Is the younger generation really that difficult to work with?
If you’re active on the internet and social media, it’s likely you’ve seen The Guardian’s now viral interview with Jodie Foster , in which she described Gen Z workers as, among other things, “really annoying in the workplace”, adding that they call in sick over nothing, turn up at 10.30am and use grammatically incorrect wording — in short, she doesn’t think they make the best workers.
While some have come to the defence of the youngest members of the workforce, many have also shared their agreement with the actor. One Twitter (X) user, @1905linus, wrote: “Spot on. Majority of them are lazy, easily distracted, have a poor work ethic, have no accountability, are rude and answer back to authority, have to have their hand held, break down easily, lack common sense etc etc etc.”
Another agreed, saying “It all comes down to work ethic and a lot of teenagers (not all) just don’t have it. It’s a victim mentality, shortcut taking, ‘I need it now’, glass half empty, ‘the world will bend to me’ mindset.” Ouch.
As a Gen Z employee myself, I couldn’t help but be slightly triggered. It then forced me to look at my own workplace habits. Sure, my time keeping skills could use some work, and I’ll always take a lunch break at some point — a stark contrast to my Gen X mother, who starts early, finishes late and hasn’t taken a lunch break in the past 10 years, despite my telling her to do so — but can we really be described as lazy? Or do we work smarter, not harder? I spoke to a HR expert, as well as both Gen Z and older employees and leaders, to find out.
David Rice, an HR expert at People Managing People, believes that Gen Z are changing the way we work as a society. “I think Jodie is being a bit harsh and likely stereotyping a generation based on limited experience with them. A lot of Gen Z are hardworking and diligent, but if you hear something repeated enough you’ll begin to look for it, and popular mainstream narratives around Gen Z are perpetuating this sort of view,” says David.
The narrative that Gen Z workers are lazy is by no means a new one, and this is evident on social media, where memes and comedy skits about the generation are rife. TikTok star @champagnecruze often goes viral for his videos portraying the differences between Gen Z and older generations in the workplace, particularly when working from home, where the Gen Z character is shown to be using a ‘mouse jiggler’ tool to appear active on workplace platforms.
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@champagnecruze What’s on the agenda for today? 🤣 #generations #workhumor #corporate #corporatehumor #relateable ♬ Spongebob Tomfoolery – Dante9k Remix – David Snell
“Gen Z has picked up from where Gen Y left off in terms of work-life balance, and I applaud them for it,” says David. “Our lives are greater than work, and for too long, our identities, mental health and sense of personal value has been too closely tied to work and organisations that, quite frankly, don’t always have our best interests at heart. It’s good to see more people prioritising personal growth and fulfilment, instead of neglecting their relationships, emotions and needs for nothing more than a pay cheque.”
In terms of work-life balance, Stephany Senanyake, a 22-year-old admin and operations assistant at APL Media, agrees. “This balanced approach to work and life, in my opinion, came about as a result of the pandemic. We were all made aware of how quickly people could be laid off and lose their jobs, and this showed us how easy it was for workers to be replaced, and how businesses didn’t care for their staff. Gen Z is aware of this, and knows that not many jobs are worth sacrificing other aspects of life for.”
In spite of this, Stephany disagrees that Gen Z are lazy workers. “I believe that Gen Z is a hardworking generation, capable of working towards a better work-life balance at the same time. Previous generations have taught Gen Z the value of setting boundaries early in their careers to avoid burnout later on,” she says.
Gen Z aren’t only working differently, they’re adopting new career paths, too
Not only does some of the older generation believe that Gen Z is lazy, but they also, in some cases, believe the jobs we work ‘aren’t real’. This is mostly true for the likes of social media managers, content creators and other freelance creatives, for example, podcast producers and the like. “You should have something unique to offer in terms of expertise, opportunity, or perspective. Most ‘content creators’ have very little to offer, and it’s not a real job,” writes user @remy_legal on Twitter.
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Hanging out with your friends on the internet and streaming it is not “content creation”.
You should have something unique to offer in terms of expertise, opportunity, or perspective.
Most “content creators” have very little to offer, and it’s not a real job. https://t.co/dk5JBbXrcS
— Chandler Remington (@Remy_Legal) October 14, 2023
Cherish Allen, head of talent at HLD Talent, finds it disheartening that this perspective is still rife among certain age groups. “It’s saddening to hear that people don’t deem certain industries as ‘real’ jobs, and I would be interested to hear their reasoning behind it. The stereotype of what constitutes a ‘real’ job is shifting, and I think it’s a really positive thing that Gen Z is embracing innovative career paths,” says Cherish.
“While the life of a creator may appear glamorous from an outsider’s perspective, the reality is far from it. Creators have to work extremely hard to maintain relevance, consistently produce high-quality content across various platforms on a daily basis, stay attuned to trends and be prepared for constant scrutiny, which in itself takes a considerable amount of resilience.”
Unlike previous generations, it seems Gen Z is more open to more diverse career paths and experiences. Not only does it place higher importance on work-life balance, but it also values development, diversity and inclusion.
Gen Z is actively encouraging and driving conversations to be had around equality and representation in the workplace, and is influencing organisations to make changes that have been needed for many years. The generation is also driving a cultural shift in the workplace, pushing for more flexible and fair environments that align with its values and preferences, a shift that should be appreciated across all generations.