October 4, 2022


All The Technology

How Gen Z Can Build Social Capital at Work

  • Social capital at work refers to the trust that arises from employees working together.
  • It’s an important yet invisible factor in career success — and Gen Z has missed out.
  • As hybrid working becomes normal, here’s how the youngest workers can build up their company networks.

Newcomers entering the workforce during the pandemic have missed out on an invisible but important facet of work: social capital. This is the trust and sense of collaboration that arises when employees work and socialize together — both impossible for the last 18 months.

Gen Z workers have, perhaps unsurprisingly, struggled at work more than older generations, according to Microsoft’s 2021 Trend Index. The tech giant also found that how people communicated on its workplace chat tool Teams changed during the pandemic, with most workers reverting from group channels to smaller, private chats. This locks out newcomers to the workplace, such as Gen Z.

Happily, there’s data to suggest the switch to hybrid working will bring a marked improvement in working relationships.

Insider spoke to three experts for their advice to Gen Z workers:

1. Learn to code switch 

Talk to workers of different ages, says Andy Molinsky, professor of organizational behaviour at Brandeis International Business School. 

“Being aware of the ways in which people of different generations may interact virtually is an important skill for a younger person to have — to code switch in their social networking,” he said.

Mastering the nuances of communicating online and offline is another skill. Try to avoid online slang on work chat apps and emails, advises Stephen Isherwood, CEO of the Institute of Student Employers. 

“If you are writing messages, it is better to spell properly, because all these little things, if you don’t pay attention to them, there’s a danger that somebody looks and thinks ‘Well, if you’re not paying attention to this, are you really taking the rest of your job seriously?'” 

2. Build your brand at work 

Crafting a reputation for good work will get you noticed.

“A brand is a promise,” said James Uffindell, CEO of talent network Bright Network. “If you’re building a strong personal brand, you want to be that person who is known for just really high quality delivery, really high levels of professionalism and if you don’t do that, you cease to deliver your promise.”

Being able to “underpromise and overdeliver” at work will establish your work ethic to colleagues who don’t know you.

3. Chat apps can be useful

Although the quality of relationships may not be as strong virtually, being online offers some advantages.

Offices are great for building connections with people in your vicinity. But workplace chat apps can make it easier to talk to international colleagues.

“The potential to reach people through these platforms can expand the potential reach that you could have and your potential for building that network,” Molinsky said. “In a single day on your couch, you could network with someone from Mumbai from London from the US and from Hawaii. If you were in person that could never happen.” 

4. Plan your conversations

Every conversation should have a purpose, Isherwood said. Avoid booking in casual half-hour chats where there is no structure, and you don’t know what questions you might ask. “The same as in person, it’s knowing what you want to get out of a conversation with somebody and also thinking about what’s in it for them.”

5. Don’t be shy

Offices are can be a great place to build informal networks. 

“Offices are great learning machines,” Uffindell said, adding that younger workers should embrace spontaneous chats with people outside their own teams. “The collaboration engine in the office can be very powerful.” 

Building relationships away from your desk also counts. “Try to get out of the office, go for a drink after work, go for a lunch, just get out of the office.”