There is a growing disconnect between older generations of workers and those considered ‘Gen Z’ -born between the years 1997 and 2013.
This separation has been best illustrated by a recent report from the hospitality sector, where over 50s make up a third of the workforce, that revealed older staff members feel Gen Zers 'don't have the same work ethic or willingness to go the extra mile as the older generation'.
Indeed, it seems as though older generations have a perception of younger workers as being less willing to work, lazier, more difficult to get along with, and less able to debate and disagree healthily.
There will be a myriad of reasons Gen Z workers are different to those who came before them. Many joined the workforce during the pandemic, many have lived through multiple economic recessions, and most importantly, are the consumers and stewards of social media. But why does this generation seem less willing to ‘go the extra mile’ compared with their older counterparts?
Both the creators and rejecters of hustle culture
To put it bluntly, this generation knows their worth. They understand their power as a consumer, and this transcends into them recognising their value as an employee. They don’t necessarily see themselves as an extension of a business, rather they know they are a separate entity, meaning that if their employer doesn’t meet their demands, they are more than happy to go elsewhere.
If asking why this attitude exists, the answer may be more convoluted than you think. Social media gives rise to young people understanding how to build their own brand, find self-importance, but primarily encourages individuality. This could point to the sense of individualism young people feel when standing up for what they believe in, choosing to work for organisations that align with their values, and not working any harder than they feel they should.
From this mindset, a Gen Z worker might think ‘why should I go the extra mile for my employer when they wouldn’t do the same for me?’
What’s interesting is that Gen Z are simultaneously the stewards of hustle culture – a mentality that promotes hard work, determination and a relentless lifestyle towards success – whilst also rejecting this way of thinking, saying no to long hours, going ‘above and beyond’, and working to the point of burnout.
Ultimately, what makes this generation who they are is that they are self-aware and recognise their self-worth.
How should HR approach Gen Z’s attitude?
Recent research found that Gen Z workers have specific expectations around what they believe are unreasonable asks in the workplace. Over half (51%) think it’s unreasonable to be expected to take on extra responsibility without compensation, while 40% think regularly working 10-hour days is unacceptable.
Ronnie Corbett, Audit Culture Director at Grant Thornton UK LLP, making judgements and having 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. Generalisations are easy to make, but we must be mindful that there are many different factors that determine a person’s mindset and motivation – age is just one of them.
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“Workplaces, and society at large, are rife with age-related (across generations) stereotypes, which are not always accurate. This is why it is important that we better understand how beliefs about age affect our workplace, and work to dispel some of the rhetoric that creates barriers and inhibits cohesion. This is an area of inclusion that needs more focus. Harnessing the power of different perspectives is an opportunity, and it’s something we are working on as firm to leverage - it’s in everyone’s best interest to do so.”
Another important aspect of enhancing the role of young people in the workplace is enabling cross-communication between different generations, to create better understanding and appreciation of each other's expectations.
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 impact. Effective communication and building a strong culture based on healthy engagement are often talked about but surprisingly difficult to achieve. But when organisations start to embed and grow critical communication skills and adopt them as a competitive advantage, they can start to see a significant shift in their trajectory. ”
Gen Z aren’t like any generation that’s come before them, especially in the workplace. They know what they want, and they aren’t willing to compromise on getting it. A lack of effective communication in the workplace and stereotypes has meant that older generations often make assumptions on what Gen Z workers are like. Through dismantling these barriers, often through enhancing communication, employers can better utilise the power of these underestimated generation.