Combating young people’s anxieties about face-to-face contact

A key challenge in managing millennials and Gen Z is building and helping them maintain confidence levels to remove the anxiety from face-to-face situations.

Lynsey Whitmarsh

Director of Strategy and Experience at Hemsley Fraser

4 Minute read

27 Januar 2020

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Virtual communication

I’m in a privileged position whereby I’m able to lead a team of highly creative and passionate young people, and so I see first-hand how millennials, and now Generation Z, are fitting in and performing within the workplace. I’ve noticed that many of them, although by no means all, tend to work autonomously, rather than engaging with their co-workers and using one another as sounding boards. Instead, they connect online and use instant messaging to chat to people who are often sat just a few feet away from them across the office.

Essentially, they’re much more confident and comfortable when they’re behind a screen and in a virtual world, rather than holding face-to-face conversations. Many of today’s young people have completely different needs in terms of the information they require to fulfil their roles effectively. As a consequence of that, we have adapted our approach at Hemsley Fraser to ensure that the learning we are providing is relevant for all generations in the workforce, as well as future-proofed.

It would seem that most young people feel safer when communicating online because the inferred instant judgement is removed. A key challenge in managing millennials and Gen Z is building and helping them maintain confidence levels to remove the anxiety from face-to-face situations. The young people I have come across in the workplace all have a wealth of knowledge, but are afraid to demonstrate it in conversations, meetings or presentations. So, as their manager, how can you bring out the best in our future business leaders?

As with many other aspects of working life, technology can provide a solution to the problem at hand; by creating a stepped approach, you can help young employees build slowly towards a face-to-face scenario. For example, initial client conversations could take place on a web conferencing application to get them used to talking to others in a structured environment, before working towards an in-person meeting and, later, a presentation scenario.

By using digital assets creatively, learning and development teams can build stepping stones that begin breaking down the anxiety barriers. This isn’t just limited to communication skills, and can in fact be applied to a number of different business situations. Young people often learn better through technology rather than traditional means, so it needn’t be limited to specific situations such as communication. We’ve found that digital assets and resources can break down the barriers that stop young people having the confidence to talk about sensitive issues in life – any thing from finance and employment to relationship building and mental health.

Anyone who has held a face-to-face meeting with young people – be it two or 20 – will know that it can be a challenge. Distractions are everywhere, and oftentimes it will seem that they are more engaged with their phones than with anything you’re saying. In the learning environment, the answer is to find ways of incorporating the technologies they are used to, such as social media, into the in-person session. That opens up a connection with your audience, and will get them on board much easier.

For learning and development teams, dealing with young people is no different to working with any age group, it’s simply that the barriers are different – training baby boomers and Generation X in the workplace also had its obstacles. You need a creative approach that is tailored to the needs of your audience, and by removing anxieties that come with face-to-face confrontations, you will in turn build young employees’ confidence and make them a greater asset to the business in the long run.


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