Its’ giving balance: What we can learn from Gen Z’s shifting attitudes

For decades, the typical rule for many Western countries has been that work is all about the ‘hustle culture’. I remember starting my internship (unpaid in London, I might add) where my job was to fill out excel sheets for SEO purposes from 9 to 5 – and I was made to feel like it was a true blessing. That I should be grateful. The imaginary rules from the corporate world that I’d heard whisperings about came to haunt me as I began my career. Working 9-5? You better start early and leave late. Lunch breaks? Eat at your desk – you’ll get more work done that way. Clocking off after work? Don’t. Check your emails and always respond ASAP. It’ll get you recognised and noticed. Because we’re always connected now and always reachable, it makes it so much harder to maintain any sort of boundary. As a result, work has become part of our identity – where we are willing to do just about anything for our jobs.

A generation defined by technology, cultural aggregation, fluidity and contradiction – they’ve witnessed older workers experience burnout and economic insecurity. You might have heard the common belief that Gen Z is entitled, self-focused & unmotivated, but this is far from the truth. Gen Zers think outside the box. They’re natural-born entrepreneurs and innovators who like solving complex problems. From a young age, they forge their own paths and invent new opportunities that may not have previously existed. In 2016, a report found that Gen Z is the most entrepreneurial generation to date. Compared to 70% of all working generations, 76% of Gen Zers surveyed believe they are the drivers of their careers and will work for their own professional advancement. Furthermore, 49% want to start their own business, compared to 32% across all working generations. So why do they get such a bad rep? Ultimately, it’s because they want a job that can provide them contentment and happiness and they’re unafraid to walk if this is not given to them. Whilst a place like this might sound like a kingdom far far away for many millennials, there are lessons we can take away from Gen Z. Listen up besties. 

1. It’s ok to not always be ok

Generational shifts led mainly by Gen Z have meant mental health and wellbeing are rapidly becoming two of the most important issues to talk about and tackle openly.

54% of 13-39-year-olds say their mental health has been negatively impacted by Coronavirus. 

It only takes a quick TikTok search to see that #therapy has been viewed 8.88M times Certainly, it would seem as a society that we are less afraid to admit that the constant lockdowns and the uncertainty we all experienced had a negative and profound impact on our wellbeing. However, this is not the case when it comes to the workplace. Although nearly half of millennials and Gen Zs (48%) report feeling more stressed since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, their employers most likely don’t know how much they’ve been affected. Indeed, almost six in 10 of these respondents admit that they have not spoken to their employers or line managers about their increased stress or anxiety. An astounding 49% and 47% of millennials and Gen Zs who have taken time off work for mental health reasons have given their employer a different reason for this absence. And for those who have never requested time off for mental health reasons, 46% and 51% of them said that they would not tell their employer the real reason if they did.

“If business leaders want to actively help millennials and Gen Zs to thrive at work, they need to prioritize mental health and embed a workplace culture where stigma does not exist.” 
Emma Codd, Deloitte Global Inclusion leader

One thing is for certain – Gen Z is creating online spaces where those with mental health conditions can feel that they belong without judgment in the corporate world. They’re taking their problems and confronting them head-on. Whilst mental health is still a stigma in the workplace, it is community conversations like these that could change the future.

2. It’s not entitlment, it’s knowing your worth

Gen Z isn’t afraid to give up on something that is not bringing them happiness and that includes a full-time job. Whilst we’re all quick to call them entitled or lazy – this generation is motivated by more than salary. Of course money matters, but other things like work-life balance, flexible hours and perks and benefits are just as important. If given the choice of accepting a better-paying but boring job versus work that was more interesting but didn’t pay as well, Gen Z is fairly evenly split over the choice. They know what they deserve and don’t let the fear of previous generations & their beliefs on corporate life get in their heads.

A World Economic Forum report found that 73% of employees now desire permanent flexible work options. Remote and hybrid work fosters productivity, fewer workplace distractions and minimizes many of the stress drivers that exacerbate Gen Z workers’ mental health concerns. It’s no surprise then that the concept of a “digital nomad”: people who combine working remotely and travelling for all or part of the year has become more popular in the last year. In the U.S alone, the number of American workers who described themselves as digital nomads swelled to 15.5 million from 7.3 million from 2019 to 2021. Don’t be afraid to have those somewhat uncomfortable conversations at work about creating your ideal situation, albeit flexibility, salary or more. To quote a cheugy (look it up) motivational quote here: 

know your worth –
and then add tax. 

3. It’s not prying, it’s accountability

It’s not just that Gen Z is demanding more from their workplace conditions, they’re placing the onus on companies to do better. Whilst some may say they’re overly inquisitive when it comes to company policies and will weaponise cancel culture when they don’t like what they see, Gen Z prioritizes diversity — across race, gender, and orientation — more than any other generation. It’s no longer about the quality of your products and services but also now about practices and social impact. To win the hearts of Gen Z, companies must have strong ethics, they have to demonstrate that they take action consistent with their ethics and values, and this action must be front and centre of their brand for prospective Gen Z employees to see. They’re the most likely generation to have individuals that identify as non-binary/third gender and are embracing concepts like neurodiversity, advocating for greater accessibility for the disabled.

Neurodiversity expert Dr Nancy Doyle writes: 

“For many Gen-Z people, ethics, equity, diversity and inclusion are their motivation and their calling. Workplaces sticking to rigid definitions, mining identity politics for skills that can be exploited without embracing intersectional diversity are going to gain a bad reputation, losing talent.”

As a result, companies need to represent the full spectrum of humans in marketing to diversify their talent pipelines. Essentially, there’s no excuse for not making DEI a priority and – spoiler alert – if there is nowhere to find it or ask about it upon starting a role, that’s a big disconnect for Gen Z’ers. At the end of the day, it is 2022 and we all need to work together to create a diverse & inclusive workforce. 

Final thoughts

So there you have it. Gen Z. A paradoxical generation that despite the stereotypes has managed to inspire me and my attitudes to the corporate world. Whilst we owe our hard work and dedication to our jobs, money can’t buy true happiness (it does help though) nor can it buy employee loyalty. Longer hours with no breaks do not equate to higher productivity and being assertive about the job you are in won’t make you look bad. So, the next time you find yourself debating whether to take that lunch break, prioritizing your mental health to establish a healthier work-life balance or asking your superiors to give you more flexibility to work with your lifestyle… just do it. If the pandemic taught us anything it is that life, as cliche as it sounds, really is about living to the fullest