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Gen Z Wants This More Than Flexibility at Work

Employers will attract and retain more Gen Z talent if they can provide this.

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You'd think a digital native generation would want to work digitally, right? Think again.

I've studied generational dynamics at work for a decade with an emphasis on the emerging generations. Over that decade, Millennials and Gen Z have been consistent proponents of remote work considering their confidence and competence using digital tools. However, experienced generations (Gen Xers and Boomers) were not interested in exploring new ways of working. They stood firm that workers were most productive in the office.

Then 2020 said, don't knock it until you try it.

Remote work was stress tested and it didn't break. Millennials and Gen Z easily adapted leaning on their digital native-ness. Eventually, experienced managers and leaders developed a whole new appreciation for the ease, effectiveness and possibilities of remote work. The once anti-remote work decision-makers became pro-work from anywhere.

The generational tables turned. The experienced generations had reversed their stance of remote work. The emerging generations also reversed their stance. Instead of finally rejoicing that they now get to work the way they've always wanted to, they are now apprehensive about the new fully remote and hybrid work arrangements.

Laslo Bock, CEO at Humu, summarized this generational pivot well with this example, "The CTO of a 30,000-person consulting firm told me the pandemic has been great for senior partners who no longer have to travel the world and are moving to low-cost havens like Bermuda, but miserable for young associates who miss out on the coaching and apprenticeship of the 'before times.'"

One Gen Z student put it this way, “Remote work shouldn’t be a requirement for young people. Working remotely is less intense — which is great if you have a family or other competing responsibilities. But for workers around my age, it offers less opportunity to showcase work ethic and capabilities.”

The transition to remote work has been easier for established generations. They developed social capital in the organization or industry and have context around how the company functions. Emerging generations lack the social capital and context. And, they may never gain these valuable assets in a remote or hybrid environment.

Related: 7 Things to Know Before You Manage a Gen Z Team

Gen Z's remote work concerns

Virtual work isn't always the ideal option, especially for Gen Z. Many Gen Zers are concerned remote work will threaten the following:

  • Career Advancement: Getting passed over by co-workers who already had in-person relationships becomes much more likely during remote work.
  • Strong Relationships: It's harder to build trust with colleagues via strictly virtual environments. It's also easier to avoid conflict or other colleagues entirely when working virtually.
  • Growing Influence: Weak relationships decrease the influence someone might have with a group.
  • Gained Experience. Veteran virtual workers are more likely to handle work themselves rather than assign it to a new hire or young professional at a distance.
  • Professional Development: Mentoring opportunities become limited in virtual settings.
  • Culture Experience: Unable to experience the culture that's present in the office settings, meetings and other company events.
  • Industry Awareness: Lose the opportunity to overhear conversations and engage in other meetings to expand one's industry knowledge.

For these reasons, Gen Z is interested in experiencing something beyond remote work.

What Gen Z's Craving

This is how Gen Z ranked their feelings about how certain workplace trends would favorably impact their job:

  1. Free meals in the office
  2. Casual dress code
  3. Games in the office
  4. Team happy hours / events
  5. Work from home / remotely

Gen Z ranked four items higher than remote work. And three of the top four items are in-person activities.

Related: 6 Reasons to Prioritize In-Person Time in a Remote World

Additionally, a whopping 40 percent of college students and recent graduates prefer fully in-person work, with only 19 percent wanting to work remotely. This runs in stark difference with older generations where just 12 percent of all office workers prefer fully in-person work. Additionally, 66 percent of Gen Z want in-person feedback from their managers, rather than receiving a written report or chatting over Zoom. And 71 percent of Gen Z say they miss interacting with their co-workers in person compared to 61 percent of Millennials.

Don't let Gen Z's digital prowess fool you into thinking they want to execute all work virtually. 

Gen Z is craving connection.

Contrary to popular belief, they aren't cyborgs and have the same need for human connection as Boomers, Gen X and Millennials. Perhaps they have a greater need for connection, considering 73 percent of Gen Z report sometimes or always feeling alone — the highest level of any generation. While surveying a company for my new book, 82 percent of their Gen Z employees said `they experience loneliness at least weekly.

Returning fully back to the office might not be feasible or welcomed by all. But, fighting for ways Gen Z can cultivate more connection with their team, managers and the organization is important.

Gen Z isn't interested in missing out on the socialization and connection with co-workers that are so vital when starting a career. Creating environments of connection and belonging could be the talent attraction and retention secret organizations everywhere are searching for.

Related: 6 Ways Connections Create a Sense of Belonging Anywhere With ...

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