Commentary: Let’s agree that entitled Gen Z is a force for good
Fresh perspectives usually drive workplace changes, especially when it comes to abuses or antiquated behaviours, says Erin Lowry for Bloomberg Opinion.
NEW YORK: Millennials have recently woken up to a tragic reality: We’re barrelling towards middle age.
This transition is marked not only by random shooting pains in our knees but also by our rise through the corporate ranks and the accompanying desire to utter the phrase “kids these days” while eye-rolling about the antics of Gen Z.
In the last two years, it’s Gen Z that has become the much-discussed new generation and millennials are throwing around all the go-to insults of them being lazy and entitled.
After the brutal criticism millennials received, we’ve earned our stripes to engage in the time-honoured tradition of disparaging the generation that comes next. Frankly, they’re making themselves easy targets with the “quiet quitting” and the “bare minimum Mondays”.
Still, we shouldn’t discount what they’re saying just because of their youth - even if the message is mostly spreading on TikTok. The way Gen Z demands better boundaries and asks for more at a young age may be an affront to our sensibilities, but each generation brings a fresh perspective to how their labour should be used.
Millennials, for example, normalised job hopping when it was clear employers didn’t fairly compensate or value loyalty.
A WHOLE NEW BALL GAME
I’m certainly not above throwing a dig at the younger cohort, but I’m empathetic to their plight. Millennials came of age in what felt like a broken world. The Great Recession hit as the oldest were 27, which is the same age as the eldest of Gen Z today. The version of the workforce we’d been promised when we went to college and took on student loans suddenly evaporated.
Underemployment was rampant in our early careers, which gave rise to side hustle culture and the gig economy. And by the time we had finally found our financial footing, the housing market was so hot it felt impossible to buy a home.
Gen Z is at the start of their own disillusionment, but they’ve had significantly more access to information about the plight of their elders thanks to social media and the internet.
Theirs will be the first generation to have lived their entire lives with the internet. Going to the library for a school research project is alien to them with the world at their fingertips. They’ve grown up on social media since before they could even consent to having their images posted. Their world looks nothing like ours, which is why they have completely different desires for the workforce, boundaries, and how to earn a living.
TikTok, Instagram and YouTube have given anyone a platform to be an influencer, which might just be the modern-day entrepreneur. Plus, Gen Z has the cautious optimism that comes with youth. They’re establishing their version of cobbling together a comfortable living in an uncertain economy.
The #HustleHarder and #GirlBoss culture that marked the millennial rise in the workplace has largely fallen out of fashion in part due to high rates of burnout and chronic stress. Both terms are often referred to as toxic and frequently said to be an element of corporate, commodified feminism or the worst parts of capitalism.
A DIFFERENT KIND OF “SIDE HUSTLE”
However, Gen Z seems to be on the cutting edge of their own side hustle. The ability to work remotely opened an opportunity for those with the time, energy and motivation to work two salaried, full-time jobs concurrently. Some leverage time zone differences or focus on positions less likely to be riddled with meetings.
The phenomenon, sometimes called polyworking, is different from back in my day when a side hustle meant just a few hours of work on top of a full-time job. You simply couldn’t be in two places at once.
The advent of ChatGPT and similar AI could further enhance Gen Z’s knack for polyworking. Just ask the robots to write the first draft of your work while you take a meeting.
It's possible that Gen Z are too early in their careers to worry about the ramifications of being fired from not one, but two full-time jobs. Or perhaps they’re already over working for corporate overlords and ready to stick it to them as much and for as long as possible.
Or maybe, somewhat unintentionally, they’re being hyper-capitalist by taking advantage of demand and looking out for their own bottom line.
BETTER AT DRAWING BOUNDARIES
Gen Z is also developing a reputation for setting boundaries, pushing back and saying no to managers. It’s easy to throw around a term like entitled when a youthful 20-something demands more than you did, but that doesn’t make them wrong.
Employers should not have the right to own your time outside of work. Of course, this varies by industry, but far too many industries expect a level of time commitment that’s both not necessary and not fairly compensated.
Policy changes like salary transparency laws should aid Gen Z in their quest to ask for more, but millennial managers should be part of this fight. We know all too well what it’s like to suffer wage stagnation, moving into positions of authority should embolden us to demand more for ourselves and Gen Z.
Workplaces do ultimately start to bend towards the next generation. How often were people bringing their dogs to work before millennials started to demand we do so?
EACH GENERATION BRINGS SOMETHING NEW TO THE TABLE
I’m not so old that I’ve forgotten how it felt to be disrespected and dismissed early in my career. Coming of age is never an easy transition, but generational warfare in the workplace compounds the problem.
It’s often the young who drive change because they have a fresh perspective on antiquated behaviours or mistreatment. They have less to lose early in their careers and, therefore, more power to stand up or walk away.
Young Boomer and Gen X women paved the way for the access I’ve received in my career, but I wasn’t wrong to want change and to push back against entrenched behaviours such as glorifying a quick return to the workplace after giving birth or accepting a token woman in a position of power as progress.
Gen Z isn’t wrong to want to continue to evolve our society and workforce either.