Fact: the workforce is constantly changing. The most recent cycle of disruption of the workforce was initiated by millennials – particularly after the 2008 recession – as their attitude towards work began to shift. Millennials slowly reshaped employers’ understanding of work-life balance, and a greater emphasis on equity and inclusion set the stage for Gen Z’s further reshaping of the workplace.
Individuals classified as Gen Z were born between 1997 and 2010; so in 2022, they are between 10 and 25 years old. As Gen Z enters the workforce, they bring a more independent mindset and desire to control their own destiny in the workplace. Technology has been changing work modes for the last decade already, and the pandemic has created a much more diverse set of work opportunities: “Traditional working models are no longer fit for the 21st century”. As the structural shifts meet Gen Z’s work preferences, change is underway.
Gen Z raises a series of questions about the work and employer-employee relationships. Does pressure to find the “perfect job” still exist among Gen Z job seekers? The short answer is no. Gen Z is the internet generation, and knows a little about a lot: “Gen Z has grown accustomed to seeking solutions and answers independently”. The mindset of finding a job that is a ‘perfect fit’ no longer exists among the newest members of the workforce. Rather, Gen Z’s mindset is a complete departure from the expectations of previous generations – no more 8 to 8 in a job you’re expected to stick with until retirement.
The repudiation of conventional long-term employment is caused by a variety of factors: an unstable U.S. and world economy, the increasingly lower promise of higher education, the growing popularity of entrepreneurship and freelance activities, and a different perspective on work from previous generations have affected the way Gen Z wants to balance work and life.
The change we see afoot with Gen Z harkens back to the change Millennials affected after the 2008 recession. Having lived with a generation of parents who had no work-life balance and seemed to reap little by way of employer loyalty despite decades of hard work, Gen Z highly prioritizes work-life balance. Further, their expectations of their workplace are now goal-oriented. Entering the workforce during a global pandemic, Gen Z began to prioritize flexibility and the ability to work remotely more than any other generation. Attempts to reign remote working back in have proved challenging thus far.
A study conducted by EY in 2020, one of the world’s largest multinational professional services networks, evaluated approximately six thousand participants aged 16-25 on their educational experiences and their attitudes toward the future. The study had the Gen Z participants rank their characteristics of an ideal career, and the results provide a stark contrast to ‘ideal career’ expectations just a few decades ago. Some of the top-ranked characteristics of an ideal career for a Gen Z employee included:
Generate original thought and ideas
Interact with people from around the world
Solve complex problems
Extend compassion and empathy to others
What is particularly interesting about this list is the traits that are missing, like high pay or benefits from the employer – instead – these particular aspects of a job are a given, rather than components of an ‘ideal career’. Gen Z’s expectations for their careers continue to point to more individual autonomy within the workplace. They’re not looking to settle or ‘just get by’. The EY study also found that 65% of Gen Z respondents already in the workforce expect that, in 10 years, they’ll be running their own business.
Is Gen Z’s redefining of the workforce realistic? Yes – prioritizing collaboration and environmental concerns is real and important to Gen Z, and these priorities will continue to shape the workforce for decades to come. The oldest Gen Zers are 25, meaning they’ve only been in the workforce for a couple of years. Gen Z’s propensity for entrepreneurship might have a ripple effect on their workplace colleagues.
On the other hand, Gen Z’s ability to redefine the workplace could come apart as quickly as it came about. By consensus, a US recession looms – and it will mean greater unemployment and reduced consumer spending. Today, businesses are short of employees and Gen Z is a key pool of labor. When the economy turns, negotiating power will shift back to employers. And yet Gen Z is the future workforce for the medium term so where their preferences balance out with economic imperatives remains to be seen.
Sarah Brown is an editorial intern at ideamix. She is a student at Wesleyan University and is majoring in History and Government, and minoring in Art History. She enjoys reading and writing and loves to travel!