It’s boomers who are to blame for Gen Z shirking from home

The boomers are at it again. 

Brick rich and pension rich, they had a decent pandemic by buying up more space in which to lock down. 

Now that the world is returning to normal it’s time to call time on the Boomer garden office and get senior management back to the office. 

According to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, age is a key determinant of working from home. 

It found that older workers are more likely to be in the “mainly work from home” category, and is especially the case among high-skilled professional and managerial workers, such as managers, directors and other senior officials. 

Not so for manual workers and those providing health, education and other public-facing services. 

It’s no surprise that living in a larger, airy home with outside space is hard for older workers to leave

The story is very different for their younger colleagues, who, thanks to high rental costs and the cost of living crisis, are increasingly likely to be working from cramped, overcrowded and increasingly unaffordable housing, locked out from offices, office socialising and office culture.   

The social contract relies on the passing on of knowledge, training, expertise, behaviours, workplace culture and ethics to younger and future workers. 

The intergenerational transmission of workplace knowledge is at risk if older, senior workplace leaders ignore their responsibilities of passing these skills on to younger colleagues today. 

Online meetings and chat boxes cannot replace in-person communication. 

Office small talk, water-cooler moments or coffee-machine conversations create, support and deepen team cohesion. A quick chat can quickly solve problems and alert managers to work pressures such as stress and reduced wellbeing. 

Office moments also spark new ideas and lead to innovation.

Don’t older colleagues owe it to their younger colleagues to teach them the ways of organisational culture – both good and bad? The workplace intergenerational contract also cuts both ways. 

While workers early on in their careers may think that hybrid working provides a better “work-life” balance with reduced commuter times and lower travel costs making up for higher home-working energy bills, in reality younger workers risk losing out in other ways. 

Learning the ways of workplace culture, from verbal and non-verbal communication, to listening, hearing, watching, and participating cannot be taught online. 

Learning how to navigate workplace culture, with all its formal and informal codes, plays a large part in career progression.

By simply being less visible in the office, younger workers could lose out, on unconscious bias grounds, to those staff members whose faces are better known in the office. 

Being on the spot is a huge advantage when it comes to raising a hand to new projects coming in or hearing about new roles coming up. Those conversations are less public in a virtual world.  

We have yet to see whether remote and hybrid working will result in productivity gains or losses for businesses and organisations. But on intergenerational grounds, all generations are likely to be losers.

Liz Emerson is the co-founder of the Intergenerational Foundation