The Dark Side of Being a Digital Native
Gen Z’s anxiety at work is through the roof. Here’s what we can all do to help.
Jack, a twenty-two-year-old first-year analyst, gets an email from his boss. The last sentence — “That’ll be fine.” leaves him anxious. The period that punctuates it seems to dominate the screen, a black bead, a micro-bomb, lethal, suggestive and — Jack would swear — disapproving. Did he screw up? Or is he merely overthinking it? If he’s not, how can he work for a boss who’s so oblivious about the implications of a period?
I was recently speaking with another one of my Gen Z clients, Ethan, who switched jobs right at the start of the pandemic and has been working remotely for the last year. Ethan shared, “I’ve never actually met anyone on my team and haven’t even had a one-on-one video call with my manager.” He often spends hours reading emails over and over again because in Ethan’s words, “The best way to guess my boss mood is based on if he closes his email with ‘Thanks!’ or ‘thx’ — and that’s about it.”
As a younger team member, Ethan was eager to prove himself. Bill, Ethan’s new manager, naturally sets the tone of their communication style. His emails were as terse as haikus. How different was “Send a brief on this client” to “Fog rolling into shore. Clanging of the red buoy”? Mirroring his brevity, Ethan would answer, “Details please.” As he felt uncomfortable asking questions. Ethan shared with me that he would try to catch Bill for a quick second at the end of meetings as the rest of the team exits Zoom, but Bill (the host) often ends the meeting abruptly, leaving Ethan with no chance to ask his questions and a deepening feeling of despair.
Sadly there are millions of other stories similar to Ethan’s experience. In my new study with Quester “The Digital Communication Crisis” of over 2,000 American office workers, I found that 53% of Gen Z workers report high anxiety due to poor digital communication in the workplace.* Even though Gen Z grew up with smartphones in their hands and are digital natives, now, upon entering the workforce, they are desperately struggling.
We’re facing a communication crisis and it could potentially only get worse. Here are three practical tips and actionable strategies to help your youngest…