Perceptions about making work connections vary considerably by age and experience:
  • Eighty-one percent of Gen Z’s say the definition of human connection has changed as a result of COVID — higher than for any other generation.  
  • Gen Z and Millennials are about half as likely as Boomers to prefer in-person or face-to-face meetings with co-workers. 
  • Accordingly, Gen Z (72%) and Millennial (79%) workers are more likely than Gen X (65%) or Boomers (51%) to agree that connecting online through voice or video calls is as good as in-person for work-related tasks. 

Despite a preference for digital rather than face-to-face meetings, both Gen Z and Millennials were more than twice as likely as Gen X or Boomers to say their relationship has actually improved with colleagues during the pandemic.

Respecting the differences

What can employers do to help minimize or prevent an exodus of younger workers? Many companies believe socializing holds the key. They’re taking steps to make coming to the office a little more attractive with plans for themed parties and face-to-face meetings (perhaps with masks) whenever possible. In some cases, the reshuffled office, with fewer desks and more group meeting space, will be optimized for work interactions, while the home will be where everyday work and productivity happen.

While generational views of the pandemic differ greatly on many points, there’s both a strong consensus and a shared set of objections to employers forcing workers back into an office before they are ready.

Though nearly everyone agrees their employer is making the office environment as safe as possible in an attempt to reduce the risk of contracting COVID, Gen Z workers, in particular, see work through a different lens. Sixty-six percent of Gen Z workers say they have anxiety about returning to the office, compared to just 27% of Boomers. The upshot? The younger the worker, the higher their anxiety.

What can you do to help workers or all ages through this experience?

We launched a program in March 2021 aimed at fostering new friendships between employees who might not otherwise have an opportunity to meet. The program, called Hello, RingCentral – Friendship Alliance, pairs employees who opt-in for a 15-30 minute private video meeting that serves as an icebreaker. Employee feedback has been positive.

We also offer mentoring programs such as 1:1 personalized guidance videos from Task Human for each of our employees. The app helps employees connect with a global network of specialists in areas ranging from physical fitness, well-being, mindfulness, emotional, financial, career and leadership coaching.

Finally, what’s most important to young workers is the quality of time they spend in the office, not the quantity. Less can be more. And what they want is more mentoring, flexibility and choice.

The more you demonstrate that you care for an employee’s well being, the more that kindness is likely to be returned to your company.

Note: This is the third of three posts discussing the findings of RingCentral’s Return to Work Study, fielded by Ipsos. Click here to read the first post, highlighting widespread resistance to in-office work. Click here to read the second post, highlighting the parental journey during the pandemic.

Up next

My Predictions for High Tech in 2022

Count me among those who believe that there will be no full-scale, full-time return to office buildings for many people in 2022 and beyond. I imagine that those who still have an office at all (as many shuttered during the pandemic) may come in to work for no more than a couple of days per ...


Facebook Twitter Linkedin Copy link post URL copied

Related content