Who’s had the hardest WFH adjustment? Gen Z

A year of remote work has been easier on some generations than others, but it’s the youngest workers who are suffering the most.
Feature Generational Work Life Balance Panel

This week marks the one-year anniversary of the moment many workers transitioned to working remotely, and for many that full-time switch has yet to end.

While we all know people who are handling the fully remote experience with ease, there are just as many workers for whom a move to working from home has been a major setback. Interestingly, there is some new evidence that indicates a worker’s generation plays a big role in whether they’re happy or not with the WFH life.

CommercialCafe just released a new survey of 1,496 employees, representing Gen Z, millennials, Gen X, and baby boomers, in which respondents were asked to gauge how balanced they felt their lives were now compared to before the pandemic.

Among the survey’s findings:

  • Around 70% of millennial, Gen X, and baby boomer respondents are satisfied with their current work-life balance, while only 45% of Gen Zers could say the same.
  • Regarding change, 37% of Gen Z respondents said their work-life balance has gotten worse since the pandemic began. Around 40% of millennials and Gen Xers said it has gotten better. Fifty-five percent of baby boomers think it stayed the same.
  • The younger generations tend to be more stressed. Fifty-six percent of Gen Zers bring stress from work home with them, while 66% of baby boomers have a home life that is largely free of work stress.
  • Millennials (58%) and Gen X (47%) are the generations that are most likely to take lower pay for more flexible hours, while the majority of Gen Zers (68%) and baby boomers (66%) would not.
  • Watching TV/Netflix is the preferred way to de-stress across generations.

Generation Z is the youngest generation currently in the workforce, with its members ranging in age from 6–24. The so-called “iGeneration” would seem to be the one most easily adapted to fully remote work, but all the digital savviness in the world can’t replicate the years of career experiences that have made the transition easier for older generations.

“Across all generations, more than half of respondents are working from home,” says Patrick McGregor, senior writer at CommercialCafe. “But, while most reported that their work-life balance was equal to or better than it was before, Gen Zers were generally less-satisfied compared to the other generations.

“One theory for this is that Gen Z is just entering the workforce and establishing themselves,” McGregor continues. “Normally, these entry-level jobs are a proving ground for new hires under the visible supervision of superiors. But, clearly, that’s not what’s happening right now. So, proving yourself falls exclusively to the work product. However, career progression is also about building relationships and, in some industries, it’s even more important than the work. Unfortunately, building trust and developing a rapport with senior employees and management just can’t happen as easily through Zoom calls, emails, and yearly reviews.

“Alternatively, millennials, Gen Xers, and baby boomers are typically more stable in their careers and are likely a few more rungs up the ladder — or at the top. They’ve already made it through the initiation phase; developed relationships with their co-workers, subordinates, and superiors; and gotten comfortable with the work prior to the pandemic. On the other hand, Gen Z had to go home during this phase and, as a result, they’re missing out on opportunities to rub shoulders with higher-ups and learn the ins and outs of office politics.

According to McGregor, those missed opportunities have created particular stress in members of Gen Z that has bled into their personal lives.

Ironically, 59% of Gen Zers reported a better work-life balance after working from home during the pandemic, even as they reported being more dissatisfied with their work-life balance during the pandemic. So, working from home has helped, but it hasn’t helped enough for the youngest working generation.

So, how can employers help their youngest employees not just cope but thrive while WFH remains the norm?

Sammy Courtright, co-founder and chief brand officer for Ten Spot, a workforce engagement platform, offers some suggestions.

Help them stay productive

According to a Ten Spot survey, 54% of Gen Z workers report being less productive when working from home.

While employers can’t help eliminate in-home distractions, they can provide some essentials. “It may seem obvious, but employers need to ensure their employees have a decent home office setup,” says Courtright. “A desk, mouse, keyboard, or monitor can have a considerable impact on an employee’s productivity.”

Further, “for some Gen-Z workers, this might be their first professional work experience post-college — and they may need some guidance on structuring their days to maximize productivity,” advises Courtright. “Managers need to consider a more hands-on approach, and part of their job training should include tips on ways to structure their days.”

Checking in more often with Gen Z workers may also be necessary. “Weekly stand-ups might need to increase to daily check-ins to get on the same page and connect,” says Courtright.

Fight boredom

Nearly half (48%) of Gen Z workers admit to being bored with their work-from-home jobs.

“Humans are social creatures,” says Courtright. “For Gen Z workers, one of the exciting perks about a job is the social aspect of engaging with co-workers, and this has suffered since the pandemic struck.”

Courtright recommends holding regular virtual social gatherings, but urges employers not to stop there. “With the pandemic, some companies have neglected the importance of continuing job training. Gen Z workers want to continue to learn new skills to further their professional development.”

Focusing efforts on continued skill development can help Gen Z workers feel like the company is invested in seeing them grow with the team.

Don’t overlook mental health

According to the survey, mental health and well-being is a top concern for members of Gen Z. They are, after all, the loneliest generation, in spite of being constantly plugged in to social media.

“While millennials spearheaded advancements in tech and social media adoption, Gen Z is the first group to actually grow up with it as part of their everyday lives,” says Courtright. “There’s more screen time, more Instagramming, more TikToking, and more overall broadcasting of daily lives and an immense pressure to compete.

“That said, Gen Z is the leading generation that is open to and seeking out help with mental health and well-being. So, Gen Z workers may be more conscious of their mental health and actively seek out ways to better their well-being.”

Employers can help in this area. “One of the biggest things that employers can do not only for Gen Z workers, but for all of their workers, is to embrace the need for and value of mental health and wellness and work to remove the stigma around it,” Courtright says. “Additionally, providing a support system of mental health benefits — from meditation apps to online and in-person therapy to training around managing workplace and personal stress and anxiety — is essential.

“But perhaps, most importantly, employers need to be open to listening and approach struggling employees with empathy.”

Skill development, part 2

When listing ways to overcome their remote work challenges, Gen Z indicated more interest in meal delivery services than in mentoring or professional learning courses. However, 59% ranked learning new skills as their top benefit of working from home. Courtright points to finances for this apparent discrepancy.

“At this stage of their careers, Gen Z typically holds entry-level positions that come with lower salaries,” she says. “For many, the free snacks and meals factor into their food budget.”

Skill development is important to Gen Z but on their terms. “They want autonomy when it comes to learning,” Courtright notes. “These are employees who grew up learning things from YouTube videos, binge-watching shows on Netflix, and shopping recommendations tailored for them by Amazon. As a result, they’re used to customized and catered experiences that they can access on-demand.

“Gen Z still wants to learn, but the majority want to learn at their own pace, in their own way. So, less ‘I have to take this professional development course at this exact time’ and more ‘I’ll get to it when I want to and in my own way.’”

Click here to sign up for the free IB Ezine — your twice-weekly resource for local business news, analysis, voices, and the names you need to know. If you are not already a subscriber to In Business magazine, be sure to sign up for our monthly print edition here.