‘I have holes in my knowledge’: Gen Z talks about the pros and cons of starting their careers during the pandemic

 In today's evolving work landscape, the pandemic has reshaped the way younger generations like Gen Z navigate their careers. Delaney Trail, a 23-year-old in public relations, exemplifies adaptability and diligence in a remote work setting. She cleverly breaks the ice with a cheerful "I'm just peachy" introduction, setting a positive tone for interactions. Despite starting her career during the pandemic, Trail excels by diligently preparing for meetings and embracing self-management.

For young professionals like Trail, entering the workforce during uncertain times presented unique challenges. The shift to remote work not only required mastering job tasks but also understanding and assimilating into company cultures without the traditional in-person interactions. As companies scrambled to adapt their onboarding processes, new hires like Zach Schmitz and Natalie faced obstacles in training and establishing connections.

Remote work, while offering flexibility, also posed challenges in relationship-building. Emma recounts her struggle to connect with colleagues when meetings were devoid of visual cues due to camera-off policies. In contrast, Natalie values her prior in-person internship for fostering relationships that endured during remote work. Trail's positive experience at a PR firm highlights the importance of structured virtual onboarding, mentorship programs, and regular communication to support new hires' integration.

Looking ahead, remote and hybrid work models are here to stay, with many employees favoring hybrid arrangements for their flexibility and productivity benefits. As the workforce adapts, companies must learn from the experiences of Gen Z employees to create inclusive and effective remote onboarding processes. By prioritizing structured support and communication, organizations can ensure that remote new hires feel connected, engaged, and empowered from day one.  

Housing affordability is a problem in the US, and helping with those costs could be the carrot companies need to get employees back to the office.

In a survey of 1,020 employers and workers about office perks, performed by the bonding and insurance company JW Surety Bonds and published in January, 47% of respondents said they would be willing to return to the office in exchange for housing benefits. Additionally, 69% said they would be willing to change their job or career for employer-based housing benefits.

This comes as more companies institute return-to-office mandates, pitting employers and workers against each other. In fact, some employees quit instead of going back to the office. Now, some behemoth businesses, including Tesla and Oracle, are trying to use housing benefits to their advantage.

In a sign that housing assistance could be a stronger perk than more traditional offerings, 43% said they would take less vacation time in exchange for help with housing costs, and 30% said they would prefer housing assistance over a pay raise.

Ricardo Rodriguez, a creative team member at JW Surety Bonds, believes housing assistance may become a major force in the job market in the next decade.

"As housing costs soar, these findings clearly indicate a trend of employer-based housing benefits gaining momentum," Rodriguez told Business Insider. "A strong interest in employer-based housing benefits could potentially redefine employee expectations of traditional compensation packages in the next 5 to 10 years."

Apartment for rent.
Help with rent can be one way to entice workers back to the office. 
Busà Photography/Getty Images

Housing assistance may produce other benefits for companies

Edward L. Glaeser, a Harvard economist, and Atta Tarki, the founder of ECA Partners, an executive-search and project-based staffing firm, wrote for Harvard Business Review last year that companies looking to reduce their number of remote workers should consider housing assistance.

They pointed out that the cost of living in an area already influences wages and argued that more companies should get directly involved in those expenses for their employees by offering assistance in rental or mortgage subsidies, providing housing, or working with communities to build more affordable housing.

In the JW Surety Bonds survey, 25% of employers who responded said they're considering adding employee housing benefits in 2024, with an average assistance of $6,200 an employee. Additionally, about 70% of those planning to add a housing benefit said it would be used to entice workers back to the office.

However, getting more bodies in the office may not be the only benefit to a company.

The survey found that 77% of those already receiving employer-based housing benefits reported high job satisfaction, compared with 60% for those without the assistance.

"Companies must recognize that offering housing assistance is becoming a competitive necessity to attract and retain talent, as well as to maximize their employees' potential," Rodriguez said.

Some large companies are already adding housing assistance as an incentive

A February report from the real-estate firm Zillow found that homebuyers must make at least $106,000 to afford a house in the current market. In January 2020, people needed to earn about $59,000.

A report from Zillow published in February said home prices rose 42% during that month, while median income rose 23%.

With many Americans struggling to afford housing, assistance with rent or mortgages from employers could be more attractive than some traditional incentives.

Elon Musk's tunneling company, Boring, revealed plans in 2023 to build a 110-home subdivision for employees near the Austin suburb of Bastrop. The homes are expected to be offered as lease to own, with prices below market rate and close to facilities for Boring and other Musk-led businesses, Tesla and SpaceX.

Elon Musk at Tesla factory near Austin
Elon Musk during the grand opening of the Tesla factory near Austin. 

One company that is already offering assistance is JBS Foods, a food-processing company.

JBS is spending more than $20 million to assist with housing expenses in eight cities across the US. The company owns apartment buildings for workers to rent in some communities. In others, it negotiates better housing prices or lending terms on behalf of employees.

Some companies are getting creative with housing assistance

Washington Post-Ipsos poll of 1,148 full- and part-time workers published in May found that the biggest reason people wanted to work from home was avoiding commuting, with 48% of respondents naming that as the top factor.

The software company Oracle is one firm looking for ways to ease the commute of its employees. It's opening a $1.2 billion riverfront campus in Nashville, which could be completed by 2026, and pledged $175 million for city infrastructure improvements. Part of that money is going to a new pedestrian bridge to connect the campus to a suburb on the other side.

The Nashville skyline.
Oracle's new hub in Nashville is set to include a new pedestrian bridge to help cut down on commute times to work for its employees. 
Sean Pavone/Getty Images

Bobby Rolfe, the former commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Economic & Community Development who oversaw the negotiations with Oracle, told CNBC's "Cities of Success" in December that Oracle wanted its employees within 15 minutes of the office.

"Oracle's idea is, 'We want our employers to bike to work, hike to work, kayak to work, pick however you get to work but be within a very tight 15-minute radius," Rolfe said.

While Oracle's plan doesn't directly assist with housing costs, it could help employees save money on gas, free up their personal time, and decrease the need to own a vehicle.

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