From education to employment

Half of Generation Z employees impacted professionally by COVID-19

The youngest cohort in the workforce – 18 to 24-year-olds, or ‘Generation Z’ – has been hardest hit by the economic impact of COVID-19, reveals a new study by the ADP® Research Institute (@ADP), People at Work 2021: A Global Workforce View. When considering their professional lives, the youngest workers across the globe have largely borne the brunt of the pandemic, suffering a significantly higher likelihood of job losses and layoffs.

In the survey of more than 32,000 workers in 17 countries, nearly four in five 18–24-year-olds (78%) internationally reported that their professional lives had been affected in some way by the pandemic, compared to 64% of workers who said so overall. This disparity is even greater in the UK, where 54% of workers across all age groups were professionally impacted by COVID-19, in comparison to 73% of 18–24-year-olds.

In fact, half of UK workers in this age group have lost jobs, been furloughed, or been laid off temporarily (50%), while less than a quarter (23%) reported no impact at all. The likelihood of experiencing these professional disadvantages drops significantly for all other age groups, to around one third for both 25–34-year-olds (33%) and 35–44-year-olds (34%).  

Globally, almost two in five (39%) Generation Z employees reported job losses, furlough, or temporary layoffs from their employer, whereas 28% of workers of all ages said the same. The youngest cohort of workers were twice as likely to experience these impacts as their colleagues in the oldest age bracket (55+).

Comparison of professional impacts in UK and globally by age group

Thinking about COVID-19, how, if at all, have you been impacted professionally?







Lost a job, been furloughed or temporarily laid off with the same employer













No professional impact













Perhaps unsurprisingly, positivity among Generation Z about the next five years in the workplace has fallen substantially since the pandemic hit. At the beginning of 2020, 82% of 16–24-year-olds in the UK felt optimistic about the future of work1, compared to 70% of 18–24-year-olds now. This is the most significant decline of any age group, with the overall levels of optimism in the UK falling just 7 percentage points, from 73% to 66%.

Jeff Phipps, Managing Director of ADP in UK and Ireland, comments,

“The professional turmoil of the past year has been difficult for everyone to handle, let alone those who are newest to the workforce. Aside from the major impacts of job losses and furlough – which will have changed the lives of those affected  there are also more subtle effects of the pandemic on the professional lives of UK workers.”

“For many, working from home and social restrictions have made it difficult to receive training, benefit from mentoring, or build a professional network. This undoubtedly has a significant impact on all employees, but those who are least established in their fields have fewer pre-existing relationships and resources to fall back on. While this can be observed within organisations to an extent, a bigger challenge is on the horizon – how to address the yet unknown impact of reduced in-person education and limited social experience on university students who will soon be entering the workforce.”

“The professional impact of Covid-19 is something organisations will have to contend within the months and even years to come. Whether businesses are returning to their offices full-time, instituting hybrid working policies, or continuing to work remotely, they must not ignore how the pandemic changed their employees’ lives. To revitalize engagement and productivity, employers will need to provide support for their workforce in patching any gaps in their professional development.”  

In the face of a global pandemic, Generation Z has had to be the most agile of any age group. More than one in three (36%) have changed roles or taken on a new role as their employers have pivoted – compared to 28% overall and just one in five (20%) of those aged 45–54 or 55+. This has seemingly resulted in higher levels of professional resilience and confidence for the youngest cohort in the workplace. Nearly half of UK workers aged 18 to 24 (48%) are very or extremely confident that they could find another position that offered the same or better pay if they lost their current job, almost 5 percentage points higher than the next most confident age group – 25 to 34-year-olds (44%).

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