Retirement and Financial

The Gen Z Work Ethic Conundrum

A decade ago, it was Millennials. Now, as the latest addition to the workforce, Gen Z's work ethic takes the spotlight. Are the rumors true?
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Are they really that lazy, demanding, and entitled? 

After entering the workforce, many were quick to condemn Gen Z’s work ethic and values. Remarks on their performance and expectations created new stereotypes that now depict this age group. 

But the truth is, older generations complaining about younger ones has become a familiar narrative, and shortcomings in generational work ethic are often the most criticized aspects. 

For Gen Z, discussions arise regarding their distinctive upbringing, including their tech-savvy nature, affinity to social responsibility and diversity, and desire for meaningful work and recognition. Some perceive these qualities as promising, highlighting adaptability and innovation, while others express concerns about potential challenges, such as shorter attention spans and a demand for quick results. 

This Shortlister article explores the Gen Z work ethic conundrum, addressing their work values and behaviors to prepare employers and managers for the impending influx of these individuals into the workforce. 

Stereotypes & Perceptions

Despite their differences, one thing remains consistent through generations – stereotyping. 

While generalizing almost a third of the global population might paint the wrong picture, Gen Z does exhibit mutual traits, leading to some employer perceptions in the workplace. 

Gen Z Employees Are "Difficult"

There might be some truth to this.  

According to a survey by ResumeBuilder, 74% of managers describe Gen Z as “the most challenging generation to work with.” They show a lack of effort, motivation, and, surprisingly, technological skills, leading to higher firing rates. 

However, leaders who participated in the survey also characterized them as highly innovative and adaptable. 

They are not afraid to challenge the status quo and bring new ideas to the table. They also value authenticity and transparency and expect companies to be socially responsible and ethical,” says marketing director at Hairbro Adam Garfield for ResumeBuilder. 

gen z work ethic

They Don't Want to Work

The pandemic, followed by inflation and geopolitical turmoil, challenged the traditional workplace, causing a dramatic shift in priorities. 

It also shaped Gen Z’s views on themselves, their work, and their future. 

As a result, according to McKinsey, this generation works more jobs, is less financially secure, and has pessimistic expectations of retiring or owning a home. 

Moreover, young workers report high rates of mental health challenges.  

Along with factors like a hostile environment, physical health challenges, and the inability to share one’s whole self at work, Gen Z’s mental health significantly affects their ability to work effectively. 

Beyond the burdens of the pandemic and lockdown, the report reveals that they also struggled with youth unemployment and job rejections. 

These insights reveal the generational challenges in today’s job market, highlighting the importance of understanding their circumstances beyond simplistic stereotypes about their work ethic. 

Gen Z’s Work Ethic is Distraction-Prone

Thisperception results from their over-reliance on technology.  

Between Instagram Reels, YouTube Shorts, and TikToks, many theorize that consuming short-form videos hinders the attention spans of young adults. 

However, this not only oversimplifies the intricate relationship Gen Z has with technology, but it simply isn’t true. 

In reality, Gen Z has set record book sales in the U.S. and the U.K., and their interest in long-form video content is stronger than ever. 

Raised in an era of rapid technological advancement never seen before, Gen Z brings unparalleled comfort with digital tools and a knack for navigating the online world. Far from being a distraction, their tech-savvy nature can fuel efficiency, innovation, and adaptability in the modern workplace.

They Only Want to Work Remotely

Challenging this misconception, a recent Joblist study revealed that while 49% of millennials prefer fully remote work, only 27% of Gen Z share this inclination. 

Many young adults entering the workforce during the pandemic lack in-person experiences and are curious about office dynamics. In fact, the study shows that 57% of them want to work in person, which was the highest percentage of all generations.

All Gen Zs Are Job Hoppers

Studies show that around 60% of 18-to 25-year-olds were likely to switch jobs. 

A common stereotype they share with Millennials is that this generation can’t commit to a long-term career.  

However, the reality is that they have expectations from employers that, when unmet, can lead to a higher turnover and workplace trends like lazy girl jobs, bare minimum Monday, and rage applying. 

Thus, understanding Generation Z’s underlying motivations and expectations in the workplace becomes crucial in dispelling the stereotype and fostering an environment that aligns with their values and aspirations. 

gen z work ethic

iGen

After delving into the most common perceptions, it’s crucial to understand what shapes and contributes to Gen Z’s behavior in the workplace. 

Born between the late nineties and early 2000s, Generation Z represents around 30% of the population, according to the World Economic Forum.  

By next year, they will comprise 27% of the global workforce. 

Dubbed iGen, short for “internet generation,” they are often subjected to stereotypes regarding the effects of growing up during unprecedented digital advancements. 

Author and psychologist Jean Twenge initially used the term in her book iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy – and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood,” where she highlights the role of technology, smartphones, and social media in shaping their behaviors, relationships, and worldviews. 

Twenge also explores their attitudes and work, shedding light on distinctive characteristics shaping Gen Z career choices, including risk aversion and preference for secure and predictable paths. 

It’s evident that digital fluency is a defining characteristic of Gen Z, but it’s not the only one. 

Growing up during a recession, increased social justice movements, environmentalism, and advancement in LGBTQ+ rights further contributed to their individuality, social consciousness, and pragmatic optimism. 

Job and economic insecurities, a growing wealth gap, the pandemic, and a housing crisis further influenced their career choices and contributed to heightened concerns about Gen Z’s mental health. 

All these cultural shifts and events have shaped the new generation of employees. Now, they are the ones transforming the workplace. 

Generation Z Work Ethic Survey Findings

Gen Z is bringing distinctive values to the workplace that challenge traditional notions of productivity and engagement. 

However, in recent years, their work ethic has plummeted. 

Research on work attitudes in 18-year-olds shows that after a decline in Boomers, Gen Z, and Millennials, work ethic made a comeback with iGen.  

Unfortunately, that was until 2021. 

Gen Z respondents who expressed their commitment to giving their best at work, even if it occasionally means working overtime, dropped from 54% in 2020 to an all-time low of 36% in 2022. 

Results also show the following trends: 

  • Since the pandemic, there’s been a decline in young people who see work as a central part of their life. 
  • 29% wouldn’t work if they had enough money, up from 22% in 2020. 
  • Compared to 71% in 2019, in 2022, only 59% of respondents believed their career would be highly satisfying, another all-time low. 

Despite this pessimistic outlook on work attitudes, according to a report by the Workforce Institute, 32% of Gen Z believe they are the hardest working generation ever, admitting their hardworking nature is due to their work-life balance. 

Yet, this generation of workers would never tolerate: 

  • Being forced to work when they don’t want to (35%) 
  • Not being able to use vacation days when they want to (34%) 
  • Employers who don’t give them a say over their work schedule (33%) 

The study also shows that while Gen Z is hopeful about the future, this age group is anxious about work expectations and achieving success. 

Overall, Gen Z’s work ethic and values are nuanced. 

Despite the decline in job commitment, a significant portion still considers themselves the hardest working generation, emphasizing a prioritized work-life balance.  

Their intolerance for forced work indicates a growing demand for autonomy, reflecting on the evolving values and expectations in the workplace. 

So, faced with the declining work ethic of future Gen Z employees and the high confidence among current ones, what should managers know? 

What Managers Should Know?

Between being hopeful yet anxious and perceiving themselves as the most hardworking generation that won’t work under various circumstances, the Workforce Institute report shows the contradictions in Gen Z’s work ethic 

However, it also gives insight to organizations and managers on how to deal with it. 

So, what should they know? 

  • Young adults seek leaders who support their work performance and professional growth. 
  • 32% are motivated to work harder and are more loyal when they have a supportive manager. 
  • The top three leadership traits they list are trust, support, and care. 
  • 57% expect to be promoted at least once a year, and 43% want real-time feedback. 
  • 26% say that poor workplace technology affects their performance. 
  • 51% are motivated by salary, and the same percentage are inspired by fulfilling and enjoyable work. 
  • Gen Z employees expect their employers to take the lead in establishing organizational policies on work-life balance. 
  • 37% want flexible hours for better work-life balance, 34% want paid time off, 32% want paid sick leave, and 31% think paid mental health days can help. 
  • For 48%, a stressful working environment would impact their performance. 
  • Flexibility and personalized schedules are a must for Gen Z. 
  • They prioritize good employee benefits over office perks and prefer cash rewards for a job well done more than other incentives. 

Another study by Deloitte reveals that Gen Z cares for diversity in the workplace, prefer financial security over fulfillment, individual tasks over team activities, and form an opinion of an employer based on ethics, practices, and social impact. 

They also value money less than every other generation and prioritize work-life balance, flexible hours, perks, and benefits. 

Knowing what Gen Z expects from them can help employers organize the workplace to align with their preferences, ensuring a positive and productive work environment. 

Organizing the Workspace for Generation Z

Gen Z is already changing the workplace. 

But how can companies adapt to accommodate this generation’s unique characteristics? 

Supportive leadership is at the top of the list, considering they value trust, support, and care the most. Creating an environment where leaders and managers have these traits, offer regular feedback, and are transparent will foster loyalty and motivation. 

Career progression is crucial since regular promotions, good salaries, and recognition are important to Gen Z’s work ethic. Thus, employers can create clear pathways for professional growth and invest in workplace technology, as this tech-savvy generation thrives in digitally advanced environments. 

Balancing financial and non-financial motivators further acknowledges Gen Z’s preferences and needs in the workplace. For example, companies can prioritize comprehensive wellness and mental health benefits, tackling a major issue among this generation. 

Workplace flexibility is nonnegotiable for Gen Z. By recognizing this, employers can embrace flexible work arrangements, allow remote and hybrid options, and eliminate micromanagement, allowing Gen Z to maintain a healthy work-life balance and enhance engagement. 

Building a responsible work environment and promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion shows commitment to align with Gen Z’s values. For example, it means creating inclusive spaces for collaboration, ensuring equal hiring policies, and focusing on corporate social responsibility. 

Personalizing the Work Experience

With truth at the center, a study by McKinsey lists the following as the main Gen Z characteristics: 

  • Unidentified ID or not defining themselves in only one way 
  • Communaholic or being radically inclusive 
  • Dialoguer or having fewer confrontations and more dialogue 
  • Realistic or living life pragmatically 

Acknowledging Gen Z’s individual identity and expression as one of their core behaviors, personalization takes center stage in creating a workspace that genuinely speaks to them.  

It means creating a work experience uniquely aligned with their preferences and aspirations. 

From growth plans and acknowledging individual skills to embracing a work culture that caters to their diverse needs and ethical values, personalizing the work experience goes beyond the traditional, fostering a genuine sense of connection and commitment among Gen Z employees.  

Make no mistake, for them, it’s not about ticking boxes. 

With Gen Z, it’s about creating a work environment that genuinely resonates with each team member and meeting the expectations of a generation seeking a meaningful and personalized work journey. 

So, what happens if we don’t? 

gen z work ethic

Implications for the Workplace

Gen Z employees will make up 30% of the workforce by 2023. 

Yet, 54% of young employees are not engaged, while 15% are actively disengaged, according to Gallup, which is why we’re seeing an increase in workplace trends that give off a sense of “poor work ethic.” 

Tailoring the work experience to cater to individual preferences, in this case, Gen Z, not only enhances productivity and employee engagement but also fosters a positive workplace culture, reducing turnover rates and attracting top talent.  

However, failure to do it in time might create an even more significant disengagement than the one we see now. 

In conclusion, as the workplace transforms, the choice to adapt to the Gen Z work ethic becomes a strategic move and a decisive factor in shaping a thriving and future-ready work landscape. 

Written by tamara Jovanovska

Content Writer at Shortlister

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