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Gunjan Aggarwal

RingCentral

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Out in the cold: Gen Z feels isolated and unsupported

With increasing numbers of employees aged 20-24 years set to resign, HR needs to encourage better support from line managers
Gen Z isolated at work

2021 was another tough year. The pandemic continued to keep many of us isolated, impacting our working environments and the activities and services that would usually protect our mental health, from socialising and holidays to the reassurance of financial security or regular support groups. 

What’s more, the results from our recent Human Connection Survey in the UK found that, Gen Z (21-24 year olds) are disproportionately more likely to feel isolated as a result of working from home, with 3 in 5 (63%) feeling this way compared to only a third (34%) of 45-54 year olds. 

Ask any HR manager who has conducted exit interviews and they’ll know the impact a line manager can have on an employee’s job commitment

In fact, our data suggests that younger people may even be leading the recent wave of resignations; almost a third (32%) of those aged 21-24 plan to leave their place of employment, with a further 27% planning to leave in the next six months. Unless these feelings of isolation are addressed, organisations will face an exodus of their young talent.

Staff retention must remain a critical focus against a backdrop of the ‘Great Resignation,’ as replacing productive workers is a no-win situation for employers. There are a number of ways both HR managers and businesses at large can counteract such a detrimental trend in the workplace. 

Approaching conversations

Ask any HR manager who has conducted exit interviews over the years and they’ll know the impact a line manager can have on an employee’s job commitment. Which is why I found it dispiriting to see that nearly 1 in 5 (18%) of those aged 21-34 cited that their relationship with their supervisor has worsened since the onslaught of Covid-19 and shocking to read a quarter (25%) of 21-24 said they have not had any supervisor support during the pandemic.

It’s widely acknowledged that a positive relationship, built on a two-way dialogue, between line manager and employee is critical to ensuring workers feel engaged and valued. With a proper feedback loop in place it provides HR Managers with the insights they need to make the right policy decisions for their company, employees and customers.

As a priority, HR Managers must ensure their line managers are equipped with the right tools to have these conversations. Consider additional training perhaps, or introducing new tools to help people better connect.

Flexible working for empowerment 

HR managers will know that employees want flexibility and options when it comes to most things. However, it’s not just about any old options. HR managers need to uncover exactly what will work for their specific workforce and company. 

Undoubtedly some workers will accept any excuse to come back to the office

What’s most important is not a mandate but a conversation. With insights from the workforce in hand, take time to really understand what matters to them and devise options for flexible working accordingly.

Letting employees know they are being listened to – and heard! – supports a culture of inclusion that values and encourages the contributions of workers no matter how and where they work. Striving for better inclusion will undoubtedly lead to higher remote worker job satisfaction and better retention rates. 

Adopting a social-first mentality

It could be easy for managers to think that in-person social interactions will be a quick fix to reduce these feelings of isolation among their employees. However, with many feeling anxiety about meeting new colleagues face-to-face, in-office social interactions and gatherings won’t necessarily be the same as they once were, and initially may feel a bit strange.

Undoubtedly some workers will accept any excuse to come back to the office. But in many cases, employers will be expected to make an affirmative case for why work has to happen in an office and the importance of in-person collaboration and experiences. HR Managers and business leaders should consider how to properly engage employees and foster new relationships.

For example, at RingCentral we launched a program last spring aimed at fostering new relationships between employees who wouldn’t typically meet because of distance or other factors. Employees who participate in Hello, RingCentral, Friendship Alliance opt-in for a 15-30 minute private video meeting that serves as an icebreaker. It has had really positive feedback from our employees on how it has helped them create meaningful connections. 

Employee productivity and wellbeing 

With so much of our time spent working, the role of employers to support staff wellbeing has always been critical. That duty has of course been heightened by the pandemic, and the findings from our research underscore its necessity. 

Giving people the time to talk – replicating those water cooler moments – makes an enormous difference

For many individuals – particularly those living alone – speaking to colleagues may be the only chance they have to interact with others on a day-to-day basis. Giving people the time to talk – replicating those water cooler moments – makes an enormous difference. Likewise, managers keeping an eye out for changes in behaviour will also enable them to offer support if needed. 

For many of our younger workers, working remotely indefinitely will be ‘normal’ for them, or form the largest part of their experience of work. With remote/hybrid working here to stay, this year HR Managers need to really listen to all their employees and put in place long term policies and processes which will address these feelings of isolation and stand up in the future remote/hybrid working era. If they don’t, they risk becoming victims of every HR team’s nightmare – the Great Resignation.

Interested in this topic? Read How to embed sustainability into your organisation’s culture.

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Gunjan Aggarwal

GunjanAggarwal

Read more from Gunjan Aggarwal
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