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‍Does Gen Z really have work all figured out?

Claire Wells

As a 25 year old, I’m quite new to the workplace and sometimes feel like Bambi on ice, slipping and sliding, trying to make conscious steps in the right direction but not quite getting my footing right. As the youngest member of the Voco team, I’m surrounded by very accomplished Gen Xers, who seem to have it all figured out. Of course, I understand that kind of confidence comes with experience and time, but the wider world seems to have this view that us Gen Zers  have it all figured out already.

I read articles all the time about how Generation Z (those of us born between 1997 and 2012) is leading the professional charge for change. We’re ‘quiet quitting’ to demonstrate our employers’ lack of respect or our disillusionment with working culture. Or we’re pushing brands to be more ethical and paving the way for a more moralistic type capitalism. 

But I don’t feel in control… I see news telling me how awful life is; discussing the cost of living crisis and social unrest. When I talk to my peers  it seems like we just want to give up as changing the world is pointless. But when I talk to my older family or colleagues, they think we’re going to be a force for good?

So I wonder, are we really the more equipped, educated generation, or are we just the same as all the twentysomethings that came before? What is different about Gen Z and what hasn’t really changed?

New knowledge

Apparently Generation Z is ‘entering the workforce with knowledge and confidence’ as we’re  experts in both technology and social issues. Or so people seem to think…

But with this ‘knowledge’ also comes ignorance. Thanks to the internet and social media any and all information is at the tip of your fingers, offering a huge breadth of knowledge to wade through. But with so much information, comes paralysis of choice or anxiety about doing the wrong thing.

Although previous generations had less immediately searchable information at their fingertips, at least that made career decisions easier. My boss told me about going to career fairs and being handed a binder with a list of jobs in it.  And since accountant was always on the first page, lots of people did that! My reality is more complex; I do endless online personality tests and check out a never-ending digital encyclopaedia of career options available to me, wondering if I’ve made the right choice. It can be pretty overwhelming!

And as for technology, as the ‘tech savvy’ age group, us Gen Zers are expected to come into the workforce with a lot more technical skills and clarity about what we want to do with them.  I’m expected to be au fait with any kind of operating system, know how to effortlessly run social media accounts, and probably how to code as well! I don’t…

Of course, growing up as a digital native does make technology easier to navigate on the whole; but people forget that we didn’t grow up using professional systems or programs, so getting to grips with workplace tech is still a challenge! But maybe I know that the solution to most tech problems is usually the ‘undo’ button…

Social media

I can’t remember life before social media. I was born before it technically existed but I was seven years old when Facebook launched and by the time I was ten I had a Bebo account and was happily taking care of my virtual pets. Going into secondary school not having Facebook meant not being invited to parties, not making friends and having to pluck up the courage to ask someone out IRL.  Terrifying!

So it makes sense that entering the professional world meant another evolution of my social media presence. Enter Linkedin! Although it only boasts a measly 840 million users in comparison to Facebook's 2.9 billion, Linkedin still manages to have everyone worth having on there. 

Something, maybe naively, I didn’t prepare for was that I now have the perfect self critical machine at my fingertips. If I feel like I’m  underachieving I can just open the app and look up everyone I know who is doing exponentially better than me. And if I can’t find anyone, then I can just search for my most desired job title and go down the list until I find  someone who graduated from Cambridge at 12 and now owns a multi-million pound business. 

The logical side of my brain tells me that these people are outliers but it doesn't  feel like that. Before social media you only really knew if someone was outperforming you if you worked in the same company, kept in contact or were related to them! I envy older generations as they maybe had a more realistic, less overtly competitive view of their early professional lives. But when I have hundreds of millions of people’s achievements just one click away, how can mine feel significant?

A poll by the Prince’s Trust found that 57% of young people surveyed think social media creates an ‘overwhelming pressure’ to succeed. When you’ve grown with social media encouraging you to compare yourself to others, it can leave a lasting impression. I find myself endlessly scrolling the list of who did it better. And the worst part is that I can see who got a job I went for and follow their career journey wondering if mine might have been the same… and that can’t be good, right?

Worry, doubt and stress

Anxiety seems to have been labelled as a Gen Z phenomenon..And while, to me, it seems that the  open discourse around mental health did seem very lacking in the past, I wouldn’t be naive enough to assume we’re the first generation to have issues with mental health. But I like to think we can take some credit for turning up the volume on the need for better support for mental wellbeing in the workplace.

And that support is clearly needed, as struggles with mental health are definitely not limited to my peers and me.

According to Gallup’s ‘State of the global workplace 2022’ those under and over 40 actually experience equal amounts of worry at work, with 40% of those surveyed experiencing it daily. And 23% of us also experience sadness on a daily basis, regardless of our age. I think we’re just better at talking about it!

At Voco, we often chat about the similarities and differences between our feelings towards work - we’re all about finding career happiness after all!  And I’m always surprised that the fortysomethings I work with say they mostly felt the same worries and concerns at my age. Although this provides some comfort, I also find it frustrating that so little has changed and that despite all progress we’ve made, and with all the technology available to us, we still haven’t found a way to dispel those feelings of self-doubt. But maybe that’s just life?

The grand conclusion seems to be that although we may talk about things differently, internally we have the same struggles. We all want to be the best we can be, and also feel we often fall short of our own expectations, and those we see reflected to us through social media. 

Doubt and judgement have been carried from generation to generation,  and perhaps now, due to the more open discussions about mental health that are taking place at work, it’s clearer that feelings of inadequacy are pretty universal, regardless of the ‘generation’ that supposedly defines us.

I’m happy to say that the open discussions now happening around mental health have helped me feel heard and seen at work. I can only imagine what it must have been like trying to hide feeling overwhelmed or stressed from an employer. But I can wear my feelings on my sleeve, and I can ask for support when I need it. I feel like that’s a win for Gen Z!

And while the pressures inflicted on my peers and me by social media might be hard to ignore, I can also take comfort from the fact that there has always been pressure on people entering the workforce, but our current push for transparency means we’re better able to tackle things head on. Plus we have a wealth of easily-accessible knowledge to draw on, and communities to support us, so we know we’re not alone. And maybe those older than us can guide us through the next steps of our careers… into our 30s and beyond!

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