Generation Z workers are struggling with the disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic, as their crucial early-career experiences have been forced to adapt to an evolved job market and way of work.
Not only have entry-level positions become harder to come by, but many young people lucky enough to land a job are failing to build meaningful networks while so many colleagues and managers work remotely.
Australian Bureau of Statistics data shows just 74 per cent of people aged 15 to 24 who were not in full-time education had a job in February – the lowest February figure since 1997.
Meanwhile, exclusive figures from Microsoft reveal 47 per cent of young Australian workers are struggling in some way.
It’s a global trend, with Gen Z more likely than any other generation to report having trouble getting a word in during conference calls, bringing ideas to the table, balancing work with life, feeling engaged and excited about work, and advancing their careers.
Sydney-based marketing programs manager Natassja Lo, 25, says she struggled to connect socially with colleagues after making the shift to full-time remote work last year, and it affected her productivity.
She became more upbeat, however, after her employer introduced digital collaboration tools and encouraged team building activities.
“Through (Microsoft) Teams, we are able to create channels for both work and socialisation, with one being a channel (hosting) contests where whoever receives the most ‘likes’ wins a prize, like a voucher for UberEats, The Iconic or Rebel Sport,” she says.
“My personal favourite was the remote work meme contest – I think laughter helped bring us together.”
Lo says she has since become more confident and more comfortable with being herself in front of colleagues.
“The impact remote work had on my routine was hard to overcome at first, but in the end I’m so happy to have flexibility as an option,” she says.
In Australia, Microsoft’s research reveals 50 per cent of Gen Z workers say they are likely to leave their employer this year.
Such a move may be risky, though, as a survey by human resources software company HireVue finds recruitment demand is skewed towards more senior employees.
Just 26 per cent of Australian HR decision makers see the most vacancies for entry level or junior roles and internships, compared to 38 per cent for senior management roles and 27 per cent for middle management roles.
Corporate trainer and author of People Follow People Sam Cawthorn shares his top tips for Gen Z workers who want to build networks and show they are an asset to their boss, even while working remotely:
1 ALWAYS SHOW UP ON TIME
As well as being good manners, being on time – and ideally early – to video meetings also gives young people the opportunity to establish professional relationships.
“They can connect and communicate and do the small talk before the meeting starts,” Cawthorn says.
He advises sticking by this rule “for every single meeting – no matter what” and recommends trying to foresee any issues leading into a meeting so they are always there five minutes early.
“As an employer of Gen Z workers, I have noticed they are always that little bit late,” he says.
2 OFFER TO HELP WITH TECHNOLOGY
What Gen Z may lack in experience, they typically make up for in tech savvy, so Cawthorn advises leaning into this.
“Gen Zs can gift tips and tricks around how other generations can adopt digital technology faster,” he says.
“We are looking at a world where everything is online … and Gen Z have the upper hand there.
“They should be generous with their time and their advice, and older generations will certainly be appreciative of that.”
3 SPEAK UP, BUT LISTEN FIRST
Cawthorn says young people who are bold and courageous and speak up are more likely to become “known” and therefore better placed for promotions in the future.
“Inside meetings, always be curious to listen to other people’s opinions and advice before you speak out,” he says.
“This means you are gaining all this knowledge and where everyone’s point of view is.
“Once everyone has spoken, give your thoughts.
“When your opinion is heard last, there is more credibility in that as well.”
If they are not ready to share their opinions, he recommends asking questions.
The key is to be “approachable and credible”.
4 RECOGNISE YOUR ADVANTAGE
Although many Gen Z workers may feel disadvantaged by their entry into the professional workforce during a pandemic, Cawthorn says there are also benefits.
“Gen Z are perfectly placed to leverage the current digital age,” he says.
“From adopting webinar technology through to being comfortable behind that video camera in meetings and conferences (they are at an advantage).”