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Generation Z Seeks Guidance in the Workplace

​New entrants to the workforce are looking for guidance and mentorship from their employers, according to a new study. Members of Generation Z are grappling with finding and keeping their first jobs during a period of unprecedented stress. Having strong support from a supervisor, department leader or a seasoned team member can help immensely.

Finding a Mentor

A study of nearly 6,900 people ages 13-25 by the Springtide Research Institute, based in Bloomington, Minn., found that young people generally want to work under a supervisor who provides them with guidance. Eighty-two percent said they would prefer to work under a boss who cares about them and can relate to them on issues beyond work. Seventy-three percent said they are motivated to do a better job when they feel that their supervisor cares about them.

This need for guidance came as a bit of a surprise to Josh Packard, Ph.D., executive director of Springtide, a research firm that aims to better understand young people's life experiences. He noted that Generation Z has followed a trend, which began in previous generations, of disconnecting from traditional mentors in life such as teachers, counselors, athletic coaches and religious leaders. Yet despite not having those types of influences in the developmental stages of their lives—or perhaps because they didn't have them—young people are looking for that kind of guidance from their employers.

"That disconnection means that they're often trying to navigate these spaces without those guides, which I thought they were going to say was OK with them," Packard said. "But I was really stunned that—all the way down to the youngest ones we surveyed at age 13, who we're obviously not asking about the jobs they have—they're telling us they want mentors. They want guides. They really want people who take an active, invested interest in them."

Digging deep with employees may reap positive results. Even though young people typically have many online connections, Springtide's research has shown that many of them actively desire trusted, real-life relationships. "I can hear employers saying, 'That's not my job; I shouldn't have to do that. We're not trained to be your mentor or your trusted adult in the workplace,' " Packard said. "And I totally get it. But if you really want to attract talent and retain them, it may just be the thing that you have to figure out how to do."

Why Mentorship Matters

One of the reasons young people are seeking strong, supportive mentors may be higher stress levels. According to a study by business process outsourcing firm Alight, headquartered in Illinois, Generation Z employees say their top priority for improving well-being is stress management. Meanwhile, a new global study by Deloitte found that 46 percent of Generation Z members feel stress all or most of the time.

The COVID-19 pandemic has generally made things worse; Alight found that only 38 percent of Generation Z employees are positive about their well-being, down from 50 percent pre-pandemic. Deloitte found that the pandemic elevated young people's worries about financial well-being, with young women being significantly more stressed due to how they have been disproportionately affected by the economic downturn.

This stress may be why young people are turning to their employers for support. Mentoring and actively investing in the well-being of your employees is an ideal way to build community within a workforce. So is working toward a common purpose. Springtide noted that one of the best ways to achieve buy-in from employees is to build a sense of community.

According to a 20-year-old respondent named Leah, "Creating an environment where relationships are fostered is one huge way to find meaning because if you feel alone in a job, it's way harder than if you're doing it with others."

Meaning is important not only personally but also socially. In Packard's estimation, a key motivator for many of these younger workers is that they don't want to be shamed by their peers over the work that they do. "I think the smell test here is whether you can go to a party with your friends and be proud of telling them what you do," he said. "Are you going to be excited to tell them what you're doing at work or are you going to be trying to hide it?"

Finance and Stress

But while meaningful work and caring employers are important to Generation Z, many young people also are equally concerned about their employability and financial viability in the future. Only 17 percent of respondents to the Springtide study say they feel optimistic about getting a job at all.

According to the Deloitte Global 2021 Millennial and Gen Z Survey, 46 percent of Generation Z members feel stressed all or most of the time, and their financial situations are a key reason for that. About two-thirds of Generation Z respondents said they are stressed over their financial situations. Generation Z women, who have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, were found to be much more stressed than men.

Nearly 40 percent of all Deloitte survey respondents (both Millennials and Generation Z) said their employers had not taken adequate actions to support their mental well-being throughout the pandemic. Emma Codd, global inclusion leader for Deloitte, noted that the data shows a clear correlation between supportive workplaces and good mental health.

However, it's a bit of a chicken-and-egg situation: Deloitte found that young people are generally apprehensive about discussing mental health with their employers. "Many of them haven't told their employer," Codd said. "Many of them haven't taken time off, and those [who] have taken some time off for it aren't giving the real reason."

Codd believes employers need to be proactive and do more to normalize the conversation around mental health so that younger workers feel comfortable talking about it. The more employers can do to reduce stigma around mental health, the better. And employees also need to be made aware of the resources that are available to help them.

Codd added, "If you're going into a workplace that doesn't talk freely and openly about mental health and you can't freely see where the resources are, then the chances are you are not going to say anything." 

[Want to learn more about how new employees can thrive in the workplace? Join us at the SHRM Annual Conference & Expo 2021, taking place Sept. 9-12 in Las Vegas and virtually.]


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