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Gen Zers Reflect on Experiences of Entering the Workforce After The Pandemic

By:
S.J. Steinhardt
Published Date:
Mar 22, 2024

Four years after the onset of COVID-19, members of Generation Z opened up to Fast Company about what it has been like for them to start their careers in the post-pandemic age.

These early career workers were affected by the pandemic in a manner that had not been experienced previously. One example is that of 23-year-old Delaney Trail, who works in public relations at a mostly remote job where she comes into the office about once a month. The pandemic hit during her sophomore year at college, and all of her internships were remote.

“Starting my first PR internship was a huge learning experience,” she said in an interview. “I didn’t have a manager in the same room with me. I had to do a lot of self-management.”

During the pandemic, the unemployment rate among people under the age of 24 rose to 24.4 percent, the Economic Policy Institute reported in October 2020. Other members of that cohort who started their careers did so at a time in which companies were learning how to cope with the situation.

“Prior generations were used to not just doing the work, but also showing up to that work in a certain way,” said Gorick Ng, a Harvard career adviser and author of The Unspoken Rules: Secrets to Starting Your Career Off Right, in an interview. “All of that etiquette was thrown out the door when the new generation, who’d been educated on Zoom, walked in.”

Remote jobs posed problems by exposing gaps in the socialization that entry-level workers require. A woman identified only as Natalie, 26, did her last semester of college remotely and was hired as a data analytics specialist. She found it difficult to be in an environment where she couldn’t walk across the hall to ask someone a question.

“I didn’t get an onboarding,” she said in an interview. “I was given my laptop and sent home to figure it out myself.”

“I have holes in my knowledge,” she continued. “I didn’t know we could grab markers from the supply cabinet or where the supply cabinet was. I didn’t learn how to turn on the projectors until a few months ago because it never came up.”

Working remotely also meant missing out on establishing connections.

Everyone had his or her camera turned off during meetings at one 25-year-old's first job in staffing. “I didn’t know what anyone looked like; I couldn’t read anyone’s expressions or body language,” said the woman, identified as Emma, a pseudonym, in an interview. “It was impossible to get to know people. I didn’t make any long-term connections.” She left for another job after eight months.

Trail’s experience contrasted with those of Natalie and Emma. There were 25 virtual trainings over the course of three weeks at her first job at a PR company. New hires were paired with a peer, someone at the same job level with more experience who could offer guidance and answer questions. The company also had weekly all-hands chats for work discussions, and another for water cooler chats.

This generation has no choice but to get used to remote and hybrid working, Fast Company reported. Fifty-two percent, of jobs were hybrids and 27 percent were exclusively remote, Gallup found last year, and 80 percent of employees who can do their jobs remotely want to at least be hybrid.

Emma said that she favors hybrid work. “Hybrid makes me appreciate days at home where I don’t have to pack a lunch and dress up, but I really enjoy talking to people the days that I’m in person.”

Trail told Fast Company that she doesn’t want a fully in-person job. “I can’t imagine going into an office full-time—it’s not something I’ve ever experienced in my career,” she said. “I can transition from task to task faster at home, and it’s also made me value my office time a lot more … .You can set up remote work so that everyone is getting the same experience and you aren’t falling victim to proximity bias.”