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What Microsoft’s social listening research shows us about workplace diversification

by Staff GBAF Publications Ltd
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By Camila Angio, Head of Research & Insights, SHARE Creative

The current state of the talent market is putting significant pressure on business. Employers are experiencing an acute skills gap, with average vacancies across industries per 100 jobs ranging between 5 and 8, according to data compiled by the Office for National Statistics in June 2022 – the highest average since records began. While this data unequivocally tells us that in order to navigate this hiring squeeze, changes ought to be made within organisations to better engage and meet the needs of the twenty-first century workforce, it’s perhaps more interesting to note changes within the workforce itself. New research from Microsoft and SHARE Creative reveals that the concerns of ‘Generation Z’ (roughly estimated as the age group born between 1997 and 2012) are vastly different from their older ‘Millennial’ or ‘Gen X’ counterparts.

As the younger, dynamic and diverse Gen Z enters the talent market, this cohort brings with them fresh skills and experience but also a new perspective on the world of work, shaped by pandemic education and increased focus on mental wellness, among others. Social listening research conducted with Microsoft sought to explore the needs and concerns of this workforce expressed through open, online conversations across popular social media platforms such as Twitter, Reddit, Quora, Forums and Instagram. Applying cutting-edge social listening technology, SHARE’s proprietary AI tools analysed the data and categorised the information into common topics and themes, which identified 3 key areas of interest to Gen Z: Career Advice, Mental Health and Success and Networking. 

When it comes to career support, the research found that almost half (41%) of conversations surrounding the world of work are focused on users asking for career advice and guidance. Whilst certain questions within this category recur generation on generation, such as how to write an impactful CV, a great deal of conversations on the theme of career advice are framed by the COVID experience – specifically, if and how the pandemic would negatively affect career prospects.

Having recently completed university degrees, some of which were taught entirely online, Gen Z users are concerned that remote learning has denied them the hands-on experience their older counterparts accessed, and which they feel they need to succeed in the highly competitive job market. Another common topic among users was that this untraditional education has hindered them from building relationships with both professors and their peers, which they fear will impact their ability to network or work professionally within a team. 

Another key finding is that Gen Z are struggling with specific issues that no generation has before: COVID and Social Media. Ironic, perhaps, that this research sourced these conversations from social media; yet this tells us just how entrenched within digital spaces Gen Z are. Introduced to the internet from a young age, Gen Z are battling with the psychological effects of living digitally, encoded within social media platforms and the swathes of mental health issues that come with the virtual territory. These concerns are only further amplified by both the psychological consequences of COVID and the financial worry surrounding the lofty price of a university education. 

The question of mental health isn’t exclusively relevant to Gen Z of course; while they are perhaps the demographic most plugged into social media platforms, generations across age groups are also dealing with the psychological effects of COVID and the age of social media. As understanding of mental health continues to grow, more and more firms are incorporating benefits packages to include mental health support, courses and counselling to frame their operations around the wellbeing of their teams. Whether framed generally or by the pandemic, actively showing a workforce that their health is important is a key approach for employers to practically shift perspectives towards ways of working that reflect twenty-first century attitudes and work/life balance priorities.

The keyhole perspective that the research offers by means of analysing conversations online among Gen Z informs us that, when it comes to business, attitudes towards success and work are significantly shifting. While Gen Z still closely correlates success with more traditional concepts, such as working in top firms, earning a degree from a prestigious university and the luxury of disposable wealth, these users are increasingly attuned to what we might now call ‘toxic’ work cultures, actively advocating for a more stable work-life balance or pursuing alternate paths of fulfilment entirely. Once again, this speaks to a wider seismic shift. Swathes of the UK workforce are engaging in the new practice of ‘quiet quitting’, or in some instances, making a change of industry entirely after many years of service. 

Bringing these findings into the context of the current cross-sector hiring squeeze, this research offers acute insight into the attitudes and concerns of younger generations, which could prove essential to businesses seeking to stand out from the rest of the hiring crowd. These honest perspectives, as detailed in the research findings, present us with a granular understanding of modern working attitudes among Gen Z, which enables businesses to assess their own working cultures. This reflective process is critical not only in appealing to these demographics, seeing them as future employees; it also demonstrates how we can improve day-to-day conditions across industries for a healthier workforce.

This research comes at a vital time for employers trying to navigate the current hiring climate, as it offers particular insight as to what the future can (and perhaps should) resemble. Whilst it’s all too easy to condemn social media altogether as a vanity project or another echo chamber, these learnings highlight the breadth of conversation online and the potential ways businesses can respond to these open and continuous discussions. With innovative social listening technologies, Gen Z opinions can be heard in the most unfiltered way, in the spaces they inhabit naturally. From here, businesses looking to attract this key audience can focus on the positive changes they are seeking, to create a working culture which is as modern, diverse and dynamic as the generation who will one day lead it.