I know some young folks. I work with some young folks. The stereotype that the younger generations don’t want to work is false, in my opinion. What they don’t want to do is work the same way we have for ages because they recognize that it’s not a sound system.
These weird workplace experiences have resulted in some serious hesitancy and confusion about what it means to work, how to meet coworkers, and whether to prioritize our jobs in our lives. And you can’t blame us for that.
I’m 54 – solidly GenX. My generation and even the next generation were taught to get a good job, work hard, and dedicate the effort to succeed. Eventually, you’ll move up the ranks—Manager, Director, VP, C-Suite, etc. All that was required would be hard work and time.
As we’ve since learned, that was all bullshit. An infinitely larger percentage of us have been laid off than ever got promoted to those levels. More got let go after being on that career ladder for years; even more got stuck behind an increasingly aging group of senior management that never designed the workplace to accommodate the fact that there are no more empty slots on the Org. chart. (Oh, you’ve been a team leader for five years and haven’t moved up from there? Must be something wrong with you. Let’s get someone younger and cheaper instead.)
They’ve then watched the deteriorating mental health of all those older workers who, again, were told that our jobs = our value and no longer had jobs.
Think about it this way:
- Step one – get a decent entry-level job at a solid company.
- Step two – work hard at that job for several years and climb the ladder.
- Step three – place all of your identity and self-value into this job.
- Step four – Get laid off because the CEO made terrible decisions or because there’s the slightest whiff of economic trouble leading our shareholders or VC investors to demand we do something to cut costs and increase the share price.
- Step five – desperately take any job you can get after being laid off and start the whole thing over again.
It’s not lazy to want off of this train. It’s stupid to stay on it and expect something different the next time. GenZ is anything but stupid. They are looking for alternatives. Can you blame them?
Consider this response to this claim that GenZ doesn’t want to work –
She quotes some interesting statistics about the percentage of GenZ workers who are upskilling on their own time and on their own dime. (There are serious implications for training and development here as a retention strategy. What if you offered that kind of upskilling and the flexibility to learn a job that isn’t within your current area of the business?)
The more alarming trend might be the number of them only interested in contract positions and holding down multiple contract gigs to create flexibility in their lives. There is a reckoning coming for businesses that don’t see this. That “work 60 hours a week to maybe get to the next step on the career ladder” job will become the job no one wants. You won’t be able to offer enough money for people to take it. What will you do when no more junior people fill your positions?
This, by the way, will also require a reckoning when it comes to our healthcare system in the US. The public arguments against Universal Health Care are about cost and taxes, but underneath it is the reality that for many of us who are not GenZ, the only reason we aren’t doing the same things with our careers is the need for health insurance—the kind of coverage for kids and our aging selves that is only affordable through fulltime employment. Business interests know this. Business interests don’t want anything to change about the health insurance system that is currently in place, regardless of how bad it is. They know there will be a mass exodus of employees to contract, gig, or self-employment if health insurance is not an issue.
The world is changing, and that’s not a bad thing. We can’t claim what we’ve been doing has been successful for anyone but the elite few. This generation isn’t satisfied with that.
Good for them.