Talent   //   August 23, 2023

Unprepared Gen Z workers turn to online business etiquette courses

Workers are transitioning back into offices after years of working from home and many have forgotten how to behave in the workplace

But Generation Z workers in particular — who either began their careers remotely or are just now starting in hybrid arrangements — may have simply never learned how to behave in professional settings. They’re now turning to free online courses offered by platforms like LinkedIn to figure out what they should and shouldn’t do at many of their first full-time jobs.

Views are up 30% since last year for one Linkedin course covering business etiquette basics, with video lessons covering hypothetical workplace scenarios many younger workers haven’t yet experienced but likely will find themselves in as they gain more in-person work time.

Who picks up the check at a business meal? What’s the best way to speak up in a meeting? And how do I start a conversation at a networking event? – are some of the examples covered. 

Another course seeing growing interest covers topics like how to deal with different personality types, reading body language and vocal cues and being polite but direct as more in-person workplace interaction occurs.

Not everyone is back to the office full-time though, and hybrid work is now presenting a new set of challenges for younger workers especially, according to Thomas P. Farley, a business etiquette expert speaker and author tapped by companies to help train their employees.

Nearly all the companies he works with have staff in hybrid arrangements with varying requirements around which and how many days they return. 

That means younger workers are still missing out on regular opportunities to observe how their more seasoned co-workers act and absorb those norms, and it’s trickier for them to find mentors to model their behavior after.

“Even with something as simple as wardrobe, you observe others at the company to see how they dress for the office."
Thomas P. Farley, a business etiquette expert, speaker and author.

“Even with something as simple as wardrobe, you observe others at the company to see how they dress for the office,” Farley said.

Younger workers are also struggling with conducting themselves professionally outside of the office, for instance at networking events or company dinners that are happening more frequently again, he said. 

Incidents where a younger worker unwittingly embarrasses themselves at a company function can often prompt a request for training and are happening more often. Widely sending an email filled with mistakes is another error younger staff can often make, he said.

Email etiquette is another topic Gen Z workers feel inexperienced with and are turning to online channels to learn about. Another Linkedin course seeing growing demand covers the basics of email etiquette and what considerations should be made reading tone, timing, audience and other norms around subject lines and CCing. 

Internal data from Linkedin also suggests workers who are younger than 34 years old care about building skills, and they’re more likely to value opportunities for growth and learning than any other age group.

“As AI ushers in a new world of work, people skills – like interpersonal collaboration – are more important than ever before,” said Jolie Miller, Linkedin’s director of content management.

“Skills like collaboration and communication go a long way in strengthening company culture, especially as people return to the office,” she said.

While younger workers may be learning these guidelines for the first time, others may just be rusty after working remotely for three years. Accordingly, companies are offering training courses to workers of all age groups as they bring more employees back to the office.

Over half of companies are currently offering etiquette classes and another 18% said they plan to roll out training programs by next year, a recent survey including more than 1,500 respondents who hold executive or management titles at companies with 11 or more employees from ResumeBuilder.com found.

Having appropriate workplace conversations is the top skill employers want staff to brush up on, that survey found, followed by dressing appropriately.