No demographic has felt the career impact of the covid-19 pandemic as acutely as younger millennials (aged 25-32) and the Gen Z professionals coming up behind them—many of whom were forced to begin their working lives at home.
Now, as business leaders refine their return-to-office plans and determine vaccination mandates, younger employees will confront their own unique challenges. From my experience leading a global organization that hires approximately 25,000 college graduates each year, there are three key lessons every young employee should take to heart to succeed in this new era.
1. Take part in creating the culture of a flexible workplace
While some form of continued flexibility is likely to be a key part of the future of work, it would be a mistake at most companies to try to build a long-term, lasting work culture entirely from home. Regular in-person interaction—even if it’s not every day—helps everyone maintain the qualities that make our workplaces unique and special.
Ultimately, whatever model your company adopts, it’s important to remember that flexibility is about more than when and where you work: It’s also about how you work. As employers adopt more flexible workplaces, employees can help achieve success by remaining equally accountable at home and in the office, adjusting to change on the fly, and learning new skills and technologies whenever possible. At the end of the day, flexibility is a two-way street.
2. Amid uncertainty, maintain an open dialogue and stay engaged
Circumstances can change in the blink of an eye. After an optimistic start to the summer, covid-19 infection rates increased, prompting some companies to delay plans for a return to in-person work. Now, many are revisiting those plans once again.
While you can’t control what happens in the world, you can control how you respond to it. By participating in, and shaping, your company culture, you can improve your own experience and the broader employee experience, too. Wise leaders know that young employees bring an important perspective to the table. As the situation evolves, don’t be afraid to offer ideas to keep culture strong.
3. Consider the office an opportunity to connect
A Gallup survey found that employees who work from home some, but not all, of the time are more engaged. And that’s certainly what we’ve seen at EY. When it comes to developing the next generation of leaders, the office provides opportunities that can’t be replicated remotely.
Young employees need to make the most out of the time they spend with co-workers by taking charge of their careers and proactively seeking out potential mentors and interacting with colleagues. If you’re on a hybrid schedule, save independent tasks for home and maximize face-to-face time in the office. It’s critical for building a strong network early in your career and finding experienced colleagues who can serve as models.
Without being in the office and interacting face-to-face with colleagues and supervisors, it’s easy to let networking and career planning go by the wayside. But both are necessary for advancement. Now more than ever, if you want a career—not just a job—then charting a course and being your own advocate is essential.
The pandemic has left an indelible mark on the lives of young employees. But now, they have a chance to make their mark on the workforce. By approaching their jobs with flexibility, actively engaging with their work culture, and optimizing time in the office, the next generation can help build a better working world for all of us.
The views reflected in this article are the views of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the global EY organization or its member firms.