Supporting Gen Z at Work

Supporting Generation Z at work   My name is Rachel Stephen and I’ve recently started working at the NCL Keeping Well Hub. I’m a nurse and health visitor. I have a special interest in mental health and developed my skills initially in parent and infant mental health. I’ve worked in a range of settings including mental health settings within the NHS and the third sector. In 2014 I started working for the Institute of Health Visiting focusing on supporting the emotional wellbeing of practitioners. This work seems so important to me as I believe strongly that compassion breeds compassion and caring for those who care is fundamental to high quality health and social care. This podcast is focused on supporting Generation Z or Gen Zs in the workplace. Just to clarify who this group are at the time of this recording September 2022 they are under 25 and over 10 years of age. My interest was sparked not least because I happen to be the mother to 3 of them but also because information coming into the hub suggests some concern about how under 25’s are adapting to the workplace. I did some research around the literature which you can find on the hub website, that showed that this was a more widespread issue. For many Gen z’s the back drop of their early years has included iconic moments like the first black American President and the legalisation of gay marriage. They’re more likely to have grown up in diverse and blended family and as a result, they’re more accepting of difference. They’ve also born witness to (and many have been part of) monumental collective responses to injustice – like Black Lives Matter and the Me-Too movement. We’ve taught them well to call out oppression.  Ultimately, they are the generation with the potential to lead us closer towards creating a truly inclusive and just society. They’re also our first digital natives and their understanding and use of technology to form solutions is formidable. However, we know that mental health challenges have become a concerning feature of Gen- Z. Als a group Gen z are more likely to be well versed in the language of mental health and able to access information quickly, more time spent online means less time cultivating face to face relationships and that may increase vulnerability to feelings of isolation and depression. All of this is before we even mention the global pandemic, increasing inflation, crippling student debt and the cost of housing in London. So, what I wanted to find out is what can we do to support this new generation who have the potential to make a real difference. I came up with a few keyways that have been shown to help that I want to share with you. Firstly, we know that Gen Zs are way more likely to come from diverse backgrounds and rightly have strong feelings on inclusion and equity. They are likely to be strong role models for being open to diverse team members and helping us all think about inclusivity. However, they need to feel empowered and supported to do that. Creating space and time to talk explicitly about policies and practices that promote inclusivity is a must. These can include non-discrimination policies, diversity training, psychologically safe places to talk about diversity and inclusion such as team check in’s, wellbeing conversations, networks for diverse groups and Freedom to Speak Up Guardians. However, this also needs to be alongside widespread staff training and discussions which increase awareness of the challenges that staff from diverse backgrounds can face and the micro – aggressions they continue to battle every day they come to work. One BAME colleague I spoke to recently told me she feels like she has to put on a protective cloak every time she leaves her house. Another trend that does tend to come out of the literature which wasn’t a total surprise to me given the time they’ve spent on their own or on line is that Gen Zs seem more likely to lean towards individualism. In some way this is a good thing as they are more likely to be self- reliant and independent however, initially working in teams may be a challenge. I was really interested to read that organisation like Headspace, adobe and LinkedIn are already doing work to support young people to adapt to teams.  They talk about onboarding programs alongside induction.  Onboarding is described as a community-building exercise where employees can simply make a new friend. It might involve buddying, or a speed-friending exercise. One example of an onboarding activity I came across is Late Nite Art: it’s described as a learning experience involving live art and music that incorporates risk-taking, deep conversations, and problem- solving. Companies like Adobe and LinkedIn have used Late Nite Art to help employees go outside their comfort zone and get to know their colleagues in a meaningful way.   Then there’s technology. The closeness Gen Z has with technology presents opportunities and challenges. I’ve watched Gen Z’s help teams to communicate and find online solutions we have never even thought about. However, it’s also true that Gen Z are often more comfortable sending emails and text messages instead of calling someone or communicating face-to-face. Arguably this is something that many of us struggle with as we lean into technology more and more. However, it’s likely to be a greater issue if you have not been part of a world where telephone and face to face conversation were all we knew. So, the challenge is that Gen Z’s may have difficulty adapting to face-to-face interaction and will need our support to become comfortable with this. Having said this technology is both the present and the future so this is also an opportunity for us to consider how we can integrate technology to communicate in ways that are likely to be more familiar and comfortable to younger people. For instance, since Gen Zs tend to communicate with emojis, memes, and post reactions, digital performance tools that allow for instant feedback could be useful, in addition to simply incorporating the use of emojis and reactions into our online communication. This might seem over-the-top or trivial from the perspective of those of us from older generations, but it’s important to realise how these things are ingrained in the behaviour of Gen Z’s and how ignoring these can cause a them and us culture. Personally, having been initially resistant I now love emojis they often make me smile and feel warm towards the sender. I was delighted to see how frequently the keeping well team use them. Survey results show Gen Z have quite rightly healthy expectations of work/life balance and aren’t afraid to ask for it. Whether that’s wanting input over their work schedules, or taking their full holiday entitlement, this is a generation who work to live, rather than live to work. In the long run when it comes to work life balance perhaps, they can teach us how to reset our own priorities and look after ourselves more. However, there are tough realities for our Gen Z’s working and living in London. Perhaps as organisations and teams we need to be thinking outside the box about what we can do to support each other with the harsh realities of London life whilst celebrating and embracing the opportunities it offers. From a parent’s perspective I would like to think that my child’s future employer would be sensitive to some of the uniqueness of their generation with all of it tenderness, quirks, fierce independence and infinite potential. I would like to think that they would   be patient, kind and help them adjust to the professional world. Thank you for listening to my podcast I would love to hear any thoughts you have on this subject. Let’s keep talking.

Rachel Stephen is a nurse and health visitor who recently joined the KeepingWell NCL Hub as a Senior Practitioner. In this podcast, Rachel talks about how we can support Generation Z – or Gen Z – in the workplace. She touches on some of the challenges this generation face whilst also looking at what we can learn from them and how we can support them to flourish at work.

To access some additional references and resources click here.