Featured in today's briefing:
- How Gen Z is changing the workplace.
- How companies are deciding which societal issues to speak out on.
- When everyone is out on summer vacation.
The latest virus forecast: The US had about 128,000 new cases reported on Friday, up 18% from the level two weeks earlier. Hospitalizations are up almost 20% nationally over the last two weeks.
The business impact: Some economists think inflation will slow from the 9.1% rate in June, amid falling gas, shipping and commodities prices. Surveys suggest US economic activity has fallen sharply this month.
Focus on How Gen Z is Changing the Workplace
Generation Z is relatively new to the workforce, but is having an outsized impact on the preoccupations of many managers. The expectations of this generation—sometimes defined as anyone born 1997 onward—often loom large in conversations about the future of offices, the Great Resignation, and how much businesses should speak out on societal issues.
To explore why, we reached out to Maia Ervin, chief people officer at JUV Consulting, a Gen Z digital marketing agency. Here are excerpts from our conversation, edited for space and clarity:
We spoke recently with a group of managers who said emphatically that they felt young employees today were more challenging to manage than in the past. How would you respond to that?
I think that it's true. I don't think that we should act like it isn't difficult to meet the many demands that were not demands before. A lot of companies do have to get used to the fact that mental health sick days are something that folks may be asking for. Or things like, I'm having a period and I really don't feel like coming into work today. Those are conversations that some organizations are genuinely new to having, and it would be unfair to say that it isn't difficult to have those conversations if you never experienced it before. But what we have to realize is that every generation that came into the workforce shook it up and we're just shaking it up in a different way.
Of course, it will take a minute for folks to adapt. But they do know that they have to adapt because that's where the workforce is going and you want to retain young talent. It absolutely is difficult, but you should be honest about what you can and cannot do with the resources that you have. That's something else that's super important: Don't overpromise based off what you think that they want to hear. Be realistic about what your organization can do and can provide for the workers.
The managers we spoke with cited their perception that young workers are less focused on doing the work required, more reluctant to put in extra effort and hours to advance themselves or their company, and more distractible by what managers view as internal debates and considerations. What do you make of that?
This generation wants to be involved in a lot of things, especially as it pertains to their job. They fundamentally approach work differently than previous generations. With previous generations, it was definitely about sitting down doing the work, doing as you're told, and you don't ask questions. This generation absolutely is going to ask, 'How is what I'm doing related to the overall company mission?' Which is going to require extra time and an extra conversation. But actually engaging in those conversations will encourage retention. It's showing these Gen Zers who often do want to see how their work is contributing to the overall role of this company in a larger sense, showing them the way. Breaking it down for them shows that you're invested in their personal development because you're increasing their understanding of how the business works. But it also shows that you're invested in their professional development because obviously the role matters to the organization.
So absolutely Gen Z is certainly a bit more challenging. A part of that is due to how every generation is shaped by the political realities and the things that happen during their time. This generation asks a lot of questions, given our political reality. But it's also an opportunity for professional development by the managers.
What advice do you have for colleagues and managers of Gen Z workers?
Transparency. It's not about putting on the facade that everything is perfect, that everything is together because obviously that's not realistic and we're all people. Mentioning what you can do with the resources that you have really does go a long way instead of maybe not even trying to have that conversation at all, trying to avoid the elephant in the room. Instead let's address it, let's be honest about what we can do given the resources that we have in the department or in the organization.
The other thing is, do not be afraid to tap into Gen Z as thought leaders. If you're young or new to a role, obviously there's some hesitation about tapping into you and giving you a level of agency. But this generation has proven themselves as leaders in other realms like politics and being behind a lot of the movement during summer 2020 and social media natives—that puts us in a unique position that we can definitely be utilized in a lot of different areas of organizations where we may not be.
What are common mistakes that colleagues and managers of Gen Z workers make?
A one-size-fits-all approach. Everybody's different. Everybody is motivated by different things. Fundamentally we get too stuck on trying to change what people are motivated by instead of changing ways that we could motivate them based off what they're motivated by. We often tack on labels to this generation, like 'lazy' or 'not wanting to work hard.' But it's really about what they are actually motivated by. Have you tried to have that conversation with them and have you tried to make any adjustments based off those things?
The second mistake is not remembering what it was like for everybody else to be 20. How ambitious was everybody else when they first got into the workplace? At 22 years old, I remember how ambitious I was and I'm only 26. There definitely is a need to level set sometimes that folks may be missing out on because of remote work. So find the opportunities to have those conversations. Don't shy away from it. Don't say it's too difficult because they're too young and they don't get it. Instead, say 'Let's have the conversation, break it down to me. I'm more than open to discuss it with you.'
How will Gen Z shape work and workplaces for the future?
I love that question. I really feel like this generation will encourage organizations to reimagine what workplace culture is, even though everything that we are asking for and demanding can seem a bit overzealous at times. I do think that it's important for us to do that, to encourage conversations to be had. We have different organizations in Europe, for example, doing the four-day work week, testing out to see if that's actually productive and if that improves retention and showing that folks are actually willing to work long hours so they can enjoy their four-day work week.
This generation is going to encourage folks to begin to dabble in exactly what we want workplace culture to look like. This generation wants workplace culture to look like the world that they want to live in. Having these tough demands and these tough conversations is pushing us in the right direction, even if it can be a bit difficult at times.
Read a full transcript of our conversation, including more about workplace friendships, training, mental health, and how Gen Z sees employers’ involvement in societal issues.
What Else You Need to Know
Companies are staying mum on recent Supreme Court decisions. Only a minority of companies is making public statements in the wake of decisions on reproductive rights (Dobbs) and gun regulation (Bruen), according to a new survey by The Conference Board.
- While 31% of companies aren’t planning to respond to Dobbs, 73% aren’t addressing Bruen. The numbers reflect the pressures felt by companies: 26% say they have felt pressure to respond to Dobbs, 13% to both, and no firms felt pressure to respond only to Bruen.
- While only 10% of companies have responded or plan to respond to Dobbs with public statements, 51% have either internally addressed or plan to address reproductive rights internally to employees.
- Some 61% of companies cite the issue’s relationship with their “core values” as a criterion for deciding whether to take a stand on issues raised by the decisions. Another 29% cite the issue’s relationship to their business, and 23% mention the ability to make a meaningful impact.
- Companies should consider establishing a way for employees to raise issues and should create consistent criteria and a process for management to decide whether and how to address issues, The Conference Board said.
- Some 75% of companies said the decision on how to respond to Dobbs or Bruen rested with either the CEO alone or the CEO and senior management.
Long-postponed events and pent-up demand for vacation are leaving businesses with a critical mass of employees out of office. To accommodate the influx of requests for time off, some employers are postponing projects, incentivizing workers to reschedule plans, or simply shutting down for a short period of time.
- Airbnb bookings for the summer are up 30% compared to pre-pandemic levels, and bookings for short- and medium-length flights surpassed pre-pandemic levels earlier this year.
- The comeback of major events such as weddings is also driving the uptick in PTO days: The US will see an estimated 2.5 million weddings in 2022, the highest number in nearly four decades. Some couples that married during the pandemic are now throwing delayed bachelor and bachelorette parties and other celebrations.
- Airfares fell slightly last month, a sign that the vacation crush may be easing as inflation has some workers rethinking their travel plans.
A record number of workers now hold two full-time jobs. As inflation continues to outpace wage growth, some 426,000 people in the US are working at least 35 hours per week per job at more than one job to make ends meet.
- While average hourly pay has increased by 5.1% over the past year, it decreased by 3.6% when adjusted for inflation. In a recent survey of middle-class workers in the US, some 75% said their earnings no longer covered the cost of living.
- High gas prices have disproportionately impacted low-wage workers, eating into any disposable income.
- Over the past two years, the rise of remote work has also led some knowledge workers to secretly take on a second job.
Unionization efforts are on the rise. Some 1,892 union petitions were filed with the National Labor Relations Board from October 2021 through June of this year, a 58% increase from the same period a year prior, as pandemic-fatigued workers continue to seek greater flexibility, better pay, and protection from burnout.
- At the same time, the NLRB saw a 16% rise in the number of complaints of unfair labor practices.
- Major companies including Amazon, Apple, and Starbucks are currently facing union drives, and 59% of workers in a recent CNBC poll said they would support similar efforts at their own workplaces.
- The uptick in union activity is playing out against a widening gap between CEO and employee wages: Last year, compensation for the heads of S&P 500 companies was 324 times median employee pay, according to a report from the AFL-CIO, and rose by 18% from the prior year even as workers’ inflation-adjusted pay decreased.
Return to workplace speed round:
- Women and employees of color make up a higher percentage of Meta’s workforce since it instituted a more liberal remote-work policy.
- Job satisfaction among federal employees fell between 2020 and 2021, driven largely by lack of clarity over return-to-office plans.
- Employees’ preferred number of remote days per week (an average of 2.81 days) is increasingly aligned with employer plans (an average of 2.37 days), with a gap between the two of just 0.44 days last month.
- More than a third of workers say they likely wouldn’t face any consequences for coming into the office fewer days than their employers required, according to a new survey from WFH Research.
- The same survey also found that remote work in the US is most common in large urban centers such as New York and Los Angeles, where knowledge workers stay home around 38% of the time, compared to 29% in midsized cities and 26% in small ones.
- A growing number of nurses, burned out from years of in-person patient care during the pandemic, are moving to remote roles in telehealth.
- Some hiring managers, frustrated by all-remote recruiting processes, are leaving signs on the doors of their businesses encouraging job seekers to walk in and apply in person.
- Some 40% of global employers are leaving workers out of decision-making conversations around remote work and return-to-office plans, according to new research from workplace experience company ISS.
Here are some of the best tips and insights from the past week for managing yourself and your team:
- Pick one thing on your plate to return. If you’ve taken on additional tasks to lighten the load for your colleagues, lessen your risk of overwork and burnout by giving one of those tasks back. It can be something small, like scheduling meetings or sending update emails, or something larger, like transferring ownership of a project. Whatever you choose, communicate a clear plan for handing it off.
- Have a sign for passing the baton. Interjecting during a meeting can be more difficult for remote attendees, who can’t use the typical nonverbal cues to determine when to jump in. To level the playing field, establish a signal people can use to flag to the facilitator that they’d like to contribute, such as unmuting, clicking the “raise hand” button on video chat, or actually raising their hand onscreen.
- Start and end vacations midweek. To cut down on pre-or post-vacation stress, consider starting your time off on a Wednesday or coming back to work on a Friday. The former gives you a short week to tie up loose ends and allows you to avoid weekend travel crowds, while the latter eases you more gently back to work.
- Track quality-of-hire metrics. Redefine hiring success by moving from a system that only tracks cost-of-hire, time-to-hire, or filled vacancies to one that incorporates quality-of-hire metrics, like retention and whether managers would rehire the candidate again.
- Audit compensation more often. Rather than relying on a single pay-equity analysis at the end of the year, conduct an additional review at the mid-year mark to benchmark progress and make adjustments in real time.
Summer interns are heading into empty offices. Many new grads and students are finding that their introduction to the workplace isn’t what they imagined, as they show up in person only to discover that their supervisors—and, in some cases, the rest of their colleagues—are all working from home.
- “The thing I’ve always been taught by my parents is to be the first one in and last one out,” one entertainment agency intern told The New York Times. “But there’s no one else there.”
The handbook for this new era of business doesn’t exist. We’re all drafting our own as we go along—and now we’d like to start doing so together. You can sign up here to receive this briefing by email.