Gen Z are the most uncomfortable returning to the office

September 7, 2021, 5:00 PM UTC

When it comes to heading back to the office this fall, some workers are getting a reprieve as companies postpone return-to-work plans or switch to hybrid setups that allow for more remote work

And that’s likely a relief to many Gen Z employees, those ages 18 to 24, who say they’re uncomfortable heading back into the office. Although the youngest generation is potentially less prone than older workers to life-threatening COVID-19 infections, Gen Z is the group most likely to say they’re uncomfortable returning to work fully in-person, according to a recent survey from the Harris Poll. 

About third of younger workers admitted they were uncomfortable going back to work, compared to roughly one in four millennials and Gen X employees, and 31% of baby boomers. 

In many cases, it may not be health and safety that’s making Gen Z slightly more squeamish about heading back to the office. Changing norms mean that for Gen Z, many of whom started their first professional jobs remotely, working outside the office is now more comfortable. Hassan Mustefa, 23, quit his IT job over the summer after his employer made returning to the office mandatory starting at the beginning of June with only a few weeks’ notice. 

“It just caught me and my coworkers completely off guard,” Mustefa told Fortune. Although he was hired 10 months previously with the expectation of working in an office eventually, Mustefa said his company promised there would be hybrid options and plenty of notice. But when the time came, he said, there were no conversations about hybrid workweeks, and he was given three weeks’ notice to make arrangements to move back to Denver from Atlanta, where he was living during the pandemic. 

A week before he was set to return, the company delayed the return-to-the-office mandate until August, a move Mustefa said was frustrating because it made the situation unpredictable. Instead of packing his bags, Mustefa took a job with the Georgia Legislative Black Caucus in a role that allows for a hybrid schedule. While he’s now back working at an office, it’s only one or two days a week in-person. 

“What’s great about it is just that my manager’s very transparent. If I’m not comfortable doing something, she’s not going to make me. She’s made sure that safety is definitely the number one thing that we do,” Mustefa said. 

After experiencing successful remote and hybrid models, Mustefa says he doesn’t anticipate ever working in an office full-time now. “When I was in college, I expected to be in an office all the time,” he said. “As of right now, I don’t think I ever see myself going back to the office five days a week. My whole professional career has been basically virtual.”

Gen Z are coming into a job market where the norms have been upended, said Julia Pollak, a labor economist at ZipRecruiter, a leading online employment marketplace. And that could impact their current and future career aspirations, as well as the attributes they look for in a job. 

And some companies are adapting. Initially, Pollak said, companies posted remote jobs as a temporary kind of emergency arrangement. But over the past few months, there’s been a huge increase in job postings offering permanent remote work. “It does look like many companies are now finally kind of making a decision—the longer return-to-the-office dates get pushed back, the more and more will break in this direction,” Pollak predicts.

Many companies are also adopting or continuing flexible work arrangements through the fall. About 18% of companies plan to use a hybrid workweek this fall, according to a recent survey from PwC. Another 18% plan to use a mix of in-person and hybrid options, and 19% plan to require that employees work fully in person this fall. 

“I see the value in going in-person, but things have to change, and companies have to adapt to what happened,” Mustefa said. “I’ve truly proven that I can do my work from home; I’ve shown that I can do my work from wherever.

“One of the reasons why I left my previous company was because I didn’t feel like they were changing,” he continued. “It definitely felt like they were just trying to go back to their old ways, and go back to like what normal was before, but we’re in a new normal now. It’s not going back to the same.”

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