Mentorship From Home (MFH): How to help young employees thrive, from a Gen Z perspective
Gen Z isn’t “quiet quitting”—they’re grappling with a lack of interpersonal connection
Bella Pittinger is a senior copywriter at Long Dash who finds the right words to back up big ideas. She held both strategic and copywriting roles at her previous agency, owning both research development and creative execution.
A condensed version of this article originally appeared in Fast Company.
Gen Z is the laziest generation. Before them, Millennials were the worst. And let’s not get started on Gen X, who continue to slack their way to success.
Every generation has its tropes—including the hearsay that Gen Z employees are all “quiet quitting,” or doing the bare minimum to maintain their position at work. This behavior isn’t explained by some stark generational divide that’s left young people devoid of ambition while their seasoned counterparts maintain a no-nonsense work ethic that’s driven them forward for years.
No, a lack of work ethic isn’t to blame—but a lack of interpersonal connection and belonging in the workplace may very well be.
This new employee demographic, now comprising 13 percent of the U.S. workforce, likely never experienced a pre-pandemic office at all—which means they’ve never built organic relationships around a water cooler or reached the collective effervescence of collaborating in real-time. In 2023, 26 percent of employees are fully remote and 53 percent have a hybrid setup. Within these percentages lies a group of up-and-coming talent that’s navigating the ambiguity of onboarding and relationship-building from the confines of their studio apartments, all while confronting the shift from campus life to virtual office.
This new employee demographic, now comprising 13 percent of the U.S. workforce, likely never experienced a pre-pandemic office at all.
As the remote model of work continues to evolve, we must consider the long-term effects of such a setup on younger employees. We have to recognize the fragility of these career formative years, and identify new ways to develop and engage the next generation of leaders.
This isn’t simply benevolent—it’s a valuable investment in the health and growth of your business, which hinges on employee retention (which hinges on engagement and career growth). For everyone’s benefit, company veterans—and young employees themselves—must be proactive about fostering mentorship and professional development from afar.
From a Gen Z employee who’s never experienced the proverbial water cooler, here’s how.
We need brain food.
Young employees are generally hungry for work—hungry to learn, show off their strengths, and become the professionals who they’ve dreamed of becoming. When this engagement is neglected, it becomes harder to find purpose in one’s role, and harder to produce quality work. To prevent the path to quiet quitting and help young, eager talent grow, leaders must find ways to put this ambition into practice virtually.
One solution is to expose these employees to work beyond their department or immediate team. 20-somethings are still exploring their strengths and interests; while they may be a great fit for their current role, it’s possible that pivoting down the line may benefit the success of all parties involved. Young talent should gain a broader sense of the roles that comprise the company, which requires an intentional effort when working from home.
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The little things go a long way: Leaders, consider inviting these workers to new business meetings or other sessions that give insight into the company’s operations. Recommend books, articles, and other sources of learning that pertain to their skillset. Find ways to include them in public speaking or thought leadership opportunities (I’m having so much fun writing this!).
When younger employees are encouraged to participate in important conversations, they’ll feel more empowered, valued, and eager to make an impact. This builds confidence, career skills, and a motivation to continue learning. For this cohort, work is still new—which means it’s still exciting. Put this excitement into practice.
We thrive off constructive feedback.
In our own research, we found that more than 40% of Fortune 500 employees are motivated to do their best work by the regular reception of clear feedback. This number is likely higher for young employees who are faking it until they make it—for many, their only point of reference is what professors wrote on grading rubrics. Effective mentorship means explicitly communicating what we’re doing well and what needs improvement. When collaboration primarily takes place online, interpreting reactions to one’s work—the facial expressions and body language that you’d see in-person—is no longer a second-nature skill.
In our own research, we found that more than 40% of Fortune 500 employees are motivated to do their best work by the regular reception of clear feedback.
Get nit-picky; break down recent work and give us specific action points on how to improve for next time. Praise goes a long way, but thoughtful critique lasts a career.
We look up to you.
Statuses and one-on-ones are exciting for young employees; it’s a chance for us to show off what we’re working on and how we’re adding value to your team. Equally, it’s a chance for us to hear about your workload and imagine ourselves in your position someday. This relates to the “brain food” point—young employees are still figuring out how their career paths may unfold. Discussing a leader’s workload gives us insight into the possibilities.
When meeting with a younger employee, share what you’re working on. Share your calendar, the challenges you’re facing, and your thought processes as you overcome them. This isn’t boring. It’s fascinating—and may help us approach our work from an elevated perspective.
We have to take initiative, too.
This is a note for my fellow young employees: remote work can be tough, but your mentorship and career progression aren’t just on your boss. Be proactive about figuring out who you want to learn from and reach out to them for a recurring status. Volunteer for tasks; seek out ways to make your presence known in a smart and helpful way. Even small efforts like turning on your camera in meetings more often than not can help you feel like you belong—and remind others of your ambition, too. Make the most of where you are, wherever you are. And feed your brain regularly.
For all to thrive in a remote environment, professional growth and engagement must be at the forefront of everything we do—especially when mentoring up-and-coming talent. Leaders have an opportunity to build meaningful partnerships with the next generation of workers; and while this requires an intentional effort while working from home, such a partnership has the power to create immense value for everyone involved. Adapting to this new model of mentorship will take time, but it’s a valuable challenge to conquer—with or without the presence of a water cooler.