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Study: Gen Z Anxious About Skills, Career Clarity

Employees who started work during the pandemic need help with professional readiness, resilience

Two business people working at a table in an office.

Members of Generation Z—the oldest of whom turn 23 this year—are disillusioned and anxious about their careers when they enter the workforce, according to The Readiness Index, a global report from LHH, a subsidiary of Adecco Group.

Corporate leaders must start making bigger investments in young people who are hungry for opportunities to utilize their skills, said Mary-Clare Race, Ph.D., psychologist and chief innovation and product officer at LHH.

"By taking the time to tap into the interests and existing skill sets of younger employees—while also offering clear direction for growth—organizations can alleviate some of that anxiety that comes from feeling underutilized and not knowing whether they're on track," she told SHRM Online.

More than one-third (34 percent) of respondents ages 18 to 24 did not think they could use their existing skill sets at work, the survey found; 33 percent did not think they could control the next steps in their careers and 55 percent said they were anxious about taking that next step.

"They are the most disillusioned as a result of starting their career in a post-COVID hybrid working world and also [having] the highest levels of anxiety," researchers said in the report. "A low level of control over their next step and a pessimistic outlook for the future has decreased their levels of self-confidence."

The findings are from a survey of 2,000 respondents working in France, the U.K. and U.S. It is the first of a three-year study and focused on financial sector workers; future surveys will be expanded to other sectors and regions. France had the lowest readiness for work scores among this age group; youth in the U.S. and U.K. had better and similar results.

A Readiness Index created for the study used three components to define readiness:

  • Personal—such as feelings of anxiety or exclusion, and individual control around work.
  • Workplace—such as company culture and management.
  • Environmental—such as worries about flexible working/hybrid working, a lack of job opportunities, general health and safety (such as COVID–19) concerns, and the impact of automation on jobs.

Alleviating Readiness Anxiety

Because of the pandemic, many members of Generation Z have not yet worked in an office setting and feel the lack of in-person connections.

"Organizations need to ensure younger employees are given opportunities to build stronger relationships with their managers, peers and employers," Race said. "Mentors and coaches are a great place to start."

One-on-one coaching is one way to bridge this confidence and readiness gap, according to Nick Goldberg, London-based CEO and founder of Ezra, a digital coaching platform.

"The hybrid or purely remote way of working is great in some ways for employees, but for employees in the early stages of their career, there is so much that is tacitly learned throughout the office," Goldberg said.

"Imagine a 21-year-old coming into their first-ever job; how much do you learn by simply hearing someone else on the phone? I think we are underestimating the impact [of the pandemic]" on Generation Z and others new to the workforce.

In years past, coaching often was reserved for senior executives, SHRM Online reported. However, Goldberg said coaching should start at the beginning of a worker's career.

"We often hear 'I wish I had this when I started my career; I might not have gone into marketing, I might have started gone into something else,' " he said. "Articulating your ambition is critical. Communicating with your peers and managing-up is critical, and a coach can really help you do that."

Ezra works with banks to help individual contributors get clarity about their careers. Goldberg noted that it's common for employees in their early 20s who see a plethora of open positions to think they can perform any of those roles but lack a sense of what those different paths entail.

A coach can help an employee discover, for example, his or her career interests are more suitable to sales than finance. A coach also can help a person develop resilience, Goldberg said, noting that "grit and tenacity are probably among the most desirable qualities for employees to possess."

That's especially important as people deal with the pandemic, global conflict and other issues.

"Learning to manage stress levels is essential. Especially in the middle of a mental health crisis, we should all be checking in with ourselves and pay attention to our inner alarm bells telling us to regroup and recharge," he said.

"Part of the reason coaching is such an effective tool for resiliency building is that it gives people a sounding board and a safe environment for constructive self-reflection. Studies show that coaches and mentors help us feel more confident at work, which, over time, decreases levels of burnout while also equipping emerging leaders with the belief in themselves they'll need to persevere." 


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