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Covid & the Workforce Under 30

by Ngozi Weller

April 5, 2021

What Do They Want? What Do They Need?

As a self-employed mother of two who has spent much of this pandemic trying and failing to find a workable balance between childcare, home-schooling, housework and doing the jobs that get me paid, I’ll admit it has been easy to look on rather enviously at my younger, childless counterparts, with their calm work environments and quiet households. But in truth, if I was to go back to where I was twenty years ago and ask myself if I’d rather weather a global pandemic when I was at that stage in my life over this stage, the answer is hell no!

My house may be busy, and I may curse under my breath as I’m interrupted for the third time in the space of an hour by a problem that someone else could’ve easily fixed themselves. Still, my family’s love, support, and company are essential parts of my wellbeing. Moreover, it is my house; I’ve bought it already, I’ve passed that financial milestone. I’m not paying an astronomical amount of rent to occupy a small flat in a populous city. I’ve lived where I live for years; I have neighbours, friends, extended family, all of whom are close by. I have a familiar support network that I can pester into accompanying me on my daily, government-sanctioned walks. I’m not six months into a lease in a London flat-block surrounded by strangers.

Whilst being self-employed during this pandemic is not an experience I’d wish on anyone, I’ve been fortunate, my business has flourished during this period, and I’m confident in my skillset. I’m not new to my profession and at risk of furlough or unemployment in the same years when I’m trying to launch my professional career. If something were to go wrong, I am financially secure enough to weather it; I have savings and a husband with a second income. I’m not £500 into my overdraft and crippled by student loans. Twenty-two-year-old me may have had her physical health, she may not have caught COVID in the same way that forty-two-year-old me did, but in every other respect, I think she’d be worse off.

So, when I hear my younger counterparts heave a sigh of complaint, I stomp down on that knee jerk, ‘you should’ve seen it in my day’ response (that I swore I would never develop, but seems to have snuck into my subconscious at about 35), and I empathise. Because if you take a moment and listen to where the ‘youth of day’ are coming from, you can see why they’re feeling so discouraged.

If we take a step back, it’s not just the pandemic that’s leaving the under 30s feeling screwed over. Even before COVID hit, there was an awareness among Gen Z and the younger millennials (25-30 years old) that, for many of them, work wasn’t going to provide the benefits and security that earlier generations had experienced. For those coming into maturity after the financial crash, luxuries such as homeownership, and high flying jobs with linear career paths, seemed distant dreams. Salaries for this age group are down 20% from what their parent’s generation earned at a similar life stage. The gig economy, which offers little long-term financial security, has grown significantly and is saturated by young workers. Not to mention that the steady increase in student debt and house prices over the last decade has made it increasingly difficult for this generation to accumulate wealth to any degree.

 

A recent survey by Deloitte found that two-thirds of younger workers had suffered a change in their employment and income status. In addition, nearly 30% of Gen Z respondents…said they either lost their jobs or were temporarily placed on unpaid leave.

 

More Than Money

The advent of COVID really just added insult to injury, as many millennials found themselves facing yet another ‘once in a lifetime financial crisis’, and much of Gen Z saw themselves lose out on jobs and placements that they’d only secured a few months prior. A recent survey by Deloitte found that two-thirds of younger workers had suffered a change in their employment and income status as early as May 2020, but two months into the pandemic. In addition, nearly 30% of Gen Z respondents and about a quarter of younger said they either lost their jobs or were temporarily placed on unpaid leave.

I’ve spun this tale of woe because I think it’s a crucial part of understanding the mindset of the under 30s, and most significantly for this article, understanding their attitudes towards employment. Gen Z and Millennials have little motivation to invest themselves in traditional career paths and often see work as a means to an end rather than a consummate part of their identity. Their jobs are what they do, they are not who they are, and for this reason, there has always been a strong desire amongst under 30s to facilitate flexibility within the workplace. Before COVID, this took the form of creative physical work environments (think Google, Buzzfeed etc.), with a few employers, such as Fast Company, even effectively pioneering five-hour workdays. The recent introduction of remote working to thousands of millennials has demonstrated to many that their jobs can be performed within a much more flexible working format, and they don’t want to go back.

This desire for flexibility is quite clearly drawn along generational lines, with research conducted as part of Deloitte’s quarterly Consumer Tracker of 3,000 UK consumers, finding that twice as many under-35s desire permanent flexible working post-pandemic in comparison to their elder counterparts. This means in practice that employers cannot simply decide for or against the policy of remote working, lest they risk alienating a section of the workforce. Instead, businesses must facilitate flexible working practices if they wish to content their longstanding employees and still attract new graduates.

Unfortunately, adopting a progressive approach to flexible working practices is just one aspect of the broader work that needs to be done to support the wellbeing of the workforce under 30. For example, mental ill-health is a massive problem within this section of the workforce. A recent survey by Oracle Workplace Intelligence found that Gen Z is more likely to be hit hard by the pandemic than any other generation when it comes to mental health. Within this report, nearly 90% of Gen Z employees stated that COVID has negatively impacted their mental health, a figure which is up almost 20% on the mental ill-health 38 to 54-year-olds, and nearly 30% on 55 to 74-year-olds. Much of this may come from the present or perceived pressure that younger members of the workforce feel to work harder during their first few years at a company. In fact, the same survey showed that Gen Z workers are 2X more likely than Baby Boomers to work extra hours during the pandemic, and Millennials are 130% more likely to have experienced burnout than Baby Boomers. This comes back to my earlier comments about how uncertain the majority of us are in our early twenties and the problems that this can cause when facing an unprecedented global disaster. The stresses and strains that an absence of savings or a strong social circle can pose ordinarily are multiplied to the nth degree in a crisis period. This is reflected in the astronomical rise in mental ill-health amongst the under 30s.

The silver lining to this soap opera is perhaps that, as a rule, Gen Z and young millennials seem to be aware of their own needs. This generation has grown up with a more involved conversation surrounding mental health and a greater value for their personal wellbeing. This group knows what they need from their employers, and they’re not afraid to ask for it. For example, statistics recently released by the group ‘Small Biz trends’ found that 54% of Gen Z surveyed view workplace wellness schemes as a factor that would significantly impact their desire to work for a company. Moreover, within Deloittee’s 2020 Global Millennial Survey, a piece of critical and repetitive feedback was that younger workers want their employers to spotlight mental health and work towards a better understanding of the causes of employee stress. Taking steps to safeguard employee wellbeing, be this through facilitating flexible working practices or other pro-active wellbeing strategies, is essential. This course of action will not only tackle the astronomical sum that mental ill-health costs UK employers every year, but it will also cultivate employee loyalty. This trait doesn’t come naturally to the workforce under 30, and is consequently a valuable commodity.

 

 

 

At Aurora Wellness we are all about mental wellbeing & productivity. To discover ways in which you can empower your people and maximise their full potential, contact us for information about our face to face and online mental wellbeing and productivity programmes.

Ngozi Weller,
Aurora Wellness