The High Career Cost of Working from Home for Gen Z and Millennials

Early career professionals—Gen Z and millennials—can’t catch a break. The economy stinks, their social lives are restricted, and working from home isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be.

Millennials, in particular, are experiencing a nightmare case of déjà vu. Many of them started their careers during the Great Recession—and now, here we go again. Just when they most need access to colleagues, management, and a professional network, they’re stuck at home in front of a screen. Remote work is taking a heavy toll on their career potential and growth.

Working from home isn’t as great as you think it is

Remote work is here to stay, according to a recent survey from the Society for Human Resource Management: 68% of companies plan to offer flexible or remote work to all employees in the foreseeable future.

If you’re an older millennial, Gen X, or boomer, you probably don’t understand what it’s like to be in the early years of your career right now—I know I didn’t. After all, we’re doing okay, relatively.

•    Many of us are working productively from a guest room or home office.
•    We enjoy longtime relationships with work colleagues up and down the org chart as well as friends and acquaintances in the industry.
•    We’re not hesitant to message, email, or call any of these people.
•    We have the budget (work or personal) to maintain our certifications and attend virtual conferences and other events.

But it’s a completely different story for early career professionals.

•    They live with their parents or in a group house or apartment with friends. They don’t have a spare room they can turn into an office.
•    They might not even have their own laptop or computer.
•    They don’t have the same easygoing relationship with mid- or senior-level management.
•    They haven’t yet cultivated a professional network.
•    They’re in desperate need of professional development but don’t have the budget or encouragement from their boss.

Many young professionals are struggling right now with productivity and motivation. They feel isolated and disconnected from their peers. They’re not confident enough to speak up about what they’re missing and what they need.

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Everything young professionals miss when working from home

A great deal of informal learning and cultural assimilation happens in the office. In the workplace, young employees pick up intel that helps them navigate the office culture and their career. They get to know informal mentors and guides. They frequently receive casual feedback. They model their behavior on what they see.

You may not even think about these daily occurrences because you’re so used to them, but think about all the ways a young professional can watch, listen, and learn.

•    Overhearing phone calls, conversations, and conference room chit chat while waiting for a meeting to start.
•    Stopping by someone’s cubicle or popping into their office.
•    Meeting up with someone in the hall, kitchen, elevator, or bathroom.
•    Doing the “hover and pounce.” Remember how this works? You wait for someone’s door to open or for them to go into the kitchen so you can catch them without disturbing their schedule.
•    Being in the right place when someone suggests grabbing a coffee, lunch, or beer.

They can no longer count on the convenience of the office. Instead, they have to be proactive in reaching out to other staff. But will they?

They can no longer soak in new jargon, practices, and ideas. Now they’re out of sight and out of mind. This could be why another survey found that 95% of Gen Z and 93% of millennial employees report difficulty working from home as a result of the pandemic.

Advocate for young professionals by enlightening their employers

Associations often wonder how to gain the attention and loyalty of young professionals. Well, here’s how: be their advocate. Help employers and supervisors understand what they can do to help their young employees overcome the challenges of working from home.

Young professionals don’t have established work friendships and professional networks to rely upon for camaraderie and support during a tough time. Employers (and associations) can create virtual communal spaces for them that replicate the office kitchen, watercooler, hallway, pre-meeting chats, and open doors.

Employers need to get the truth out into the open and acknowledge the difficulties of working from home. Don’t pretend these difficulties don’t exist. Have frank and open discussions about what’s missing and what you can do to fix it. For example, provide:

•    Mentoring and other cross-generational activities.
•    Informal feedback and frequent check-ins.
•    Cross-departmental chats.

Provide a sense of belonging. Give young employees a better understanding of the organization’s goals and strategies. Explain their role and value in the bigger picture.

Most importantly, survey after survey has shown that Gen Z and millennial employees highly value opportunities for professional growth. Give them a budget for professional development, coaching, and/or networking.

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How associations can help Gen Z and millennials: professional growth resources

Young professionals are no longer receiving informal mentoring at the office—if they ever did. Offer individual and group virtual mentoring programs. When three mentors and three mentees participate in a group mentoring session together, there’s less pressure on any one individual. It’s a good stepping-stone to a more formal mentoring program.

In a group setting, young professionals can hear about different scenarios and receive a range of advice. They get exposed to more experiences and perspectives from both peers and mentors.  

Gen X and millennials want to grow and learn. They need to quickly acquire the skills and knowledge that will take them to the next step in their career. However, they don’t always know what they need to know—but you do.

Establish early career learning paths for different career goals. Each step along the path consists of a series of two- or three-week courses. Once they successfully complete each step, they earn a digital badge. Make sure these paths also include training in human (soft) skills. Emotional intelligence is needed for career advancement.

Supplement your online learning programs with career resources, for example, a library of articles and videos explaining different aspects of networking, job hunting, and managing a career.

Young professionals also want to stretch their comfort zone by acquiring volunteer leadership experience. Identify different ways they can serve as volunteer leaders. Provide leadership training they can apply to their work as a volunteer and as an employee. Either offer this training for free or provide sponsored scholarships for interested members.

How associations can help Gen Z and millennials: connections and community

According to Gallup research, having a close work friend increases fulfillment, productivity, and company loyalty. It’s easy to make these friends when you see them every day in the office, but it’s not so easy when you only see them at scheduled Zoom meetings.

How can your association provide opportunities for people to run into each other like they did in their office halls and kitchen? Young professionals need a virtual place to chat, vent, explore ideas, and share dreams.

Start by offering virtual meetup groups for peer support and networking, like morning coffees, lunch and learns, happy hours, discussion groups, and masterminds. Arrange opportunities for young professionals to meet up with older generations in small online groups.

After getting beaten up by the Great Recession and student debt, it’s no surprise millennials have been described as a prudent and thoughtful generation. Now, because of the pandemic economy, they’re being called “the unluckiest generation.”

When marketing your educational programs and membership, focus your messaging on helping young professionals find better luck by becoming recession-proof. Explain how membership and/or your programs can give them a competitive edge. Belonging to your association is a wise investment in their career.

young professionals
generation z
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