Generation Z: The workers who want everything.

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Work-life balance, fair pay, and value alignment: today’s millennials want it all – and are willing to leave if they don’t get it.

Clarissa Holleman had always felt compelled to teach. But, just over a year into her first job caring for special-needs children, the 24-year-old from Hinesville, Georgia, US, was exhausted by the “high stakes” and “compassion fatigue.” She had “no life” outside of work, and she was struggling to see a future in education.

Due to the pandemic, Holleman’s classes were all remote when she began teaching in July 2020. She felt helpless and unsupported in her efforts to assist the children she was caring for. “That type of work environment is insane; you have no energy left at the end of the day,” Holleman says. In addition to the anxiety and exhaustion she was feeling, she was having financial problems because she wasn’t being paid during the school holidays. Holleman was increasingly convinced that the toll the job was taking on her life was not worth the sense of purpose it provided.

So, in January 2022, after months of upskilling via free LinkedIn courses, Holleman left her “dream job.” She’s now a tech recruiter at a millennial-run company, and while she doesn’t identify as much with her work anymore, she prefers it that way. Holleman offers unlimited (and culturally acceptable) paid time off, a good work-life balance that allows for established hobbies, and a higher salary. “I definitely see myself staying there for an extended period of time,” she says.

For decades, many Western countries’ cultural mandate has been to work hard for your employer and you will be rewarded. If you strive for a job you enjoy, the pay will be satisfaction. And if the job entails climbing the corporate ladder, the pay will be, well, big bucks. Despite their different motivations, both paths share the same story. As a result, work has become an obsession, even an identity; something workers used to consider themselves fortunate to have.

However, Generation Z workers like Holleman – those born between 1997 and 2012 – are increasingly demanding that we write a new work script. After witnessing burnout, time poverty, and economic insecurity at the workplace, older workers are demanding more from their workplaces: larger pay checks, more vacation time, the ability to work remotely, and increased social and environmental responsibility Many of these values were millennial preferences, but they’ve now become Gen Z expectations, and they’re willing to leave employers if their needs aren’t met.

Generation Z has been labelled entitled or anti-capitalist as a result of their war on work. However, this is not the case; Gen Zers want it all and are willing to work hard for the right employer. If the juice isn’t worth the squeeze, they’ll leave and look for other opportunities. Many argue that they are simply a generation responding to social movements of their time, and that they are using lessons learned from older workers to inform their career choices. Some even believe that the youngest workers have the potential to bring about meaningful change in the workplace.

‘Not for me’–guaranteed-success-6396f972e53bad3cd8108424

While there are Gen Zers who want to do everything, according to a 2022 survey conducted by the US job site CareerBuilder, the top priority for this generation of workers is higher pay. That also applies to Gen Zers who have not yet entered the labour force: In a 2020 job-seeker survey conducted by recruitment platform RippleMatch, 77% of college seniors said compensation would be the most important factor in evaluating offers.

When compared to millennials, this represents a significant shift in values. According to a global survey conducted in 2011 by professional services network PwC, millennials entering the workforce prioritised career advancement and personal development over financial reward. Employers who could help them climb their preferred career ladder were more appealing to them than those with the deepest pockets.

Still, it makes sense that wages are becoming more visible, according to CareerBuilder CEO Susan Arthur. She claims that Generation Z is entering a workforce and economic landscape that is very different from previous generations. While young workers of all generations face financial difficulties early in their careers, Gen Z is particularly vulnerable, especially as rising inflation outpaces wage growth.

The pandemic has increased the economic insecurity of all workers. According to the Pew Research Center, half of American Gen Zers who are old enough to work saw someone in their household lose a job or take a pay cut as a result of the Covid-19 outbreak. They’ve also seen previous generations suffer through multiple recessions and accumulate massive amounts of debt, according to Elizabeth Michelle, a London-based psychologist and workplace engagement consultant. “Gen Z is looking at all of that and saying, ‘Not for me; I’m not going to do that.'”

However, as much as pay is important, Gen Zers want to advance their careers in certain types of organisations. Mia Jones, a 23-year-old proposal writer from California, aspires to work in an environment that is “modern, transparent, and entrepreneurial.” She values work-life balance, mental health benefits, working when and where she wants, and companies that invest in developing employees in a diverse and inclusive environment.

Jones is not alone in her desire for more humanistic work. According to TalentLMs’ 2022 research, 82% of Gen Zers surveyed want mental health days, 77% believe it is important that their company supports diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts, and 74% would prefer hybrid or completely remote work. After an unsatisfactory salary, the number one reason they’d quit was burnout and a lack of work-life balance. Whereas work used to be about what employees could offer companies, “now it’s all about what Gen Zers expect from work,” says Michelle.

There’s nothing wrong with simply existing and enjoying life. You should not define yourself by your job – Mia Jones, 23

Millennials desired flexibility and balance as well, but they were more willing to forego corporate social responsibility for companies they admired as consumers; those that aligned with their interests and were perceived as prestigious places to work. In 2008, 86% said they’d consider leaving an employer whose values no longer aligned with their own, but by 2011, that figure had dropped to 56%.

Jones, on the other hand, believes that her identity should not be dictated by her employer, no matter how reputable. While she values the skills she has gained at work, she finds meaning and purpose outside of work through art, music, and yoga. “There’s nothing wrong with just existing and having fun,” she says. “You should not define yourself by your job.”

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