Canada's youngest workers don't want remote: report

'They need to be financially well and feel valued if you want them to stick around': researcher on new study following young Canadian workers

Canada's youngest workers don't want remote: report

Preliminary results from a major longitudinal study tracking the employment trajectories of over 25,000 young workers in Canada provides insights for how HR should be thinking about retaining young talent.

The study, released by the University of Waterloo’s Youth and Innovation Project with funding from RBC, finds that young Canadians (ages 15 – 19) want to work fully in-person (37%) more than any other age group (21%).

Transition youth (age 20 – 24) want hybrid work models (70%) more than any other age group (58% or less).

“I think there's a lot of stereotypes about young people, that young people just want to be online all the time, and that's all they care about, and they want to be on their phones,” says Ilona Dougherty, managing director of the Youth & Innovation Project.

“That's actually not true. I think there's a lot of reasons why that isn't true.”

Networking opportunities valuable to young workers in Canada

Dougherty, who has been researching youth and business for two decades, has some theories as to why Canadian youth seem to be favouring in-person working models.

“As we get older, people have kids, maybe they have aging parents, so remote work can appeal to folks who are older, certainly because of those responsibilities,” says Dougherty.

“But also, as we get older, we already have our networks established, we know people, we know how work works, we're more set up to succeed without actually creating in-person connections.”

The results of the study will reveal the motivation behind this trend towards in-person and remote work, Dougherty explains: Is it a pendulum-effect reaction to being isolated while in their crucial teen socializing years, or a conscious awareness of the need for in-person networking for career advancement?

“Is this actually young workers recognizing that they need mentorship, recognizing they need to grow their networks, recognizing that you don't learn how to work in an office without being with other folks who maybe have a bit more experience than you do, and soaking in the vibe of the office?” she says.

Community-building important to young Canadians

Additionally, early- and entry-level workers value relationship-building on a level that more experienced employees may not, says Dougherty, pointing out that an important reason young workers might crave in-office interaction is because it is simply “more fun.”

“The brain research is really clear that their peers and just social stimuli, being around other people, is actually more important during that time of life than either when we're older or younger,” she says. “So, there’s a real kind of hunger and desire for connection, even more so than the rest of us.”

At the beginning of their careers, young workers use their workplaces as important social hubs, she says – work relationships are more likely to move out of the professional realm and become lasting friendships, especially for young people who have recently relocated for a new job.

“Young people are really smart, and they know what they need to succeed,” says Dougherty. “Part of it is that strategic piece, part of it is just like, ‘I want to hang out with cool people and get to know people, and it's more fun to do that in person.’”

Advice for HR in retaining young employees: don’t make assumptions

The main lesson to be learned from these initial findings, Dougherty says, is for employers to not make assumptions about what their workers – of any generation – want or need.

But especially young employees, she says, as they can tend to be overlooked in favour of their more established or superior colleagues.

“We kind of miss talking to young employees, right? So, ask them what they need, and work collaboratively with them to create really meaningful work environments.”

This isn’t just about supporting young workers for the betterment of their careers, although that is the intent of the research, Dougherty says. The results have significant implications for the retention of valuable young talent, and by extension, the long-term health of an organization.

“If you want to build a legacy for the company that you work in or that you run, then your next generation of workers is that legacy,” she says.

“Economic scarring,” or the long-term harmful effects that negative early-career experiences can have on an individual’s whole career, can also affect the organization they work for, Dougherty points out.

“This is how you retain talent. You retain talent by talking to your young employees about what they need, really trusting them and listening to them, being in dialogue with them and creating collaborative environments, but also setting them up financially for success.

“They need to be financially well and feel valued if you want them to stick around.”

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