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Lost Voices: Why we must reconnect the disconnected generation

Kate Barker

Much has been written about the physical and mental health impacts of the pandemic but what’s currently emerging is a picture of the challenges faced by the so-called ‘Covid generation’ of employees – the graduates and interns who have recently entered the workforce.

A recent article in the Financial Times revealed that Deloitte and PwC are investing in extra coaching for their youngest UK staff after noticing that recruits whose education was disrupted by lockdowns lack confidence in speaking up in meetings, making presentations, collaborating with colleagues and networking.

It seems clear that this generation of young professionals have unique needs and challenges, so I’ve been reflecting on why they differ from previous generations and how their challenges might be addressed. 

Perfection and inadequacy

In an age dominated by social media, I wonder if the prevalence of platforms such as Instagram and the pervasive culture of presenting a perfect image has led to young people feeling the need to appear flawless, even in a virtual meeting? Maybe if they don’t feel perfectly presented or ready to deliver a perfectly prepared thought or idea, they don’t want to be seen or heard at all. I’ve encountered young people in my leadership programmes being hesitant to step forward in the moment. This links to the idea of psychological safety, which has been a hot topic in leadership development in recent years. In Ginger’s language, how can leaders create a culture where young people are comfortable ‘acting before they’re ready’, knowing they won’t be judged for being anything less than perfect?

The rise of ‘black box syndrome’

In my work inside and outside Ginger, I’ve observed first hand the consequences of virtual working on human connection. One is what I call ‘black box syndrome’ – the tendency for people to attend meetings without switching on their video cameras, so that the only sensory input you have are voices coming through black boxes. The more leaders enable people who work virtually to be invisible, in time the less comfortable they’ll feel with being seen.

Leaders need to think carefully about company culture and how their teams interact. If we end up with whole organisations that allow their people to switch off their cameras, it could create new neural pathways in our brains that interpret being seen as being exposed. Also, if leaders aren’t role modelling visibility, their new starters aren’t being shown how to show up. They’re unlikely to go against the grain if their superiors are sitting at home behind their black boxes. I’m a big fan of virtual working but we need to keep as many of our senses switched on as possible for it to work and for us to maintain our human connection.

The importance of being human

Indeed, I believe that human connection is the most important part. The big change in our ways of working during lockdown resulted in many of us becoming productivity machines. Were we so busy ‘pivoting’ and dealing with all the unexpected activity that came with it that we squeezed out time for connecting and being with each other on a more human level? With such an emphasis on doing and, let’s face it, having to learn how to do things in completely different ways, perhaps we unintentionally redefined what was expected of people at work. And now, when we’re looking for people to show up, speak up, connect and collaborate again like we did in the good old days, we’re discovering there’s an entire generation who have learned how to ‘do’ behind a screen at home but haven’t been supported in how they need to be.

I feel that we need to get back to some basics. Here at Ginger we believe it’s important for leaders as well as those entering the workplace not only to have great communication skills but also to develop the ability to connect on an authentic human level. Our philosophy is all about encouraging people to act before they’re ready and be perfectly imperfect, because that’s how their most impactful, powerful and connected selves can be expressed.

Ginger’s fun, interactive two-hour virtual masterclasses and one-day courses provide the ideal opportunity for young professionals to start developing the skills that will help them learn how to connect with an audience in an authentic and impactful way – whether in-person or in a virtual environment.

In an increasingly digital and AI-driven world, we believe that exceptional communication skills will become our human differentiator and leaders’ ability to connect and empathise will not only set their organisations apart but also give them a competitive advantage. So let’s come together to help reconnect the disconnected generation.

Kate Barker

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