Gen Z Slowly Learning Office Norms After Return to Work

Updated July 27, 2023

Three groups of people work together, with the trio on the left appearing to be meeting for the first time.

A large percentage of Generation Z came of age during the COVID-19 pandemic and, as a result, many began their careers with skyrocketing anxiety levels and deficiencies in certain soft skills.

At the same time, managers and hiring professionals have noted instances of helicopter parents in the workplace. Reports of parents applying for jobs for their children, trying to accompany their adult child into a job interview and even demanding their children get a larger raise have become increasingly common. Some researchers believe that Gen Z has grown up during a time when overprotective parenting has increasingly become the norm, and the resulting lack of autonomy has left a deficit in some Gen Zers’ ability to learn certain life skills related to navigating the workplace. 

Still, Gen Z is here and ready to get to work—they’re just looking for the right leaders and companies that can provide what most of us want: work relationships built on mutual trust and a healthy work-life balance. In this article, we’ll address some of the issues recent college graduates have faced and what they can do to better integrate themselves into the workplace.

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Managing mental health

According to a 2020 McKinsey Consumer Health Insights Survey, Gen Zers, those born between 1997 and 2012, are 1.5 times as likely to report feeling anxious or depressed than survey respondents of other generations.

Higher anxiety, paired with a lack of social development brought on by social isolation due to the COVID-19 pandemic, has made adapting to the workplace a challenge for some Gen Zers. In fact, a 2019 Workforce Institute survey of 3,400 Gen Zers found that many felt anxiety was the biggest emotional barrier to their success, and more than 34% identified anxiety as the biggest emotional hurdle in their career. 

The importance of finding solutions for work-related stress to prevent burnout is becoming increasingly apparent. Here are a few suggestions to consider:

  • Talk about it: Ideally, you should feel comfortable enough in your workplace to speak openly about mental health issues. Consider speaking with your boss about work-related stress and attempt to find a solution together, and don’t hesitate to reach out to a licensed professional to assist in managing your mental health. 

  • Request a mental health day: Many companies now offer benefits such as time off to address burnout and mandated mental health days to provide a supportive atmosphere for employees needing a leave of absence because of a mental health issue.

  • Use your PTO: Some companies push employees to use their paid time off each year instead of letting the majority of time roll over to the next year. Don’t be afraid to use your PTO when you need time to recenter.

  • Download mental health apps: Consider researching apps that could conveniently benefit your mental health whenever, wherever. Some employers include apps that help with sleep, stress reduction and mindfulness in their employee benefits package.

  • Get physical: Break up the monotony of your workday with some exercise. Sometimes it’s as simple as getting away from your desk, but you can also do some excellent mental exercises from a still position. When you can, take some time to do some stretches.

  • Be mindful: Practicing mindfulness is known to reduce stress, lower blood pressure, improve memory and lessen depression and anxiety. Take some time to get away from your electronics and disconnect. You can also take a moment to briefly meditate and refocus.

  • Socialize with your coworkers: Some remote employees report feeling isolated, so employees that work on-site might consider speaking with their coworkers and building relationships in the workplace. These relationships can help develop a sense of being part of something larger, fostering a sense of belonging. For remote workers, initiating online water cooler chats with coworkers, reaching out to other employees that might live in the same area can help deepen your connection with the company and provide you with an opportunity to further develop your network.

This article is for information purposes only and is not intended to constitute medical advice. Consult with a medical professional for any medical or mental health issues you may be experiencing.

Related: 14 of the Best Tips To Manage Your Anxiety at Work

The soft skills gap

According to a study by the Workforce Institute, Gen Z is concerned that their education and experience haven’t prepared them for the workforce. This includes the underdevelopment of some key soft skills like negotiating, networking and speaking confidently in crowds. Additionally, about a third of Gen Z fear failing in a leadership role and lack the confidence to lead.

To assist with developing certain soft skills, here are a few possible solutions to take into account:

Develop a growth mindset

Research from UC Berkeley suggests several benefits of adopting a “growth mindset” over a “fixed mindset,” which entails recognizing that intelligence and abilities can be developed. It’s important to remember that everyone is learning on the job and that mistakes are inevitable but can and should be learned from. 

People who prioritize learning, effort and tenacity tend to embrace challenges, persevere through difficult situations and receive criticism in constructive ways at higher rates than their fixed mindset counterparts.

Find a mentor

Another way to develop soft skills is by pursuing mentorships with more experienced peers. Getting involved with various departments and levels of leadership within your organization will likely expose you to new opportunities and perspectives in the workplace.

To get the most out of your mentor relationship, be open to constructive criticism, and be honest about what you’re looking for in a mentor. Mentorship is a two-way street, so be straightforward about what you want.

Take classes

There are plenty of resources to help you develop your soft skills, such as instructional videos, podcasts, books and blog posts, but one of the best ways to quickly and effectively improve your soft skills is to take dedicated classes with professional teachers. By working with an instructor, you’re better able to practice your soft skills and possibly learn more by observing others.

Related: Steps for Skill Improvement

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Adjusting to the workplace

In addition to overcoming mental health and skill barriers, Gen Z also contends with feelings of disconnect in the workplace at high rates: 54% report that they are not engaged in their careers. 

Lack of engagement at work spells trouble for Gen Z’s workplace satisfaction. Indeed’s extensive research into what makes people happiest at work has found that feeling energized and a sense of belonging at work continue to be the top drivers of workplace wellbeing and, in turn, general wellbeing.

Research from the World Economic Forum corroborates Indeed’s findings. According to their research, there are three innate psychological needs essential to wellbeing: autonomy, a sense of belonging and mastery. When these needs are met, employees tend to be more engaged.

In addition to finding mentors and developing relationships with colleagues, consider advocating for a choice in what tasks to do, when to do them and how much time to spend on them to foster greater feelings of autonomy and belonging at work.

Related: 7 Characteristics about Generation Z in the Workplace

The information in this article is provided as a courtesy. Indeed is not a legal advisor and does not guarantee job interviews or offers.

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