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Although outspoken about employer expectations, Gen Z workers admit to social discomfort—here’s how that can be a company opportunity

by | Sep 26, 2023 | Public Relations

Since Gen Zers are pure digital natives, and much of their communication happens on devices, it seems logical that some of this group would have some awkwardness in face-to-face situations with real people—like at work. Throw a global pandemic in the mix that cut them off entirely from people—at a key social-development stage of life for many, who missed out on proms, school sports, and graduation ceremonies—and you have a group entering the workforce with a lot of anxiety.

New research from learning and engagement platform firm Kahoot!, in partnership with Researchscape, affirms that a whopping 90 percent of Gen Z knowledge workers say they are facing social discomfort or anxiety in the workplace—including a significant 35 percent of who deal with social anxiety on a near-daily basis, while a mere 10 percent claim to never encounter it. What impact does this have on their workplaces, many of which are customer facing?

Although outspoken about employer expectations, Gen Z workers admit to social discomfort—here’s how that can be a company opportunity

“All employers are looking for the key to unlock the full potential of their workforce,” said James Micklethwait, VP of Kahoot! At Work, in a news release. “This study validates that to help their Gen Z employees bring their A-game to work, employers need to place soft skills advancement at the top of their priorities list while also experimenting with innovative, quick and real approaches to communication and training which are mindful of their social discomfort.”  

Gen Z’s tongue-tied tendencies put employers and industries to the test

According to the survey, 23 percent of Gen Zers experience social anxiety when interacting with customers. Moreover, the data revealed that 44 percent are uneasy or nervous to deliver presentations at work—38 percent of Gen Z respondents shared their unease in voicing their opinion during a meeting.

To address these apprehensions, respondents indicated the pivotal role of a non-judgmental, safe space workspace, with 53 percent viewing it as a strong incentive for active participation. Notably, women (44 percent) particularly value advanced notice if they are asked to contribute their POV in meetings or presentations in contrast to men (34 percent).

The study also pinpointed the most affected sectors, positioning education, finance, and construction as the top industries for socially anxious knowledge workers, with the professional services and manufacturing industries showcasing the lowest rates of social anxiety.

Soft skills training is Gen Z’s new manifesto

Soft skills training can play a significant role in creating a safe and inclusive workspace. Hence, Gen Z’s SOS plea for soft skills training resonates as a critical necessity in today’s professional landscape. The survey underscores this demand, placing soft skills advancement (communication, leadership, and negotiation skills) at the top Gen Z’s immediate employer priorities list (42 percent). Notably, this resonates more profoundly among women (48 percent) than men (36 percent). Peer-based learning emerges as the second significant area for skill enhancement (36 percent), closely followed by dedicated work time for self-directed learning (34 percent).

“All organizations are full of hidden talents and knowledge. It’s time for employers to tap into this valuable resource by facilitating peer-to-peer learning and encouraging their Gen Z employees to create engaging, interactive learning sessions, presentations, or even courses to challenge their team members and share their knowledge and skills,” said Micklethwait.

Although outspoken about employer expectations, Gen Z workers admit to social discomfort—here’s how that can be a company opportunity

Academic shortcomings now command employer intervention

While education has laid the groundwork for Gen Z’s skill development, the ever-widening gaps in essential workplace competencies now command the attention of employers. To help, Gen Z identifies the top five areas in which their educational experiences fell short, shedding light on the precise areas that now demand employer intervention: 

  • Networking (32 percent)
  • Emotional intelligence (35 percent)
  • Conflict resolution (35 percent)
  • Stress management (39 percent), and 
  • Creativity (39 percent).

On a more positive note, critical thinking (51 percent) and time management (50 percent) were found to be the most highly honed skills in school, highlighting areas where education has made a meaningful impact for employers.

Although outspoken about employer expectations, Gen Z workers admit to social discomfort—here’s how that can be a company opportunity

Gen Z wants a corporate training glow-up

While 36 percent of Gen Z expressed high confidence in their employers’ efforts to equip them with the essential, future-forward skills required for success—for the remaining respondents, the message is clear: employers need to step up their game. Gen Z didn’t hold back when it came to assessing their employer, with 32 percent asserting that their company’s culture fails to align with the values of their generation, prompting a necessary introspection. When it comes to training and development specifically, Gen Z provides a roadmap for employers for a more engaging future:

  • Showcase authentic experiences through employee-generated content to foster community (31 percent)
  • Incorporate humor and comedy into learning (31 percent)
  • Deliver bite-sized microlearning opportunities (29 percent)
  • Leverage popular memes for shareable, humorous content (28 percent)
  • Offer immersive offline experiences, bridging the online-offline gap (27 percent)
  • Utilize platforms like TikTok and real influencers for relatable, authentic messaging (27 percent—notably crucial among Black respondents)

Gen Z is riding the AI wave to career and skill victory

As Gen Z knowledge workers embrace AI in the workforce, questions arise about its equitable usage. The survey highlights Gen Z’s utilization of AI in career development and support, revealing that:

  • 27 percent harness AI for writing assistance, marking it as the top use among Gen Z, demonstrating the prevalent reliance on tools like ChatGPT.
  • 25 percent leverage AI for learning new skills, indicating a proactive approach to skill enhancement.
  • 20 percent employ AI for verbal communication development, recognizing its value in refining this essential soft skill competency.

However, the study also unveils a significant 24 percent who don’t utilize AI at all, with noteworthy gender disparities—31 percent of women abstain, compared to 17 percent of men. Surprisingly, 32 percent of professional services knowledge workers don’t use ChatGPT at all, much higher than the average. Only 19 percent of finance and 16 percent of education Gen Z knowledge workers don’t use it at all.

Download the full report here.

This survey was conducted online within the United States by market-research consultancy Researchscape on behalf of Kahoot! from July 18 to August 2, 2023. There were 1,015 Gen Z respondents to the survey.

Richard Carufel
Richard Carufel is editor of Bulldog Reporter and the Daily ’Dog, one of the web’s leading sources of PR and marketing communications news and opinions. He has been reporting on the PR and communications industry for over 17 years, and has interviewed hundreds of journalists and PR industry leaders. Reach him at richard.carufel@bulldogreporter.com; @BulldogReporter

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