As we near the end of another year, a familiar scene unfolds in workplaces around the globe. The holiday cheer is tinged with collective fatigue; our inboxes will slowly begin to fill with emails suggesting, “Let’s circle back next year.” The Christmas party somehow drifts further into the horizon. As the days grow shorter and darker, burnout silently stretches over us.
Employees are reporting increased workplace intensity, with 55% stating work is getting more intense and demanding and 61% feeling exhausted at the end of most working days (MHFA England, 2023). In these moments, as we count down to Christmas closures, a question lingers, almost palpable in its urgency: Is the way we work truly healthy? Or are we entrenched in a cycle that demands more than it gives? It’s in this introspective space that we find an unlikely group of trailblazers emerge. They’re not seasoned executives or celebrated thought leaders (yet); they’re the youngest faces in our offices – Gen Z.
What if, amidst the end-of-year rush and the relentless pursuit of deadlines, we paused to consider their way of working? What if the key to a healthier work-life balance and a more sustainable approach to our careers has been right in front of us, embodied by the very generation stereotyped as headstrong and ‘lazy’?
Forbes highlights that employees with workplace flexibility reported 29% higher productivity and 53% greater ability to focus, suggesting those who embrace the Gen Z perspective will pave the way for sustainable growth and high-performing teams. This approach is not only about the ethical treatment of people but also serves as a radical strategy to gain a competitive edge and boost productivity, similar to the four-day workweek. It calls for a transformative shift in work culture that values balance and well-being as catalysts for efficiency and innovation.
In recent years, a seismic shift in attitudes towards work has emerged, particularly among young millennials and Gen Z. This generational shift, fuelled by memes and candid commentary, resonates with the rise of an anti-work ideology that’s taking social media by storm. The narratives range from light-hearted and brazen — aspirations of being a “housewife” — to reflective and sombre declarations of a desire for a simpler, slower, more fulfilling life.
On TikTok, users are voicing a stark rejection of the once-coveted #GirlBoss ethos, and the relentless #HustleCulture is being dismantled by those who created it. Central to this cultural shift is the phrase “I don’t dream of labour,” a statement that has become a mantra for many. The crux of this issue runs deeper than an anti-work mindset: people, particularly the younger generation, are increasingly resistant to jobs that leave them underpaid, under-appreciated, and overworked.
There’s a notable divide in the workplace between older generations and Gen Z, those born between 1997 and 2013. A report from the hospitality sector highlights this: people over 50 make up a third of the workforce and perceive Gen Zers as less willing to go the extra mile. This perception paints younger workers as lazier and more challenging to collaborate with, potentially leading to misunderstandings in the workplace.
Ronnie Corbett, Audit Culture Director at Grant Thornton UK LLP, says making judgements and having a prejudice towards Gen Z isn’t the right approach: “This insight into how the current generation of young people view work will help to inform and shape decision making about how we best support them as they progress – after all, these are the people that will be running our firms one day.
Gen Z embodies a paradox: they are both the designers and dismantlers of hustle culture. They espouse hard work and determination but refuse to succumb to burnout and excessive demands. This generation’s self-awareness and recognition of self-worth lead them to question the need to go above and beyond, especially when employers do not reciprocate it.
Research reveals that over half (51%) of Gen Z workers find taking on extra responsibilities without compensation unreasonable, and 40% are against regular 10-hour workdays. Understanding these expectations is crucial for HR managers. Ronnie Corbett from Grant Thornton UK LLP advises against generalising this generation, emphasising the importance of understanding individual mindsets and motivations.
Gen Z highly values flexible working options, which are essential for maintaining a healthy work-life balance and mental health. Workplaces that prioritise mental health, offer support, and provide resources for well-being are more likely to attract and retain Gen Z talent. With 70% of managers citing organisational barriers to supporting staff wellbeing, including company policy, heavy workload, unsupportive workplace culture, and not being equipped with the right skills, it is no surprise that this is crucial for Gen Z employees (MHFA England, 2023).
Improving communication between different generations is critical. Andrew Jackson from Rethinkly notes the direct impact of communication on morale, productivity, and commitment. Creating an environment where different generations can understand and appreciate each other’s expectations is essential.
Andrew Jackson, co-founder of Rethinkly, comments on the need and benefit for organisations to improve their team communication: “Most challenges at work stem from a lack of or just bad communication. Communication challenges are directly aligned with morale, productivity, and commitment, which have real business impacts. Effective communication and building a strong culture based on healthy engagement are often talked about but surprisingly difficult to achieve.”
Gen Z often favours remote roles for their flexibility, which can enhance work-life balance and mental well-being. Farley Thomas from Manageable argues that remote work can contribute to better life balance, increased productivity, and well-being. He says: “This flexible working trend has contributed to better balance in people’s lives. Remote work has been linked to many benefits, including increased productivity and well-being.” The critical factor is finding the optimal level of remoteness, which varies based on career stage and work type.
Amidst the end-of-year fatigue, it becomes clear that the traditional work model is ripe for reassessment. Gen Z currently makes up 30% of the world’s population and is expected to account for 27% of the workforce by 2025. Their approach to work, marked by a demand for fair compensation, work-life balance, and mental well-being, is not just a youthful trend but a very real horizon that leaders and managers across the world will have to meet.
By fostering an inclusive environment that respects boundaries and promotes effective communication, organisations can harness the strengths of Gen Z, ultimately leading to a healthier, more productive workplace. This generation’s impact on leadership and work styles will be significant, potentially redefining what it means to be successful in the world or work.