How Microsoft’s social listening research highlighted changing attitudes to work

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. As more and more roles require digital skills, businesses are looking to younger generations whose upbringing may have been organically framed by digital tools, platforms and devices.

However, new research from Microsoft and SHARE Creative revealed that ‘Generation Z’, despite their natural aptitude for technology and understanding of how social media usage and consumption shape the cultural landscape, are struggling to find their feet in professional spaces. Through its unique methodology, this research identified that in order for businesses to source the talent they need to navigate the hiring squeeze, listening to the needs of this dynamic, diverse and digital generation has never been more vital.

To fully understand the unfiltered opinions of Gen Z and provide unparalleled insight into these users, Microsoft and SHARE Creative employed cutting-edge Social Intelligence technology to monitor conversations and capture the concerns, needs and emotions of Gen Z across popular social media platforms such as Twitter, Reddit, Quora, Forums and Instagram. Following social listening, an unsupervised machine learning algorithm analysed the data and categorised the information into topics and themes, which identified three key areas of interest to Gen Z: Career Advice, Mental Health and Success and Networking.

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When it comes to career support, the research found that almost half 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 COVID – particularly, if and how the pandemic would negatively affect their career prospects.

Having recently completed university degrees, some of which were taught entirely online, Gen Z users express concern that remote learning has refused them the hands-on experience their older counterparts have accessed, 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 that this analysis uncovered is that Gen Z feel they 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 keyhole perspective that the research offers 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 culture, and advocate for a more stable work-life balance or pursuing alternate paths of fulfilment entirely.

Bringing these findings into the context of the current cross-sector hiring squeeze, this brand new approach to research offers acute insight into the attitudes and concerns of younger generations, much of which might also change our own perspectives on how we work. These honest perspectives, as detailed in the research findings, present us with a granular understanding of modern working among Gen Z, which enables businesses to reconsider their own working culture. This reflective process is critical not only in appealing to these demographics, seeing them as future employees; it also demonstrates how we can improve our own day-to-day conditions across industries for a healthier, more productive 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, this research reminds us of the breadth of conversation online and the potential ways in which we can respond to these open and continuous discussions. With innovative social listening technologies we are able to really hear Gen Z 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.