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Put themselves first and don’t dream of labor: future of work through the Gen Z lens

Antiwork, #QuitTok, and other discussions make one thing clear — Gen Z has a complicated relationship with work. It’s enough to lurk on Twitter, go to Reddit, or stroll around TikTok to see a grim, hopeless attitude fresh graduates have to work.

According to LinkedIn data, Gen Z job-seekers hop between jobs 134% more than they did in 2019. Committing to one workplace is not on the agenda for fresh graduates, 25% of whom plan to look for new jobs in less than 6 months.

Comparing Gen Z to millennials gives a drastically different view: where the 90s kids were gradually discovering the Internet, the following generation was born and raised connected.

Where millennials were born to increased globalization and inspired by the world of opportunities opening before them, Gen Z saw back-to-back recessions, and political polarization.

As of late, most of them had to enter the workforce amidst a global pandemic — a time of fear, uncertainty, and loss. To them, the American dream is dead.

In this post, we will take a closer look at how “zoomers” see work, what their aspirations are, and what employees should do to motivate, inspire, and connect with this generation of employees.

Trend #1. Pessimistic and cynical attitude to life

Compared to millennials, Gen Z doesn’t have the same willingness to risk, experiment, and innovate for the sake of a brighter future.

They are less likely to put in long hours for the sake of a dream or delayed gratification. They want to enjoy life here and now — before the next recession hits.

The pessimism and bitterness driving the generation are understandable. Most young workers saw their childhood through the prism of the Great Recession, the widening income gap, increased tuition fees, and the understanding that owning a house by 30 is unachievable.

Gen Z is a generation that doesn’t count on stability. This is heavily fueled by the growth of the gig economy which is projected to surpass $455 billion in gross volume by next year. The new way of working gives people more autonomy but anxiety and fear follow. At the end of the day, Gen Z has come to learn they only have themselves to count on.

This comment from a Reddit user illustrates the pessimistic view Gen Z has of the job market

Trend #2. Increased mental health awareness and the unwillingness to “hustle”

Millennials were a generation strongly committed to the “hustle culture”. They practically coined the phrase, turning work into a lifestyle and obsession.

Yet, at the same time, millennials were the ones burned by the “performative workaholism”. During the pandemic, the “rise and grind” mindset no longer motivated them — it became clear that an unforeseen emergency can leave dreams hanging, plans postponed, and ambitions — unfulfilled.

Through the 2000s, millennials were watching the hustle culture from the sidelines and saw content creators, entrepreneurs, friends, and family members suffering from its toxicity. Perhaps, it’s one of the reasons why the new generation says “Never again” to workaholism and yearns for work-life balance.

Jen Carson, a 22-year-old career influencer, summarized the feelings of her generation:

“I want to be in a role where I can grow professionally and personally. I don’t want to be stressed, depressed, or always waiting to clock out.”

Another reason why Gen Z is taking work-related stress and burnout more seriously than their predecessors is growing mental health awareness. They learn about the damaging effects of anxiety and depression from celebrities like Demi Lovato who openly advocates for addressing mental health issues or Simone Biles who unapologetically walked away from competing at the Tokyo Olympics last year.

Led by these examples, Gen Z has learned early on that it’s okay to choose yourself, not your company.

The lack of work-life balance is the key reason why young workers quit, followed by the lack of learning opportunities, lacking financial benefits, and existential void work struggles to fill.

To keep Gen Z in their seats, employers have to introduce a new set of variables to job offers.

For this generation, working for companies that align with their personal ethics is vital — they could be the willingness to fight climate change, open-mindedness, or readiness to embrace failure.

Trend #3. No workplace-linked identity

As mentioned above, Gen Z is embracing job-hopping. There are a lot of reasons why young workers choose this path:

  • Better opportunities: in a lot of companies, it’s easier to negotiate a good offer as a new hire than get a promotion as a loyal employee.
  • Remote work doesn’t contribute to building long-lasting bonds. For over 2 years, University graduates entered the workforce dominated by telecommuting. Perhaps, that’s why they don’t feel as involved and connected with their teams as previous generations.
  • Increased mobility and desire for autonomy. Similar to millennials, Gen Z workers don’t want to be anchored to one location. As a generation raised in a globalized world, they want to explore what it has to offer, which often comes with a need to change jobs.
  • Economic instability. Alarmed by massive lay-offs, Gen Z employees are hyper-aware that they might be let go and prefer quitting before they are fired. They don’t expect loyalty from managers and aren’t willing to give much, investing in themselves rather than their workplace.

In the light of increased individualism and yearning for freedom, Gen Z workers value employee training. They want to make sure each project they take on brings on relevant skills, impressive experience, and connections, as these will be the cards they’ll play in the next job search cycle.

Trend #4. Search for hedonism

As the original “me-me-me generation”, millennials are no strangers to self-focused workplaces and the desire to be cool driven by social media. Yet, Gen Z might be taking the trend out of the ballpark, with their strong desire to be nothing but attractive and have fun.

“I don’t have goals, I don’t have ambition. I only want to be attractive. I only want to look good. […] Nothing else matters”.

This is a quote from a viral TikTok that resonated with a lot of Gen Z workers and soon-to-graduate students. “I am the moment” — a user in the comment section stated.

Contrary to millennials’ key mottos like #YOLO or “Live fast, die young”, Gen Z represents an era of cautious hedonism. They don’t want to give their all at work and prefer indulging in relaxing leisure. The trend had a lot of positive effects — adolescent smoking and the use of illicit drugs decreased among US teenagers.

However, there were downsides as well. The social-media-induced craze of “rich and attractive” created a dream of million-dollar outfits and zero work. Gen Z workers want to stay rich — yet they “don’t dream of labor”.

Trend #5. Full autonomy over where and how they work

Gen Z is the generation for which remote work is no longer optional. Around half of Gen Z respondents claim they will quit their job if it interferes with work-life balance.

Having to “clock their hours” is another concept the new generation of workers isn’t comfortable with. In a New York Times article, a millennial founder makes a strikingly accurate observation about Gen Z and their work style:

“Older generations were much more used to punching the clock,” Mr. Kennedy mused. “It was, ‘I climb the ladder and get my pension and gold watch.’ Then for millennials it was, ‘There’s still an office but I can play Ping-Pong and drink nitro coffee.’ For the next generation it’s, ‘Holy cow I can make a living by posting on social media when I want and how I want.’”

Gen Z workers are accepting traditional 9-to-5 job openings reluctantly — even if they do, the culture of job-hopping will encourage them to explore more flexible opportunities and switch jobs as soon as a more flexible offer comes their way.

Trend #6. Disillusionment with capitalism

As a generation born and raised in late-stage capitalism, Gen Z has witnessed its shortcomings and is not shy to call the system out.

According to the survey by The Fortune and SurveyMonkey, the outlook on capitalism among Gen Z respondents is less positive than in any older generation.

Both in the US and Europe, younger workers are vocal about their desire to “Eat the rich” and unwillingness to be an exploited cog in the capitalist system.

Gen Z is hard to blame for their grim outlook on the existing economic system — what they’ve seen of it comprises student loan debts, stagnating wages, and the rich getting richer while the poor get poorer.

At the moment, these observations don’t translate into political action — Gen Z workers have a low unionization rate and don’t proactively join initiatives — mostly because they aren’t taught to or taken seriously yet. Having said that, the wave of influencers educating the generation on unionization and their rights in the workplace implies that Gen Z, too, will become more proactive about transforming their will into act.

The Bottom Line

For employers, dealing with Gen Z might seem like a continuous stream of challenges and pains. Yet, these are, for the most part, growing pains, as they encourage leaders to be open-minded, inclusive, aware of mental health issues, and progressive in all ways.

In a new post in the series, we will share strategies team leaders can use to understand and manage Gen Z employees better. For the time being, it’s worth pointing out that gen Z is the first digitally-native generation — they are comfortable with various collaboration tools and platforms.

That’s why workplace innovation is an effective way to connect with Gen Z. For example, through virtual office platforms, you can meet the needs for more collaboration and workplace training younger employees frequently voice.

oVice is an easy-to-use, customizable platform that encourages flexibility and seamless collaboration and is in line with Gen Z values. Find out how we help team leaders manage cross-generational teams or visit our tour space to experience our future-facing approach to work for yourself.

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