Gen Z is changing the way people speak at work, new study finds

Workplace environments have become more casual in the last five years, and employees believe Generation Z workers are responsible.

A new study from Barclays LifeSkills, an initiative from Barclays Bank, has revealed that 71 per cent of workers in the United Kingdom believe the younger generation is changing the formality of language in the workplace.

The survey, which was published on Tuesday 12 September, predicts that formal phrases and sign-offs - such as “Yours truly,” “Yours sincerely,” and “To whom it may concern” - may be extinct from the workplace within the next 10 years.

Unsurprisingly, social media was cited as a reason for changing workplace language. While 39 per cent of people over the age of 55 believe that social media has had the biggest impact on changes in communication, just 24 per cent of people aged 18 to 24 agreed that social media is to blame for evolving language.

When it comes to popular email signatures, like “Yours truly” and “Yours sincerely”, over a third of UK workers surveyed described these phrases as old-fashioned. Instead, nearly half of Brits have exchanged these closings for “Thanks!” and “Thanks so much” because it’s deemed as more friendly.

While “Ta!” has also become a popular sign-off, 29 per cent of workers see it as being a bit too familiar. The phrase “Hiya!” has also divided opinion - with 42 per cent considering it friendly, 36 per cent as casual, and 26 per cent thinking of it as too familiar.

Perhaps a reason for the change in workplace communication is because online messaging applications are widely used in offices, especially as companies offer their employees the ability to work remote. Apps like Slack, Microsoft Teams, and Google Chat offer users more options to express their feelings and share their individuality with emojis and GIFs.

Gen Z is nearly twice as likely to use these instant messaging platforms at work, compared to 54 per cent of workers aged 55 and over, who prefer to use email because it’s considered more professional. However, 40 per cent of Gen Z-ers believe that email limits their ability to demonstrate their personalities.

“Our research shows that the next generation are clearly going to make their mark on the workforce when it comes to how we communicate,” said Kirstie Mackey, head of the Barclays LifeSkills initiative. “The shift to more personable language is a positive one, however it’s important to demonstrate an understanding of social etiquette in the workplace, which does differ from school or university.

“Striking the right balance whilst still displaying your personality through your communications is key,” she added.

Dr Laura Bailey, senior lecturer in English language and linguistics at the University of Kent, said: “Changing norms in the workplace are reflected in the language younger employees use, and the way communication has changed in general. Email threads and instant messaging platforms have become blended into ‘conversations’ where formal openings and sign offs might feel out of place.

“For the older generation, letter-writing etiquette might be drilled in enough that it is instinctive in any written communication,” she continued. “Whereas for Gen Z, social media has driven linguistic change and sped up the spread of language trends.”

There’s no question that Gen Z has already begun making an impact on the workplace, from making bigger demands for salary transparency to dressing more casually in the office. Most recently, a poll revealed that young adults may take two weeks to feel confident in a new job.

The survey of 1,000 18 to 25 year olds also found that Gen Z workers spend eight days worrying about their new role before they even start, expressing concerns about not fitting in with the team or not knowing what to do in their position. Many young workers turn to social media for advice when starting a new job or apprenticeship, with TikTok proving the most useful.

However, recent graduates entering the workforce had their college experiences interrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic, leading to virtual classes and online internships. As a result, many Gen Z-ers are now taking courses in order to brush up on their work skills.

According to a report from the Wall Street Journal, companies, universities, and recruiters have begun training new hires on developing their soft skills - common interpersonal skills or traits that allow workers to interact harmoniously with others in the workplace. At these training facilities, Gen Z workers will receive training on how to maintain eye contact and take pauses during conversations. Other major companies are also informing young workers on appropriate office culture, such as workplace dress codes.