The new coronavirus epidemic is likely to have a lasting impact on all generations, but employers looking to reopen businesses and bring employees back into the office can't overlook the epidemic's effect on the youngest generation of workers: Gen Z, Lauren Stiller Rikleen writes for Harvard Business Review.
How the epidemic will affect Gen Z
The Pew Research Center has found that world events help shape how people view the world as they grow older. For Gen Z, many have been furloughed or fired from jobs they were just beginning, while those who were in school were suddenly confined to their homes, Rikleen writes.
While the exact effects of the new coronavirus pandemic on Gen Z are unknown, they are "likely to be particularly severe," Rikleen writes. In a matter of days, Gen Z "lost their daily interactions with the teachers who trained them, coaches who mentored them, clubs that fulfilled them, and friends who sustained them through the painful ordeals of youth."
They also lost milestones like proms, athletics, and graduation that "can be crucial to social and emotional development, each experience serving as a rite of passage to the next stage of life," Rikleen writes.
How employers can support their Gen Z employees
However, there are ways employers can support their Gen Z employees, both in the immediate aftermath of the coronavirus epidemic, and in the years to come, Rikleen writes.
Rikleen outlines three key areas employers should focus on to help their current and future Gen Z employees.
Gen Z's education has been interrupted in a way that many schools were unprepared to manage, forcing them to learn at home with their families in environments "not conducive to instruction without any preparation," Rikleen writes.
Given that research has found Gen Z already struggles with the transition from college to professional life, employers may need to have more patience—and flexibility—as Gen Z transitions into the professional world, Rikleen writes.
One way to help is through thoughtfully designed orientation and learning programs that take into account the "culture of flexibility" many younger employees want.
Mentoring programs, Rikleen writes, are another powerful tool for new professionals. While research shows that traditional mentoring can help new workers develop skills faster, Rikleen writes that employers should also invest in reverse-mentoring programs in which younger employees help senior employees improve skills in technology and social media. "For members of Gen Z, such mutually-supportive relationships can enhance their expertise and ease their transition into the workplace, offering employers the added bonus of a stronger multigenerational culture," Rikleen writes.
Members of Gen Z already report higher levels of anxiety and depression than previous generations, and research has shown exposure to major stress during childhood can not only have an impact on brain development, but can affect mental and social development, Rikleen writes.
To help, employers should develop effective stress management programs and policies to support workers, Rikleen writes. Employers should also develop programs aimed specifically at young employees, including early-career affinity groups and coaching interventions that can build new professionals' confidence in how they manage stress and anxiety, Rikleen writes.
Building emotional intelligence
Research has shown that emotional intelligence is a key characteristic of effective leaders—but the epidemic disrupted Gen Z at a key time in their lives when they're best suited to discover what motivates and challenges them, Rikleen writes. As such, it's important for employers create programs designed to help their Gen Z employees build their emotional intelligence early on in their careers, Rikleen writes.
Gen Z "will bring a special blend of resiliency and humanity to the workplace," Rikleen writes. "Employers can take advantage of these unique formative experiences by providing structured support to their younger employees that will smooth their transition and ensure their place as valued members of the workforce" (Rikleen, Harvard Business Review, 6/3).