Why Gen Z Won't Give Up on the Office
Today’s youngest and most tech-savvy cohort of workers are also those most eager to return to the office.
In fact, numerous studies conducted during and after the pandemic point to a strong preference for in-office work among Gen Z employees, or those currently below 26 years of age, and for good reason.
In a recent study¹ 36% of Canadian Gen Z workers expressed a preference for working in a traditional office environment. A similar survey², conducted in the summer of 2021, found that the youngest cohort of workers was most excited to return to a physical office.
To understand why Gen Z workers are most likely to maintain a strong preference for in-person work one must first consider their professional experience thus far, limited as it may be, as well as the traditional role of physical workspaces. Whether they’re on the older side of the generational boundary and a few years into their professional careers or still in the throes of academic life, Gen Z’s early adulthood has been largely defined by isolation.
Even before the pandemic forced strict social isolation as a matter of public health policy, researchers were warning³ that the rise of social media and the decline of traditional community institutions were having deep emotional consequences on those growing up in the digital age. Not only has technology enabled more communication without physical presence, but it’s also degraded the role of other community institutions.
Then came the pandemic, which fanned the flames of loneliness while also disrupting vital social experiences. It’s hard to quantify the impact of all of those cancelled sweet 16s, summer camp experiences, graduation ceremonies, internships, employee orientation events and other major milestones that won’t be returned but suffice to say the impact still lingers.
After years of being deprived of in-person interaction, Gen Z is entering the workforce hungry for human connection — just as other generations are ironically working to reduce it.
But that’s not all. It’s also important to remember what the office experience is like in those early career days. When in-person work was standard it was likely harder to fully appreciate just how much young professionals gained from the workplace experience early in their careers.
The entry-level job experience is about as tied to day-to-day responsibilities as a post-secondary education is limited to the classroom experience, which is to say it’s only one small piece of the puzzle. Just as those social and emotional learnings of college and university life can’t be moved online, neither can those of the workplace for young adults. Witnessing workplace dynamics, internalizing professional expectations, getting exposed to leadership in action, discovering new mentors and establishing new friendships are all vital attributes of an early career experience.
In fact, a recent study⁴ conducted by Robert Half Canada found that Gen Z “craves greater guidance, networking and mentorship than employees of other generations and, for them, missing out on those experiences is the greatest drawback of remote work.”
Not only do they see more value in the workplace than most other generations, but younger workers are also most likely to have a less comfortable remote work experience, given that they are more likely to live at home with their parents or with roommates. As a result, Gen Zers often have much less control over their home environment, and much fewer resources to create a quiet and comfortable setting where they can be productive.
Though it may sound counterintuitive at first, the most tech-savvy generation has largely rejected remote work, but their reasoning makes sense when considering the realities of their experience thus far. More than any others that came before it, Generation Z has a strong need for real-world social interaction, mentorship, and hands-on learning; experiences that others simply don’t value or require at this stage of their careers.
That is why organizations that want to attract and retain the youngest generation of workers need to consider why the office is still largely preferred by most workers under the age of 26.
¹ - Randstad Canada. 2023, November 14. What you should know about gen Z workers?. Randstad Canada. https://www.randstad.ca/employers/workplace-insights/talent-management/what-you-should-know-about-gen-z-workers/
² - Fonseca, J. 2021, June 9. Gen Z workers most eager for return to office: Survey. BNN Bloomberg. https://www.bnnbloomberg.ca/gen-z-workers-most-eager-for-return-to-office-survey-1.1614709
³ - Angus Reid Institute. 2019, June 17. A portrait of social isolation and loneliness in Canada today. Angus Reid Institute. https://angusreid.org/social-isolation-loneliness-canada/
⁴ - Robert Half Canada. 2023, June 22. Five trends to know about today’s multigenerational workforce. Cision Canada. https://www.newswire.ca/news-releases/five-trends-to-know-about-today-s-multigenerational-workforce-893929263.html
© 2023 Cresa Toronto Inc., Brokerage