The power of a connected generation

Future workplaces should be hubs of connection and professional growth

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs highlights that for individuals to feel fulfilled, they need love and belonging. It is true. Human beings, young and old, need connection. You may think, how does this relate to workplace?

The digital revolution, accelerated by the past three years, changed the way we interact and communicate forever. For the younger professionals, the once bustling workplace is now quieter, forcing them to enter a way of working that removed exposure to learning through observation.

Without a certain degree of connection, it is not unreasonable to think that employees may feel disengaged or lack motivation whilst at work. According to Anthropologist Robert Dunbar’s Theory on connectivity, “social connections can have a profound and meaningful impact on both our health and wellbeing as individuals.”

Many theories on relationships and connectivity seem to have a common denominator: humans work best together. Meaning, the office is not just a place to work in, but also a place where employees can connect formally and informally.

The majority of young professionals entering the workforce today, started their careers in either the middle or latter part of the pandemic, with many spending the last few years in and out of government-enforced lockdowns. This lack of face-to-face learning could mean the newest generation of workers may have started work unsure of the importance of connection and how it impacts their development and career growth. However, this awareness around the role connection plays within younger generations, and their careers, needs to start with organisations first.

Our 2021 article, Generation bed: why under 25s cannot ‘work from anywhere, touched on why organisations need to realise the negative impact home working was having on young professionals.

When asked what they wanted to do in a post-pandemic world, 73% of under-25s within our database indicated they wanted to be in the office for most of the week. Now that restrictions have eased, the data shows they have changed their minds. Only 44% of under 25s want to spend most of the week in the office1.

Our research over the last few years consistently shows that the office is more beneficial for those at the start of their career, so what’s the driving force that is encouraging younger professionals to work more from home? Is this a sign that this demographic are not stimulated to be in the office and, therefore not benefiting from connections created at work?

Employers need to proactively support how employees use their space and go beyond just understanding their role and where they can do their best work.

In our latest research report from 2022, ‘Purposeful Presence: how and why employees return‘, we shed light on how the role of the office has changed for employees and why visits are now intentional and planned. But how will the least experienced workforce, who started their careers working from home, going to understand the office’s purpose if they haven’t spent much time in one?

It’s not just the idea of the office that is making employees stay at home; the pandemic heightened the significance of personal wellbeing, especially among younger generations. If organisations struggle to create a culture that recognises the importance of wellbeing, and environments are not supporting employees’ needs, they’re not going to waste time coming in.

Many employers fail to understand the needs of younger demographics or how they should work. But there’s something they need to remember: young professionals are a crucial part of their organisations’ futures and deserve investment.

When comparing our latest data to an article from 2020, ‘The home stretch’, there has been a shift in how connected younger demographics feel to their employers. Our data from 2022 highlights that 40% of this demographic do not feel connected to their organisation – a stark realisation that many young professionals feel dissociated from their employers2.

What’s worrying is the direct impact a lack of connection is having on productivity levels. Our latest data shows that when the younger demographic feels disconnected at work, only 40% feel productive; however, that increases to 87% when they feel a sense of connection3.

When looking at how the office is faring, our data from 2022 highlights that 72% of under-25s believe offices contribute to a sense of community. But, if they are aware of this, why are their homes still the preferred place of work? Especially when 74% don’t have a dedicated workroom or office within their home4. If organisations want the most out of employees, they need to realise the direct impact connection can have on both the individual and their productivity.

When analysing our 21 activities, ‘Learning from others’ stands out as one of the most important aspects for anyone starting their career. The ability to ask questions about tasks, take advice from peers and ultimately learn how to work in the corporate world are all considerably easier in the office. This is clear when looking at our data from 2022, with a 19% difference in the office supporting employees compared to the home5.

Bandura’s Social Learning Theory also states, ‘most human behaviours are learned through observation’. It’s clear, when applied to the workplace, learning from others in both a formal and informal way is crucial to those at the beginning of their career. The pandemic has deprived young professionals of this essential attribute.

In the pre-pandemic workplace, observing those around you was a critical part of a young professional’s career. Whether it was learning organisational skills, timekeeping, office etiquette, project management or even dress-code – the power learning through observation held was unmatched.

It’s also worth bearing in mind that learning from others can be unstructured and spontaneous and sometimes lose importance and capability when offered purely as organised and scheduled.

Those who had started their careers before the pandemic had created important connections that are harder to form virtually. With these relationships already established, it may have made the transition to working from home easier.

Those who had started their careers prior to the pandemic were given the opportunity to create important connections with both their colleagues and their organisations. Many who started work either remotely or in a hybrid way have since struggled to form meaningful connections. For instance, imagine if someone in the office has a question; they can clearly see the right time to ask their colleague, but how can they through a screen? Just because their active button is green doesn’t mean they’re not busy. Yes, being in the office allows for more distractions, but having the ability to make a judgement call rather than hovering over the enter button helps to develop important relationships and an understanding of office dynamics.

‘Moments that matter’ is a widely recognised concept within workplace experience. These are the key parts of an employee’s working day that assist in improving their overall experience. For example, making a coffee with their manager or catching up with a colleague they haven’t seen in a while are small but meaningful parts to an employee’s day that help them feel connected to their organisation and to others around them. When looking at our recent data, it’s clear that ‘Informal social interaction’ is another high scoring work activity within the office, with a 41% difference between how the office supports employees compared to their own homes5.

Instead of those planned, focused conversations over Teams meetings or Zoom chats, work becomes spontaneous again in the office. The pandemic made employees realise just how important these small moments are and the impact they offer, especially when they were replaced with virtual, more formal interactions.

When considering the younger demographic, there is an important point being missed by some employers. For those who experienced work before the pandemic, it’s about a return to the office. For those who didn’t, it’s about being convinced to show up.

So, the question is, how do you entice your younger employees to come into your office and, importantly, keep them there?

So, the question is, how do you entice your younger employees to come into your office and, importantly, keep them there?

One thing is clear: if organisations are not going to create a supportive office experience, then why should young professionals use the energy, spend the money, and waste time coming in? As somebody who has only just started my career, I think employers need to look within and recognise how powerful the ‘moments that matter’ are in relation to how connected an employee feels.

The younger demographic of workers has not had the opportunity to build enduring connections the way older generations have. Therefore, the purpose of the office is unclear. Create a space that allows for these small but impactful moments by simply making future workplaces hubs of connection.

1 Days in workplace module, N=2,093, Q3 2021 – Q4 2022
2 N=12,229
3 Leesman Office, N=1,083,469
4 Under 25s responses, Leesman Office, N=45,201
5 Leesman office, N=1,083,469, Leesman home survey, N=140,482, both as at Q4 2022

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