Learning & Development

Finding Space for Younger Workers to Be Heard

It’s often surprising to older managers just how important it is for younger workers to feel heard and appreciated and feel a sense of belonging and acceptance at work.

A Craving for Community

In 2000, Robert Putnam’s cultural commentary book Bowling Alone was published and quickly turned into a classic and oft-cited discussion of the decline in American communities. The central premise of the book is that Americans are engaged in increasingly fewer collective activities compared with previous generations.

Once widespread, membership in community groups like bowling leagues, volunteer organizations, social clubs, and even labor unions has decreased steadily in recent decades.

Many of the newest entrants to the American workforce weren’t even born when Putnam wrote Bowling Alone nearly 23 years ago, but his observations are perhaps more accurate with respect to Generation Z and even millennials than it is for previous generations.

Workplaces Are Where Connections Are Made

For better or for worse, in the absence of extensive community organizations, the workplace has become the center of social engagement for many workers. Work is where employees discuss current events and cultural trends with coworkers and where they spend roughly one-third of their waking hours. As COVID-19 forced many employers to shift to fully remote work, the newest entrants to the labor force have been deprived of yet another venue for community interaction.

Moreover, this shift to remote work has made it more difficult for younger workers to establish the interpersonal workplace relationships and sense of office culture that facilitates their ability to voice their opinions and be heard in the workplace.

Younger Workers Want to Be Heard

This comes at precisely the same time as younger workers’ desire to inject their views into the office discourse, which has never been greater, writes Nicole Kolbie in an article for BBC Worklife. “There are many reasons why young workers increasingly desire a voice,” she explains. “For one, they are bringing their values into the workplace more than generations before them, emphasizing things like company ethics and political stances as well as equity and inclusion. Research also shows Gen Z especially wants to work for companies whose workforces look as diverse as their generation does.”

Employers should be cognizant of the importance younger workers place on the ability to be heard and participate in their workplace’s discourse. Tools like mentorship programs, employee resource groups, and employee committees can be great venues for these younger workers to express themselves and get the sense of belonging many are craving.

Lin Grensing-Pophal is a Contributing Editor at HR Daily Advisor.

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