Accessing intergenerational energy
Nicola Jones explores how Gen Z and millennial colleagues can help ease the transition out of lockdown
How do we sustain energy and imagination through the transition into hybrid working? As we emerge incrementally from lockdown, people are optimistic and exhausted. Remaining resourceful, thinking creatively and staying future-focused are huge challenges for firm leaders.
The question is, who can help? Perhaps surprisingly, Gen Z, who represent the youngest demographic in the workplace, have a unique perspective to offer, especially when it comes to remote working.
In a recent survey of early career associates in LawNet firms, 89 per cent said they wanted a mixture of office and home-based working.
This desire to work in a hybrid way is notable, because it might be easy to assume early career colleagues would like the sociability of being office-based. In fact, the preference for flexibility speaks of a generation at ease with flatter hierarchies and keen for autonomy.
Holding on to the notion that we can ‘go back’ to office-based working wholesale is, in any event, unrealistic, because covid-19 cannot be eradicated quickly. It is here to stay for some time to come (further pandemics are also predicted).
Finding ways to make the most of hybrid working means learning from the experience of lockdown.
An unanticipated and under-appreciated outcome of the pandemic is that we now have Gen Z colleagues who started their working lives in lockdownand have not become inured to traditional practices.
Younger millennials have also grown into independent working, perhaps acquiring management and leadership responsibilities for the first time, in a wholly new way.
While the whole population has had a radical education in what is possible, this group has had an introduction to work and responsibility in different ways to their senior colleagues. It might be tempting to view this as a deficit, or it could be regarded as a resource.
The observations and experiences this group have to offer are worth exploring in order to discover more about how to shift expectation, support engagement and efficiency. They have a unique perspective.
Make no bones about it, the impact of lockdown on them has been huge, because they have been constrained and restricted during their young adulthood, when they might have been enjoying the benefits of working hard and having a little money in their pockets with which to have fun, travel and start building their future in earnest.
They were the most likely to be furloughed and are the most likely to lose their jobs. A study by the Institute for Fiscal Studies stated that 24 per cent of young adults have reported experiencing mental health issues “much more than usual”.
They have also fallen into the gap opened up by the loss of face-to-face working before remote working systems, techniques and behaviours have been established.
These experiences need to be listened to, acknowledged and addressed so that this generation can feel that their commitment and effort is valued.
That points towards another reason to pay attention to their needs: they are more inclined to change jobs than previous generations. Older Gen Zs and younger millennials also tend to be characterised by being purpose-driven and more focused on work/life balance and well-being.
These elements of a firm’s culture have been tested during the pandemic. Those firms which have paid attention to relationships and worked hard to provide development opportunities using virtual resources are more likely to retain staff in the long-term.
This is particularly significant as the labour market for knowledge-based workers will receive a huge boost from geography-agnostic, flexible working.
Gen Zs and millenials have a lot going for them when it comes to delivering client-centered services in the 21st century. According to the Thomson Reuters report, The Generational Shift in Legal Departments, they are characterised by being more used to using digital resources, more collaborative and creative and more entrepreneurial in their thinking than their baby-boomer senior colleagues.
Generating opportunities to nurture and deploy these aspects of behaviour could distinguish firms in future. It will be those who can genuinely engage in working remotely, as well as offering premium in person services, who are able to thrive and offer their clients a model of contemporary working practices.
Early career colleagues deserve respect and support for making their way in a working world despite difficult personal and professional circumstances. There is a commercial imperative in acknowledging their efforts; getting and keeping capable colleagues will be a significant issue in due course.
Younger colleagues are also likely to have more energy, a refreshing perspective and an ability to see the value in new ways of developing client-centered services, all of which are capable of giving any firm a boost.
Nicola Jones is managing director of Athena Professional athenaprofessional.co.uk