Generation Z is suffering a confidence crisis as a result of the coronavirus pandemic – with fewer young adults self-assured enough to speak in public, according to polling data shared with .
Polling carried out by Survation suggests 35.32 per cent of 18-24 year-olds are less confident speaking in public than they were before the global health catastrophe.
Elocution experts believe that many Gen Z-ers – who would have been aged between 14 and 20 when the pandemic first broke out – have been robbed of formative experiences like giving talks in front of classmates, with most of their communication skills established on video calls during lockdown.
As a result of the years-long gap in their development, experts fear they could suffer professionally or academically, coming up short against older candidates in job interviews or dropping grades in group presentations at school or university.
Experts have called for employers – already using perks like free food to try to coax Gen Z out of their bedrooms and into the office – to give younger workers help with their communication skills to prevent them from becoming a ‘lost generation’.
Many young workers are heading into offices for the first time – and more worried about giving presentations and speaking in front of others than ever
A new survey reveals a relative majority of 18-24 year-olds are less confident about speaking in public than they were before the coronavirus pandemic
Many young adults will be going into offices for the first time since the pandemic – without the confidence of their generational forebears
Gavin Brown, a former lawyer and MSP who commissioned the survey, says there is a ‘real challenge’ in boosting the confidence of Gen Z
The Survation poll, commissioned by public speaking agency Speak With Impact, found that around 20 per cent of 18-24 year-olds were ‘much less confident’ in their speaking skills compared with before the pandemic, while 15 per cent were ‘slightly less confident’.
Gen Z – people born between the middle to late 1990s and the early 2010s – were the only age group to record a net negative score, meaning the relative majority are less confident than they were before.
In other age groups from 25 to 64, a slim majority of people said they had gained confidence in speaking in front of an audience over Covid; the biggest rise in confidence was among the over-65s.
Gavin Brown, founder of Speak With Impact, told he commissioned the survey after hearing a growing number of stories of young people lacking confidence to speak in public.
Mr Brown said: ‘We’ve got a real challenge there, for that age group – who were at the tail end of school, some of them probably in the early years of work or university depending on what they did.
‘This is a group of people that has never really spoken in public before – and while others have said they’re worried about being back in a room speaking, these are people that have never been in the room at all.
‘They’ve not been through those early public speaking experiences at school, or at university, or in your first job, where you make mistakes but you learn quite quickly.
‘When you are in the room, all eyes are on you, and you can’t see that all eyes are on you when you’re on Zoom.
‘If your formative years were spent doing it on Zoom or Teams, and you’re suddenly going into the room for the first time, that’s probably pretty nerve-wracking.
‘It’s not learning to speak in the room again. It’s learning to speak in the room full stop.’
Having a fear of public speaking is not a new phenomenon – it even has a name, glossophobia, derived from the Greek word ‘glossa’, meaning tongue.
A YouGov survey published in 2014 found that public speaking was the third-greatest fear among Brits, with more than half of us either ‘very’ or ‘a little’ afraid of it.
The only things British adults were more scared of – prior to the pandemic, at least – were snakes and heights, by the slimmest of margins.
Channel 4 boss Alex Mahon has previously expressed concerns that younger people are coming into work environments ill-equipped to politely disagree with others
But as a result of lockdown, and being removed from society for so long during their formative years, Mr Brown believes Gen Z is at a disadvantage when it comes to competing for jobs or impressing bosses.
The 48-year-old, a former lawyer and Conservative MSP, says employers should be prepared to show some compassion to junior members of staff and apprentices if they struggle to speak up.
He added: ‘(Younger people’s) line managers, their bosses, all of that, will be in one of those higher age brackets. And those people, their confidence probably dipped a bit during the pandemic, but they’re not starting from zero.
‘But this younger age bracket, that have never spoken in public, are suddenly having to do it where the stakes are higher, but those listening won’t quite empathise with that. There is a gap there that a lot of employers need to be mindful of.
‘Employers need to realise it will take a while to get younger people going full-tilt, and you’ve got to have a huge amount of empathy for them, and to help them, guide them, train them, to get them to the level they’d want to be at.
‘It doesn’t need to be a lost generation. We can be optimistic and turn it into a generation that flourishes, but it will take extra work.’
Business leaders have expressed concerns that an entire generation could become ‘lost’ because the coronavirus pandemic stripped them of essential socialising and professional opportunities.
Channel 4 chief executive Alex Mahon said last month that Gen Z was ‘workshy’ and unable to engage in civil debates about controversial topics because they had spent the pandemic on social media, filtering what they saw to align with their own views.
She told the Royal Television Society Cambridge Convention: ‘What we are seeing with young people who come into the workplace – particularly post-pandemic – with this concentration of short-form content (such as TikTok) is they haven’t got the skills to debate things.
‘They haven’t got the skills to discuss, they haven’t got the skills to disagree and commit because they haven’t been raised, particularly with being out of colleges to have those kind of debates, to get to the point where you’ve got people with a difference of opinion to you and you’re happy to work alongside that, and that is a really dangerous step change in my view that we are seeing.’
Major employers also say that workplace ‘cohesion’ among workers is dropping following the pandemic.
Big Four accounting firm KPMG – which employs 14,000 people in the UK – said it offered free food to workers, but this was not luring staff back to the office.
NHS data shows that one in five 17 to 24-year-olds reported a mental health condition in 2022 and that 635,000 Britons are not currently working due to nerves, anxiety or depression.