“The next great disruption is hybrid work – are we ready?” poses the headline of a recent article by Microsoft that accompanied their 2021 Work Trend Index.

Its engaging commentary and well-rounded research provide eye-opening insight into seven core trends affecting the emergence of hybrid work. Fourth on that list is the idea that “Gen Z is at risk and will need to be re-energized” – a point that immediately caught my attention as I’d never seen this aspect of the conversation addressed so explicitly. And honestly, I wasn’t sure how much I agreed with it.

The data behind this claim was pulled from The Work Index survey conducted by an independent research firm, Edelman Data x Intelligence, involving 31,092 full-time employed or self-employed workers across 31 markets between Jan. 12 and Jan. 25 of this year.

The research found that 60 per cent of survey respondents between ages 18 and 25 said they are “merely surviving or flat-out struggling right now.”

The reasons they gave included:

  • Networking has become much more daunting for those earlier on in their career now that it is done entirely online.
  • Many are struggling to feel connected to their immediate team, let alone build meaningful connections across the organization.
  • Logistically, many are single and face unique impacts of remote work isolation which can make it difficult to find the motivation they need to work from home.
  • Being early on in their careers, many do not have the financial means to create proper workspaces at home, further contributing to that lack of motivation.
  • Many are finding it hard to get their voices heard in virtual meetings due to being new and less experienced, which can make it difficult to bring new ideas to the table.

Overall, Gen Z survey respondents reported feeling exhausted after a typical work day compared to older generations. They reported feeling largely disengaged or unexcited about their work under current circumstances.

Personally speaking, I can understand those feelings. I think most of us can – the difference is that for Gen Z, this version of their career is the only one they know. We are the first generation to start our jobs in a completely remote environment. Whether we intend to or not, we are actively setting a new precedent for the future of work. The expectations and attitudes we cultivate now are already shaping the way industries move forward.

Still, I would not go so far as to say we are “at risk.” In fact, I think launching our careers at the leading edge of this new era of work puts us in a uniquely advantageous position. We have a say in the expectations and attitudes we perpetuate – and we would benefit from being particular about the language we use to articulate them.

I agree with Microsoft’s warning that “Ensuring that Gen Z feels a sense of purpose and wellbeing is an urgent imperative in the shift to hybrid.” But, I’d consider rephrasing alarming statements like “Gen Z is at risk,” which carry a more negative connotation.

This article sparked a number of discussions between me and my peers who identify as Gen Z, which helped me colour in the picture with a little more detail. I asked them each to read the article and then answer one question:

Do you agree that Gen Z is at risk? If so, what do you think it will take to re-energize us?

Here is what they had to say.

Ryan Carruthers, Content Marketing Specialist at Together Software

Background: Graduated Spring 2020 and, after a year of uncertainty, freelance work and virtual interviews, has landed his first full-time job working remotely for the Toronto-based company.

“I have two contrasting opinions about Microsoft’s claim. The first is that I agree Gen Z as a whole is struggling right now. The job market is not easy to navigate right now, especially if you’ve just graduated. It took me a year to find my current job and I was fortunate to have a lot of help and support. When I did find it, it was through connecting with my employer over LinkedIn, which is highly saturated with job seekers right now, making it hard to stand out. In that sense, you could say we are “at risk.” But, from my personal perspective, it isn’t just Gen Z that needs to be re-energized. Everybody, now more than ever, wants to find meaningful work – a sense of purpose and job satisfaction. That’s what will re-energize our generation, but I think it applies to all of us. That said, I do think Gen Z specifically could benefit from a higher level of communication with our teams and being assigned mentors to help you grow your network, since that isn’t as easy to do online.”

Simran Bahl, soon-to-be new graduate in political science

Background: Graduating Spring 2021; recently completed a co-op term at Communitech and is actively interviewing virtually for her first full-time job.

“I definitely miss working in a physical office space and in-person interactions. But personally, I don’t think our generation is more at risk than any other. I feel like everybody I know needs to be re-energized – we’re all in the same situation, more or less. What I think is especially exhausting for us, though, is that so many organizations are still asking for 5+ years of experience for entry-level positions. Gen Z is craving a future with job security. As much as we appreciate flexibility, what we need is to feel like the market is giving us a fair chance and I think we have a long way to go to get there in a post-pandemic world.”

Sarah Church, freelance graphic and web designer

Background: Graduating Spring 2021 with her bachelor of design; is actively pursuing freelance work and interviewing virtually for her first full-time job after completing co-op terms in the Waterloo Region tech industry.

“Entering the workforce is really daunting right now, especially if you’re a recent grad and your only means of connecting with employers is through a computer. There is an awkwardness online that is hard to explain – it is a lot more difficult to leave a lasting impression. I personally am a person who would prefer to work in a physical office space and see my co-workers regularly. So I really worry about how company culture will be facilitated. I think there is a responsibility to some extent on employers to make sure all of their employees are doing all right and feeling supported to do their jobs. The thing to remember about Gen Z is that we have a very different lifestyle than older generations – we’re at a different place in our lives. We need different things … the fact that most people I know right now work out of their bed on a regular basis worries me. If we need to be re-energized, I think it’s a matter of developing healthy habits, taking care of your mental health and finding a work/life balance that works in this hybrid context.”

And maybe that’s the ticket – “what works” is going to look different for every company and every individual. I think this new world of work gives us agency to choose what lifestyle energizes us and what work we find meaningful. It’s up to the individual to determine what gives them purpose, and it’s up to the organization they choose to work for to nurture that intrinsic motivation continuously.