‘We want what they’re having’: Other generations want in on Gen Z’s work revolution


When digital account coordinator Charlie Marcolin was growing up, she witnessed her parents’ jobs take up much of their lives.

“They’re hard-working, and seeing that has instilled a work ethic in me and an understanding of the value of work. But it’s also something I know its not the life I would want,” says Ms Marcolin, 22.

Digital account co-ordinator Charlie Marcolin is part of a generation helping to redefine the way we work - many say for the better.

Digital account co-ordinator Charlie Marcolin is part of a generation helping to redefine the way we work - many say for the better.CREDIT:LUIS ENRIQUE ASCUI

For her demographic – according to national research by Generation Z consultancy Year 13 – health and wellbeing are such big priorities that they are shaking up the whole idea of work. And other generations want in.

In an article titled The 37-Year-Olds Are Afraid of the 23 Year-Olds Who Work for ThemThe New York Times noted some managers struggled to adapt to such an assertive group.

It dubbed Gen Z “the headstrong generation” for questioning everything from “the antiquated ways of their slightly older managers, their views on politics in the office to their very obsession with work”.

But in Australia, where Year 13 co-founder Tim Stubley says new national research found health, mental health and wellbeing were so important to emerge professionals that they amount to “a religion”, workplace observers have noted a striking generational shift.Many are not afraid to ask for a day off for mental health or to request they work the hours it takes to do tasks, rather than 9-5. This is confounding some American Millennial bosses.

Bond University's future of work academic Libby Sander is among those seeing values that dictated Gen Z’s career choices before COVID-19 start to filter up.

“Suddenly, all the other generations are doing the same thing,” Associate Professor Sander says.

“We’ve seen a massive shift in people’s definitions of success and definitions of ambition, and since they’ve been working at home largely successfully in terms of productivity, other responsibilities and especially their wellbeing, they’re going, ‘It’s not a race to the top of the corporate ladder anymore, why do I need to do this?’ ”

We’re all expecting much better work-life balance and flexibilty and we’re all looking for self-actualisation.

Sarah McCann-Bartlett, Australian Human Resources Institute

Those in age groups that grew up with traditional work patterns are also craving “a company that really allows me to express who I am”, and seeking Gen Z-style meaning rather than “marching through the ranks”.

“That is a real shift for Generation Xers and particularly Baby Boomers,” says Associate Professor Sander. “Generation Zs have been talking about this for a long time, now everyone’s talking about the same thing.”

Australian Human Resources Institute CEO Sarah McCann-Bartlett watched the pandemic close the gap between the work ambitions of Gen Z and the previous four generations: “We’ve all realized there is a much bigger meaning to life, what the pandemic has done is narrowed the gap between generations.”

“When I think about the research we see on Gen Z being digital natives used to technology changing constantly, guess what we all are now ... we all want a much higher level of diversity in our organizations, we’re all expecting much better work-life balance and flexibility and we’re all looking for self-actualization.”“Wellbeing, work-life balance, and what flows from that, flexibility, are on the radar of all generations. The pandemic has vastly accelerated a whole lot of trends starting in the workplace anyway,” she says.

“Wellbeing-friendliness” has superseded “family friendliness” to the point where successful employers are embracing flexibility to keep employees happy, says generational dynamics expert Alicia Stephenson. “If they haven’t started doing it by now, then I don’t know what they’re doing,” she says.

A LinkedIn poll run by the Australian Human Resources Institute confirmed voluntary turnover (people resigning) “is shooting up” and jumped in 2021 compared with 2020, in part due to people seeking better conditions.

Ms McCann-Bartlett says: “Everybody wants to be treated as an individual ... Gen Z’ers want a huge amount of flexibility, but guess what, Boomers do too, and people in early-stage parenthood – it doesn’t matter what the reason, everybody’s looking for that.”

Bianca Ristovski, a human resources manager at her parents’ seafood business, is part of a generation shaking up the way we work.

Bianca Ristovski, a human resources manager at her parents’ seafood business, is part of a generation shaking up the way we work.CREDIT:BROOK MITCHELL

Charlie Marcolin agrees. “We’re probably less inclined to keep working in a job that we don’t like for money or for status ... my manager is great and really gets it, but I’m not sure every manager is like that.

“[The pandemic] has made us realize how important it is to have time with friends and do things together, and work is not the be-all and end-all, it’s almost a way to support the rest of our lives. The rules are up for renegotiation.”

Having worked for a strict boss with old-school expectations, and decided to move on, human resources manager Bianca Ristovski, 23, agrees. “I definitely think there is a big shift from what [work priorities] used to be,” says Ms Ristovski, who is working in human resources at her parents’ seafood business.

“We’re a lot more into our physical and mental wellbeing than furthering our business careers; we look at spending time with family and friends ... as one of the main priorities, not feeling stressed or scared to take sick days off, or repercussions if we do. It’s a big thing to look after ourselves and not feel that pressure from employers,” she says.

“Generally, we needed to slow down a little bit. The world was just moving too quickly and everyone was not getting enough time for themselves. It was all just work, work, work. People are taking time to slow down and appreciate the little things.”

Businesses that offer incentives such as a day off on your birthday, or gym memberships, or a mental health day every couple of months will attract young talent, she says.

Social researcher Claire Madden, author of Hello Gen Z: Engaging the Generation of Post-Millennials, says Gen Z is “the strongest global youth culture we’ve ever seen”, due to growing up super connected by technology. They want to apply their hyper-awareness of social issues at work.

“Because they’ve been so well-informed since a young age, they have created a strong sense of values and a real sense of wanting to make the world a better place,” she says. “They have a strong desire to bring change into the world and leave a positive mark as a generation, and they see work as a context in which to achieve these aspirations.”

“They expect to not just get a pay packet and do a job ... they care about the whole person in the context of work, not just the work itself.” They want relatable bosses and managers and to be able to do worthwhile work with a sense of purpose from the start of their careers, and they expect work to support mental health and wellbeing.

And employers should go with, rather than resist, the Gen Z revolution. “We need to have an attitude of moving with the generations, not digging our heels in and holding on to how things were done in the past.

“It’s important to realize Gen Zs bring insight ... and what will help organizations remain relevant is being able to embrace that.”

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