The overwhelming majority (87%) of UK business leaders say young people have been hit by a “development dip” during COVID-19 as a result of the prolonged period of working from home, according to new research from LinkedIn, the world’s largest professional network.


The study of 250 C-level executives in the UK – at companies with 1,000+ employees and £250+ million annual turnover – finds that nearly a third (30%) of business leaders believe it’s been challenging for young people to onboard when starting their first day from home. Another 42% of leaders recognise that young people’s ability to build meaningful relationships with colleagues while working remotely has been difficult.


Young people are feeling “out of practice”

Young professionals agree – a complementary survey of 1,000+ workers in the UK finds that 69% of young people (aged 16-34) believe their professional learning experience has been impacted by the pandemic. Over half (57%) of those asked to return to offices feel their ability to make conversation at work has suffered, and 71% say they’ve forgotten how to conduct themselves in an office environment. The vast majority (84%) ultimately feel “out of practice” when it comes to office life, particularly with delivering presentations (29%) and speaking to customers or clients (34%).


Missed opportunities

Business leaders say the key development experiences that young people have missed out on during the pandemic include learning by “osmosis” from being around more experienced colleagues (36%), developing their essential soft skills (36%), and building professional networks (37%).


Skills to succeed

The research found that over half (56%) of UK businesses are moving to hybrid working, where some time is spent in the office and other time is spent at home, with leaders saying collaboration (59%) and communication (57%) are the two most important skills employees need to succeed in the future. Nearly half (49%) of leaders say working closely with experienced team members is the best way for young people to catch up and build these soft skills.


Reassuringly, 78% of leaders are planning to introduce training courses to help employees adapt to new ways of working which will specifically help young people, and over half (55%) are planning to increase budgets for employee social events to encourage relationship building.


Becky Schnauffer, Director at LinkedIn, said: “It’s clear that the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent disruption to workplaces has had a disproportionate impact on young people and their skills development. For those young professionals who are feeling “out of practice” when it comes to office life, it will be reassuring for them to hear that business leaders recognise the challenges they’ve faced and are seeking to address them. Many leaders are working closely with HR who are introducing training courses and guidelines to help employees adapt to a new way of working, and it’s positive to see budgets for social events increasing to support employee relationship building. Combined with mentoring programmes and continuous learning, these initiatives will go a long way to help young people catch up.”


Anjula Mutanda, workplace psychologist, said: “The loss of office small talk, while seemingly insignificant at first, could have a detrimental longer-term impact on career development. Younger people especially haven’t had time to build up office conversation skills, and many may have started jobs in lockdown without ever meeting their colleagues in real life which makes it very hard to connect on a more personal level. Trusted relationships and small talk can sometimes lead to big things in business environments, so if we’re out of practice, we could be missing out on opportunities.”


Alison Wilcox, Group HR Director, BT Group said: “At BT, we still see our shared workplaces as very much central to the company’s future. They will be places where colleagues can come together to connect, collaborate, learn and develop, build friendships and share their experiences. As one of the largest employers of graduates and apprentices in the UK, our state-of-the-art offices will be places to learn from more experienced colleagues and where new joiners will learn the ropes, meet new teammates and bring fresh thinking to drive growth in our business; they will continue to make a significant contribution to their surrounding micro and local economies; and above all, they will be the place where our teams come together to foster collaboration and creativity that will deliver for our customers.”


To help people brush up on their essential soft skills, LinkedIn is making a number of LinkedIn Learning courses available for free throughout September to 15th October 2021 to support people as many return to the office. These courses include: