Gen Z is forcing a workplace reckoning that should have happened years ago

The younger generation, specifically Gen Z, is bringing about significant changes in the workplace, with the support of the recent pandemic. They are challenging long-standing norms and pushing for improvements in work-life balance and job satisfaction. Although they may not achieve all their goals immediately, their impact is significant.

The past 50 years have seen a massive creation of wealth in developed economies, which has led new workers to question whether traditional work structures still make sense. With this newfound wealth, younger workers are reevaluating their values and aspirations, seeking a better way to live their lives. This has brought attention to issues such as work-life balance and job flexibility.

While there may still be resistance from some employers, overall, the trend toward giving workers more autonomy and flexibility is here to stay. It has become clear that employers who want to retain their employees long-term need to address these demands for flexibility.

However, younger workers advocating for change may be seen as entitled by some older workers. There may be a disconnect in perspectives regarding working hours, employee input in scheduling, or the ability to work remotely. Nonetheless, many workers, regardless of age, are benefiting from improved treatment and expressing similar demands for change.

Notably, the United Auto Workers recently achieved a landmark deal with the Detroit Three automakers, which includes cost-of-living increases and the promise of higher wages. Similarly, a recent union victory at UPS ensures that drivers will receive significant pay and benefits, amounting to around $170,000.

In conclusion, the younger generation is driving significant changes in the workplace, challenging outdated norms, and demanding improvements in work conditions. While there may be some resistance, the push for flexibility and better treatment is becoming the new norm in the modern workforce.  

UPS teamsters and workers hold a rally in July in Atlanta
UPS workers won an increase in pay in their latest contract negotiations. 
Brynn Anderson/Associated Press

Those gains aren't all thanks to Gen Z, of course, but the fact that there's been widespread questioning of workplace norms is due, in part, to how quickly information now spreads, Philip said. And younger workers who've gone viral with posts about work are helping propel ideas like the four-day workweek.

The idea for working fewer hours for the same pay started with tech workers and creative agencies, Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, author and program director at the nonprofit 4 Day Week Global, told Insider. But he said it's notable that the UAW proposed a four-day workweek in its negotiations with heads of the automakers.

While the union didn't win that concession, "I think that it is going to stay on the agenda for unions," he said. Pang noted other groups who are often part of unions — from workers at high-end restaurants to nurses — are pushing for four-day weeks and other reconsiderations about how work gets done.

Questioning the basics of how we've worked for decades could be a first step toward driving substantial changes.

Pang said the global trial on remote work shows how developments that were once seen as unworkable can actually work. "That's really kind of opened the door," he said, to new ways of working.

Here are some of the ways Gen Zers are helping reshape work:

Younger workers are wondering aloud how they can make work less of a drag. Maybe it's finding a side hustle that inspires — or at least helps them pay the rent.

Some — including a mom who went viral in defense of her kids — clap back against the eye-rollers that many young workers have struggled to cover their bills while boomers have enjoyed financial prosperity.

Gen Zers, as the youngest of five generations in the workplace, are talking about some things that were once whispered about. Polling suggests younger workers are OK with discussing salaries and even confronting managers about missteps. This might mean "managing up" so that your boss knows what you need and what your ambitions are.

One young worker who complained that her corporate role felt like a "full-time acting gig" encouraged people to be themselves at work.

Many young workers, contrary to knocks from older generations that 20-somethings are forever attached to their screens, say they want IRL experiences in their jobs so they can learn. But just because they might want to have a place to go to doesn't mean they want to show up to an office governed by the same directives older generations abided by.

The workplace dress code has become more casual thanks, in part, to a pandemic-induced aversion to hard pants. And even workplace jargon — that code for showing you belong because you know how to toss it around — is getting a Gen Z rewrite.

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