Chris Read: Reaching out to Generation Zoom via snail mail

As Generation Z enters the workforce via Zoom Chris Read is using old school methods of communication to keep in touch with these inherently digital employees

Zoomers, Gen Z or Generation Z, take your pick, are the demographic cohort born between 1997 and 2012.

This is the generation that is entering today’s workplace or, more precisely, trying to enter today’s workplace!

Those Zoomers fortunate to have passed through university, have had a mixed bag of success in joining graduate schemes.

For instance, the Civil Service has taken on 1,000 graduates this summer. PwC and Aldi continue to take on graduates as normal. However, this is far from the normal pattern in today’s Covid-19-agitated world.

The BBC, HSBC and BAE Systems have all postponed their recruitment programs.

An article in the Independent, published last April, reported that two-thirds of Zoomers getting ready to leave their universities have had their job applications paused or withdrawn. I suspect there are plenty of other news reports on similar lines since then.

It is tough taking on graduates. They need handholding and mentoring.

They need to be immersed in a business to learn the ropes, the etiquette, the culture. Remote working, with Zoom and Teams as your windows into a new business career, is not a replacement for boots on the ground, job shadowing and ‘on the job’ learning. As the economy strengthens and restrictions loosen, now predicted by mid-2021, the caution that the job market has shown to Zoomers will show in a shortage of skilled workers.

Mental health issues present an enormous challenge to employers. Covid-19 has exacerbated these challenges. Zoomers, as it happens, are more prone to mental health issues. Despite being better educated, they are considered to be the loneliest generation – bounded by social media and a world dealing with climate change, Covid-19 and political uncertainty. 

Increased dependence on technological social interactions has come hand-in-hand with decreased face-to-face interaction. Work done by psychologist Jean Twenge of San Diego University coined the term iGen to describe the generation of young adults today with high levels of anxiety, depression, and loneliness.

iGens attribute their problems to the actions of generations that have gone before. They often talk about a sense of dispossession and absence of control. Some are angry. Providing a safe working environment for this generation will go some way to making good – paying back as well as paying forward and laying the groundwork for the next generation to succeed.

Not all is doom and gloom. There are some optimistic recruitment stories. Several high-profile financial services companies continue to take on graduates as normal. Suffice to say, many employers are looking to the future – they hope Gen Zers will help them shape the future of work and workplaces five to 10 years from now.

Physical office space continues to be an area of big debate. While the office will continue to be a place of work where teams of people can collaborate, such as support teams, and contact centres; other functions have been found to work effectively in more flexible, ‘hybrid’ ways. For many of us, working from home will continue to be a regular part of our working week.

Where employers encourage working from home longer term, they also need to pay closer attention to staff wellbeing and mental health – taking time out to find how things are going personally for these remote workers and their families.

We need to recognise that some will really struggle to make the changes demanded of us during periods of tighter movement and meeting restrictions prior to a ubiquitous cure being found or, in the interim, that so-called ‘moon shot’ testing regime being rolled out nationwide.

Here at Dunstan Thomas, we’ve ratcheted up our focus on creating a positive mental health environment – providing access to mental health and related services and increased personal check-in communication with staff who have decided they feel safer working from home.

We have an environment where it’s okay, not to feel okay. We have created a safe space for staff to share their feelings with regular individual check-ins.

I have taken to writing, not just articles for Retirement Planner (which incidentally I really enjoy as it’s helped me articulate my thoughts and make sense of the fast-changing world), but postcards and greetings cards to our remote-working staff.  I like writing them, although I have to say that they are not easy to do. I have to really think of words that are meaningful and genuine, not only for the member of staff but also for myself.

I am awaiting an order of post cards from Amazon depicting covers of famous works of literature. I suspect that the picture on the card will help guide what is said to provide comfort and interest. Back in the 1970s, I went to school as a boarder. Every Saturday we had to write a letter home.

We learned how to lay the letter out, and how to use this media as a form of connection that was cherished by the receiver. Often the content would have been a “Dear Mum and Dad I have been playing lots of sport and eating well” type.

From time-to-time, a letter would be sent that was more pensive, thoughtful and valued. As we work more closely with our very own Zoomers, I am looking forward re-using some of my latent letter writing skills, using a medium from the last century, to connect with our next generation of co-workers.

In some way, I hope this rather outmoded medium of slow communication can help alleviate loneliness for the digitally fast Zoomer, to help them develop their working lives in a contented, safe, de-stressed world.

Chris Read is group CEO of Dunstan Thomas