GenerationZ are a mass of contradictions, and the stress of Covid-19 certainly hasn’t improved that. Even before the virus, this generation were used to living in a virtual world for hours at a time, while also feeling slightly anxious about IRL – In Real Life. Add to that the well-documented anxiety that they aren’t very good at face-to-face human interactions, and you have a lot of stress. They’re not the only ones.
The problem seems to be the solution itself to remote working. You’d think, if you were a GenZer, not too confident at speaking directly to a co-worker or manager, that a video conference call would be the neat answer. After all, you’re more used to screen-time than your manager, more comfortable with the software and the medium.
Yet we’re all suffering from what is already known as ‘Zoom Fatigue’. In the interests of full disclosure it must be pointed out that other platforms apply, including Skype, Google Meet and Apple’s FaceTime, but the Chinese platform seems to be causing the most issues.
Before we dive into GenZ, let’s just remind ourselves of the parameters of horror that Zoom can inflict. I was talking to a media man who is having to spend hours on Zoom every day. The previous week he told me he had been on a major Zoom call with about 20 other people, lots of boxes with faces in. He saw the faces change as he started the meeting. What they saw was his infant son behind him have a poo on the carpet, then pick it up and bring it to show Daddy.
Compared to that, most of us don’t have anything to worry about. But for everyone of every age these calls, particularly when video is on, are a cause of real fatigue. Why?
There are many reasons, including self-consciousness at seeing ourselves talking and moving; the way nobody ever meets your eye since they’re looking at your image not the camera; the way we just can’t detect all the many non-verbal clues on the screen; the way the human brain tries to analyse what everyone on the screen is doing and thinking and there can be just too many of them – the result is the same. Exhaustion.
That’s a difficult situation for someone experienced at office politics and group meetings. Imagine what it’s like for someone who is still trying to navigate the politics and undercurrents of a new organisation. It makes every virtual meeting a stressful affair, trying to work out when to speak, what others are really saying, what silences might or might not mean.
This plays into mental health, an issue GenZers are well aware of, and who are normally quite open about discussing.But with them stuck at home, unable to discuss this in person even with their friends, let alone work colleagues, there are grounds for some serious concern.
Who knows how long this current situation will continue for? But we’ve already seen a big pressure wave of commentators saying working from home will be the new normal – and what a relief it will be to just have a Zoom meeting instead of having to flog into the office.
We might need to rethink what the future will look like, and GenZ should be at the forefront of that rethink. Because, while GenZers like FaceTime, they actually need face time with managers and co-workers. A virtual life and a real life need to balance each other if GenZ are going to be productive members of the team in the years ahead. And the years ahead belong not to us, but to GenZ.