Allow us to reiterate something you already know: It’s tough making friends as an adult. But since the start of the pandemic, forging friendships has become increasingly difficult — particularly in the workplace.
The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated feelings of loneliness and isolation at work, particularly for early-career talent. In response, today’s graduating seniors aren’t just thinking about career advancement and professional development when evaluating potential employers. They’re looking for a place where they can make connections outside of the office.
According to the Connection Crisis, a new research study put together by BetterUp, feelings of loneliness and a lack of connections currently plague the workforce. In a survey of 3,000+ U.S. workers, 22% of respondents report they don’t have a single friend at work, and over half (53%) say they don’t look forward to going to the office because of their coworkers.
While most early-career candidates crave connections at work, they don’t want a role requiring them to be in the office full-time — putting employers in a difficult situation. How can companies promote a thriving workplace culture that fosters friendships, when you’re not physically in the workplace? Below, we explain how the so-called connection crisis has impacted Gen-Z candidates — and what they want employers to do about it.
Finding a Balance: Forging Connections in a Hybrid Work Environment
A surge of isolation, disconnect, and loneliness amongst early-career candidates is a serious problem — but reverting to mandatory in-office work is not the solution.
In the eyes of employers, Gen Zers have two mutually exclusive nonnegotiables: They want to make meaningful connections, yet they want to work from home. But contrary to popular belief, friendships at work can take shape within a flexible working environment — it just takes a little innovation.
First, remember that early-career candidates are at a different stage of life than other generations. While the COVID-19 pandemic increased feelings of isolation amongst all Americans, Gen Zers were some of the hardest hit, with 61% stating they felt lonely “frequently” or “almost all the time.” Young employees are more likely to be single, recently graduated and therefore went through a major life transition, and may have recently relocated to an unfamiliar city. Therefore, early-career candidates are looking for companies where they can make friends outside of work.
At the same time, demanding employees to return to the office isn’t the only option for forging in-office friendships (nor will it help you attract top talent). Research shows that 77% of Gen Z employees prefer flexible work policies. Therefore, you need to create opportunities for connections to take shape between employees while instilling a culture that promotes a work-life balance.
4 Ways to Help Gen Z Candidates Forge Connections at Work
Today’s early-career candidates demand a flexible working environment, while also craving face-to-face interaction, mentorship opportunities, candid feedback, and hey — even meeting up with like-minded colleagues outside the office. To give candidates the best of both worlds, consider instating the following strategies:
1. Offer Paid Leave for Volunteer Work
Today’s early-career candidates want to spend time with coworkers outside of work. At the same time, they want to work for a company that aligns with their values. In fact, one-third of early-career candidates state they would turn down a job offer if the company didn’t align with their personal ethics.
These two items sitting at the top of Gen Zers’ employer wish lists can be tackled in one swoop: Create a volunteer program at work. Offer paid leave for employees who wish to give back to their community, volunteering for causes they care about. Encourage employees to contribute volunteer hours together, whether they’re cleaning up local parks, logging hours at a local nonprofit, or partaking in a food drive.
2. Create Opportunities to Launch Special Interest Groups
A lack of connections doesn’t just impact employee morale — it can manifest in a lack of creativity and employee engagement.
According to a new study by Microsoft, Gen Z employees are struggling to feel excited about work, bring new ideas to the table, or even get a word in during meetings. To encourage self-expression and creativity in the workplace, create opportunities for early-career candidates to launch (and continue to lead) their own special interest groups.
A special interest group can be formed around virtually any subject matter, allowing like-minded employees to share their passions. In addition, it can encourage group members to gather together outside the office.
3. Launch a Mentorship or Buddy Program
Early-career candidates set ambitious goals for their careers and hope to learn from those around them. When it comes to speaking with their managers and/or mentors, they want candid conversations to take place face-to-face, with 75% reporting they want to receive feedback in person.
To ensure Gen Z employees receive the guidance they need, launch a mentorship program at work. Recently, Scholars spoke to Kathy Schaum of KPMG, who said each mentee at their company received two mentors — one to evaluate performance, and another to serve as a “buddy” to the early-career employee. The buddy program created a safe space for new hires to talk about concerns, challenges, and points of interest unrelated to their day-to-day tasks.
As part of their training, remind mentors that not all conversations need to surround current projects or progress. In addition, encourage mentors and mentees to meet outside the office, whether it’s at happy hour or for a coffee.
4. Foster a Sense of Community Before Onboarding
No one wants to take part in a friendship that feels forced or inauthentic. One of the easiest ways to ensure connections happen naturally is to start building a community before an employee’s first days on the job.
Throughout the candidate journey, organize both in-person and virtual events for the incoming cohort to meet one another and their future managers. Host a wellness retreat, organize a virtual panel with first-year employees, or set up coffee chats between mentors and mentees.
Think of these encounters as college orientation: Meeting someone before the big day (i.e. the first day of class or the first day on the job) can help alleviate feelings of anxiety. Plus, once new hires begin the onboarding process, they’ll be happy to see a familiar face.
Build Personal Connections Throughout the Candidate Journey With Scholars
Forging workplace friendships is directly correlated to happiness, engagement, and creativity amongst early-career candidates. While remote work has caused a dip in forming in-office connections, you can still create opportunities for authentic friendships — even in a hybrid working environment.
To encourage early-career talent to engage with their future peers and supervisors, Scholars launched two new features to our platform. Our soon-to-be-launched chat functionality allows candidates to privately message back and forth with hiring managers. In addition, our directory feature allows candidates to see one another’s public profiles, prompting them to connect with like-minded peers. Both features promote candidate engagement by creating opportunities for 1:1 connections over similar interests.
At Scholars, we know how to create a candidate experience for Gen Z candidates because our platform was built by Gen Zers. To see how Scholars can help you recruit and retain top early-career talent, schedule a demo.