Parents, particularly mothers, have been slammed by the new realities of work, as they try to balance childcare and productivity. Meanwhile, older workers are at the greatest risk from the virus, so it's natural to worry about their state of mind. But how about Millennials? How are they coping with our new post-Covid reality?
Younger workers at first seem comparatively well-placed to weather the pandemic. Generally tech savvy, they've been lobbying for more flexible work for years. They're healthy, mobile, and relatively unburdened with caring responsibilities. All that means you're probably less worried about your youngest employees. New surveys suggest that might be a mistake.
Millennials really miss the office.
A new survey of 1,000 American workers commissioned by Smartsheet shows Millennials (as well as members of Gen-Z, whose oldest members are 25, currently in the workforce) are actually most anxious to get back to the old normal. Compared to older colleagues, young workers are missing the office the most:
95 percent of Generation Z and 93 percent of Millennial workers report difficulty working from home as a result of Covid-19
82 percent of Generation Z and 81 percent of Millennials report feeling less connected, compared to around 75 percent of the workforce overall
74 percent of Generation Z and 66 percent of Millennials say they feel less informed about what's going on at work, versus 53 percent of Generation X and 50 percent of Boomers
61 percent of Generation Z and 57 percent of Millennials say the amount of time spent on video calls each day is making it hard to get work done, compared to 35 percent of Generation X and 26 percent of Boomers
That's just one survey, you might object. But as Quartz's Cassie Weber points out, "Other research also suggests that young people are struggling with remote work. In a June 2020 survey of 3,000 workers by JLL, a large professional services firm that specializes in real estate and investment management, 65 percent of workers under 35 said they missed the office, compared to 58 percent of workers overall."
That's probably news to many leaders. What's got your youngest workers so bummed? Unsurprisingly, Smartsheet, a collaboration software company, suggests the problem is that Millennials are bad at managing the deluge of updates, Zoom calls, and other tech distractions coming at them while working from home.
No doubt Smartsheet believes its products are the answer, but despite the self-promotion there may be an element of truth to that. Millennials were already legendary for their connected lifestyles before the crisis. Perhaps they really are struggling to manage their screens now that they don't have the physical separation of the office to help limit, or at least structure, their time online.
But Weber has a more convincing hypothesis. "They're more likely to be single, and therefore may be experiencing the pandemic as a lonely time divided from social contacts," she writes. Which might not sound like the worst problem during a pandemic. But humans are social creatures, and both research and experience suggest that loneliness can be a killer for your mental and physical health. No wonder young workers are missing the social connection of the office.
How to help your youngest workers
What does all this mean for leaders? Simply that you should spare a thought for your youngest employees and not assume they're coasting through these unprecedented times. Could clearer guidance on when they need to be connected help them? Could different communication tools, a better approach to project management, or more frequent check-ins be useful? Perhaps organized attempts to keep the social aspects of the office going at a distance might help?
Your younger workers may very well be struggling more than you think. Talking to them to see if you can help them cope better isn't just the decent, human thing to do--it's also likely to result in more and better work.