With hybrid working now a permanent fixture in many organisations, how can employers ensure younger people in particular are supported, especially on days when they are working remotely? Garry Goldman, Head of Learning and Development at The Access Group offers his insight, supported by Dr Andri Georgiadou, Fiona Frost and Miguel Munoz at the University of Nottingham Business School.
Evidence is mounting that Gen-Z – the most digitally-savvy generation in the workplace today – might actually prefer going into the office more frequently than working from home.
After missing out on in-person experiences during the pandemic, whether at school or university, the phenomenon of Zoom fatigue has become very real. Despite the flexibility that remote working offers, Gen-Z is yearning for the office interactions that veteran employees may sometimes take for granted. Days spent working remotely have resulted in fewer opportunities to ask questions, absorb knowledge from the wider team, and cultivate friendships with colleagues during social events.
Our study, conducted in collaboration with a team of experts at the University of Nottingham Business School led by Fiona Frost and Miguel Munoz, corroborates this.
With hybrid working now becoming the norm in many UK organisations, we sought to understand its impact on employees at various career stages – and the results were stark. While attitudes to hybrid working varied across all groups, there were distinct indications that it might not be as effective for the youngest generation of employees.
The youngest respondents (under-20s) reported lower levels of wellbeing compared to any other age group. Specifically, their wellbeing was 9.7 per cent lower than the 21-30 age category and 10 per cent lower than the older age categories (31-40 and 41-50).
Why is this happening?
There could be several reasons for this situation. Younger employees, who may still be living with their families, or in shared and potentially precarious accommodation, might not have an ideal home working environment, especially compared to some of their older and more financially well-off colleagues residing in comfortable houses. Furthermore, the ongoing cost-of-living crisis has only added to the pressure, as soaring energy bills make it challenging for younger workers with lower incomes to afford heating their homes during the day.
In workplaces where hybrid working is offered, younger employees may have the option to work from the office, but in some cases they could find themselves sitting alone in an empty room, leading to limited interaction with colleagues.
Notably, it is not only the wellbeing of younger employees that is impacted by the hybrid work model. Our research also revealed lower levels of workplace engagement and perceptions concerning job performance.
Engagement among the under-20s was also 17 per cent lower than in the 21-30 age bracket; 18 per cent lower than the 31-40 and 41-50 age brackets, and 22 per cent lower than those between 51 and 60. Similarly, their perceptions around job performance are notably lower than colleagues in other age groups, suggesting a lack of confidence. Compared to colleagues aged 31-40, and 51-60, confidence was 11 per cent and 12 per cent lower respectively.
Is hybrid working?
Our study suggests that younger people might be disproportionately impacted by hybrid working, but that’s not to say the model doesn’t work. The reason it has become widely adopted is that many employees reported higher levels of productivity and efficiency. They enjoyed the freedom to work more flexibly and cut down on lengthy and costly commutes.
In fact, one respondent told us: “I love it because it gives me time to take care of my mental health, and time to rest. I don’t have to work in haste as I just have to go from my bedroom to my workstation. So, it’s one of the best things that’s ever happened to my work role.”
To a degree, we are all social beings who thrive on human connection – and when that is lost, wellbeing, engagement and confidence inevitably suffers.
Respondents emphasised the importance of being able to collaborate with colleagues, acknowledging that it doesn’t necessarily have to be entirely in-person. Good business technology plays a crucial role in supporting healthy workplace cultures, enabling everyone to work effectively and efficiently regardless of their location, and facilitating seamless communication with both their immediate colleagues and other teams. Such technology can actively engage employees in their work and learning endeavours, helping them to develop their skills and confidence.
How can tech be used?
Technology has to be used in the right way, of course to ensure its benefits. If its implementation leads to extra admin burden and complexity, then employees are only going to be left feeling stressed and frustrated. Instead, technology should focus on enhancing human connection, facilitating learning and supporting career development.
To combat the ‘always-on’ culture that technology can inadvertently promote, organisations should actively encourage employees, whether working remotely or in the office, to switch off and disconnect after their regular work hours.
Consideration should also be given to employees who are required to be on-site because of the nature of their work – such as warehouse and factory operatives, care workers and hospitality staff. While they might not require technology to work from home, providing them with suitable technological tools can simplify their work processes, leading to increased productivity and employee retention.
It is tempting to make generalisations based on the most vocal advocates or opponents, but the reality is more nuanced. That’s why the most effective people strategies and hybrid working policies, are informed by the experiences of everyone within the workplace, regardless of their role and career stage. Employers must remain agile to respond to emerging challenges, such as the cost-of-living crisis, in order to address the evolving needs of both employees and the organisation.
Garry Goldman is Head of Learning and Development at The Access Group.
Amelia Brand is the Editor for HRreview. With a Master’s degree in Legal and Political Theory, her particular interests within HR include employment law, DE&I, wellbeing within the workplace. Prior to working with HRreview, Amelia was Sub-Editor of a magazine, and Editor of the Environmental Justice Project at the University College London, writing and overseeing articles into UCL’s weekly newsletter. Her previous academic work has focused on philosophy, politics and law, with a special focus on how artificial intelligence will feature in the future.