If one is the loneliest number, Z must be the loneliest letter. How else would you explain why Gen Z, a demographic coming of age and making its first foray into the workforce, feels so left out?
It's an ironic sentiment when you consider Gen Z's constant connection to social media. Despite all the hours Gen Zers log posting, liking and swiping on their preferred platforms, their interpersonal skills still lag. According to research in the journal Child Development, their older siblings, parents and grandparents were far more likely to attain adolescent milestones, such as a driver's license or a part-time job.
In terms of alienation, Gen Z is 10 points lonelier than the runner-up – the silent generation – according to the Cigna U.S. Loneliness Index. Whether it's from a general sense of shyness or belief that no one understands them, these young people face serious psychological challenges when forced to interact with others. Not surprisingly, they withdraw and retreat rather than directly confront difficult social options.
With 61 million Gen Zers preparing to enter the workforce, the need to build a workplace that welcomes them becomes imperative. Creating a work environment that brings Gen Zers out of their shells is key in keeping this emerging demographic socially engaged in the workplace.
Strong, silent types
To posit that Gen Zers aren't as accustomed to "playing with others" (in a work setting or otherwise) as millennials are isn't completely true. If you look at the calendar of someone in the 18-to-22-year-old demographic, it's likely packed with athletic practices and games, club meetings, and other commitments. However, those experiences don't equal emotional satisfaction; they just add more weight to already burdened shoulders.
During a Facebook Live event, Smith College staff member Rachel Simmons explained that an abundance of social commitments cause Gen Zers to dilute the quality of time they spend with others, making it harder to make and keep friends and easier to feel socially isolated.
When individuals who've grown up so emotionally siloed hit the workforce, they may have trouble adjusting to their roles. Although they know how to put their best foot forward, they still miss out on building happy and lasting impressions. The last thing employers want is an employee completely unequipped with soft skills, but that's what some Gen Z employees bring: minimal conflict-to-resolution exposure and little to no eagerness to mature and evolve.
These are highly intelligent young people, but they've learned the best way to avoid social pressures (like bullying or online humiliation) is withdrawal. Thus, compared to years past, many students are now growing up educated in cyberschools or in the home, which can lead to potential adjustment periods when faced with job structure.
That said, Gen Zers are also an optimistic bunch. Employers can benefit from Gen Z's can-do attitude by cultivating a work environment that recognizes their needs and works to properly address them.
How to make a Gen Z-friendly work zone
1. Take it from the top.
Appealing to Gen Z workers has to start at the source. Focus on initial training protocols in the onboarding processes that introduce all employees to different work styles and soft skills – this kind of culture is vital for success. In the case of the latter, 44 percent of leaders lamented to Adecco that they felt incoming trainees weren't wowing them with soft skills, traits a Hay Group study believes can improve performance by nearly a third.
Business leaders and company trainers are already setting expectations during this training period; they just need to ensure that training is tailored to the messages Gen Z needs to hear in order to succeed at their company.
2. Don't put feedback on the back burner.
Once in place, build on these engagement and cross-pollination measures with regular and constructive feedback. For instance, a manager might want to set up regular leadership check-ins to talk about how a group project is going. Constant give-and-take will establish honest rapport and show everyone how to produce high-level work without feeling overwhelmed or socially uncomfortable. At the same time, employers can feed Gen Z employees the bite-sized projects they're accustomed to working on solo.
Not only will this help Gen Zers accept ideas and fill in performance and knowledge gaps, but it will also encourage intergenerational communication. Because the majority of workplaces include a mix of Gen Zers, millennials, Gen Xers and baby boomers, having the ability to interact one on one imparts value to both the individuals and the organization.
Ultimately, businesses must be ready to look at working life through a different lens. Gen Zers are entering the workforce, and your company isn't exempt. Learn what makes this new generation tick and get your current team to do the same. You (and your bottom line) will be grateful for it.