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Gen Z: The End of the Workplace Hierarchy as We Know It?

By Callum John Cafferty, BA Japanese

“As Gen Z continues its transition from university to the workplace it seems they will be making an entrance with a bang and aim to flip workplace hierarchies on their head.”

Last summer, we witnessed the birth of the term ‘quiet quitting’ which trended alongside the term ‘job hopping’. As a result, we saw Gen Z being held responsible for these trends, with accusations of ‘anti-capitalism’, ‘laziness’ and ‘selfishness’ being levied from members of Gen X and the Boomer generation. However, these may simply be the swansong of a generation who fear they are soon to have their ways of work replaced. As Gen Z continues its transition from university to the workplace, it seems they will be making an entrance with a bang and aim to flip workplace hierarchies on their head.

The cries and woes expressed by the older generation echo those of eras gone by, complaining of a listless and unmotivated youth. Plato bemoaned a younger generation who were “high-minded because they have not yet been humbled by life, nor have they experienced the force of circumstances,” in 300 BCE. In 1300, the monk Kenkō wrote of “yearn[ing] for the past,’’ and of the “deplorable corruption,” of the Japanese language. Irish educator Thomas Sheridan was dismayed by how, “the free access which many young people have to romances, novels, and plays has poisoned the mind and corrupted the morals of many a promising youth,” in 1780. So of course, it cannot simply be that Gen Z is the only ‘snowflake generation’.

However, amidst the generational complaining a pattern is clear: Gen Z is the nail that sticks out and refuses to be hammered down. The reasoning of pure laziness attributed by many is simply not true. In fact, it has been demonstrated in studies that Gen Z are more motivated than previous generations. And yet it remains that quiet quitting is more prevalent among Gen Z than others. But why? A number of reasons exist, but chiefly quiet quitting is the statement of a generation who desires a life beyond a work that fails to appreciate them. 

Gen Z seemingly cannot be motivated to work above their pay grade simply by telling them to.Is the deploring of this as ‘lazy’ not just more evidence that companies are all too comfortable letting hard work go uncompensated? Perhaps the demands of Gen Z are a sign that a shift in workplace hierarchies and values is nigh. With more members of Gen Z finishing university and entering the workplace, it seems that broadly they are more willing to speak their minds and less willing to just roll over and take unfair and unrewarding workplace conditions than their forebears. With the New York Post proposing that millennial managers are “scared” of their Gen Z counterparts, will the hierarchies of the workplace become flipped on their heads?

With the UK birth rate falling to its lowest in decades, young people are set to become a scarcity. When the demand of young people exceeds the supply, it is no longer the responsibility of Gen Z to go without asking questions or speaking up as their Boomer parents and grandparents once felt they were compelled to. If workplace conditions are inadequate? Quit – either quietly or overtly. Such is the way Gen Z will begin to reverse the role of the unpaid intern or the long-suffering office junior. The impetus is now falling upon companies to change and improve themselves. 

The trialling in the UK of notions such as the four-day workweek, WFH, and hybrid working show that we are already beginning to see a shift in how workers are expecting to be treated and how the scales of ‘work-life balance’ may finally tip towards ‘life’ for once. Millennials may have ‘killed’ the diamond wedding ring, casual dining and cereal (apparently), but Gen Z stands poised to land the death blow of toxic work conditions and exploitative hierarchies, possibly once and for all.

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