By: Neil Howe, Hedgeye Demography Analyst
This article was originally published on Hedgeye on March 17, 2022.
Many young people who have entered the workforce during the pandemic have never met their manager, chatted with colleagues at the water cooler, or even know what their colleagues look like. And as more jobs go permanently remote, they might never work in an office, period.
According to surveys, working remotely is what most young people want. When polled in fall 2020, 69% of adults under age 25 said that they would like to work remotely at least half of the time.
Another survey conducted in spring 2021 found that the youngest respondents (ages 18-34) are the most likely to say that they are more productive with a flexible work schedule. More than 60%, in addition, want flexibility in the amount of time they spend at the office.
At the same time, this group is also the most likely to agree with certain negative views about working from home. They’re the most likely to say that they miss being around co-workers, find their home a difficult place to be productive, and feel more burned out when they work from home.
Nearly half reported an increase of anxiety and depression related to remote work. And this isn’t even touching on the difficulties of climbing the career ladder remotely.
IMO, the attitude towards remote work reflects a common paradox for Millennials. Young people want their lives to be as optimized as possible (see: cutting down on commute time, using the self-checkout lane, ordering everything online, using time management apps, adopting productivity hacks).
But at the end of the day, the desire to optimize leaves many of them feeling lonely. Often, what optimization does is cut out interaction with other people.
To be sure, high shares of Millennials reported feeling depressed, anxious, and lonely long before the pandemic started. (See “All the Lonely People.”) It’s not clear how much of what they’re feeling is actually the result of remote work, especially among new employees who can’t compare the experience to working from the office. Furthermore, it’s not necessarily true that the workplace is young people’s primary source of socialization.
But for many Millennials, who are much less likely to have their own families than previous generations of young people were in the same phase of life, it is. And it’s those people who are losing a major social outlet.
Unless employers make concerted efforts to include and retain remote-only workers, it’s clear that these feelings of detachment and burnout will persist.
The pluses of working from home get these employees in the door, but the negatives are leaving many of them less happy.
Neil Howe is a renowned authority on generations and social change in America. An acclaimed bestselling author and speaker, he is the nation’s leading thinker on today’s generations—who they are, what motivates them, and how they will shape America’s future.
A historian, economist, and demographer, Howe is also a recognized authority on global aging, long-term fiscal policy, and migration. He is a senior associate to the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, D.C., where he helps direct the CSIS Global Aging Initiative.
Howe has written over a dozen books on generations, demographic change, and fiscal policy, many of them with William Strauss. Howe and Strauss’ first book, Generations is a history of America told as a sequence of generational biographies. Vice President Al Gore called it “the most stimulating book on American history that I have ever read” and sent a copy to every member of Congress. Newt Gingrich called it “an intellectual tour de force.” Of their book, The Fourth Turning, The Boston Globe wrote, “If Howe and Strauss are right, they will take their place among the great American prophets.”
Howe and Strauss originally coined the term “Millennial Generation” in 1991, and wrote the pioneering book on this generation, Millennials Rising. His work has been featured frequently in the media, including USA Today, CNN, the New York Times, and CBS’ 60 Minutes.
Previously, with Peter G. Peterson, Howe co-authored On Borrowed Time, a pioneering call for budgetary reform and The Graying of the Great Powers with Richard Jackson.
Howe received his B.A. at U.C. Berkeley and later earned graduate degrees in economics and history from Yale University.
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