Do I want what these ‘oldies’ want?

31 January 2023

I asked myself, ‘Do I want what these ‘oldies’ want?’, after reading Georgina Roberts’ article, where she critiques the older generation of workers, who in her experience, hold the belief that Gen Z are anything but hardworking. She feels it’s ‘unfair and inaccurate to be branded as a coaster’ and endorses requests such as office dogs, gym memberships and life coaches. I then attended an interesting roundtable discussion which also got me thinking… leaders in the early careers industry are keen to attract Gen Z, but the majority belong to more mature generations. There was humoured discussion about our approach to networking and attitude towards being in an office environment. So, as a member of Gen Z I’d like to contribute my own thoughts on this generational dissonance.

Firstly, I’m keen to move away from generalisations of any kind, but the fact they exist is unavoidable. With today’s workforce comprising four generations: Baby boomers, Gen X, Millenials and Gen Z, the emergence of divides is inevitable. But, not every ‘oldie’ is opposed to hybrid working and not every Zoomer (as I learnt we are called…) demands an office puppy.

In my article discussing Stephen Bartlett’s fear that we are the least resilient generation, I expressed a sentiment similar to Roberts. I think the impression of Gen Z as shirking skivers comes from a failure to recognise us as being more attuned to the importance of a healthy work-life balance than any other generation – and isn’t challenging tradition and devising new ways of doing things a positive trait?

It’s important to remember that Gen Z are unlikely to have experienced the pre-COVID working world. When I started my internship, I wondered: Did all these online meetings used to take place in person? What was office culture like? How was communication facilitated when people did work remotely?

We had years of virtual education, and while I don’t mean to say this experience was superior… far from it; I do wish to draw attention to the possibility of a healthy balance. I was able to do part-time tutoring for example, because I no longer had to commute to and from lectures. Gen Z are accustomed to hybridity, so the expectation to work in an office 5 days a week is perhaps as alien as working from home was to most employees pre-COVID.

I don’t think generational divides need to be as polarising a topic as they appear. Discussions about lived experiences might be all it takes to build a more holistic understanding of what people want from work and why.  After all, didn’t COVID demonstrate that work can be done from home at times? That meetings can be conducted online, or even that the necessity of some meetings might be questioned?

Admittedly, we still have a way to go before we can fully grasp the benefits of being in the office and networking. I learnt employers were surprised that their younger colleagues were nonplussed about the opportunity to attend awards shows etc. Speaking for myself, I know that is something I’d enjoy, but I’m equally aware that cultural changes mean some are less inclined to attend events where drinking is involved or have ‘side hustles’ they wish to devote time to or cannot afford the overlooked expenses of such nights. Perhaps this reflects the workplace wellbeing revolution, with individuals being value-driven and the hierarchal ‘company says, employee does’ pattern now extinct.

Unfortunately, building networks is a practice unfamiliar to many of us – with remote education partly to blame by removing the opportunity for spontaneous conversation. I think storytelling and testimonials from colleagues who have benefited and reaped the rewards will help us comprehend the value. In a similar vein, senior members of staff will benefit from understanding why Gen Z may prefer to work at home or in a hybrid format. For starters, it takes 44 minutes of an average London employees working time to cover their daily commute costs; this number skyrockets the lower the wage an individual earns. For graduates with entry-level roles, this financial burden is exactly that… a burden. Especially when you consider that with the housing crisis, we are pushed further from our offices which are most likely in zones 1-2, and thus have longer and more expensive commutes. By placing ourselves in the shoes of others, we can develop deeper insights and understanding.

In her article, Roberts mentions that some employers are deterred from hybrid setups due to the fear that their employees are skiving. I wonder what this shows about a company’s culture. It seems to be one in which mistrust runs rife… Alternatively, if employees do struggle to work without having a watchful eye, does this mean they don’t share the company’s mission? If that is the case, this calls for reflection at a senior level. Are there incentives for employees to put their all in? Are there regular feedback sessions where individuals can learn where they are falling short? Are expectations communicated in a clear manner? These are all questions to explore before hybrid work or working from home are dismissed. Ultimately, a company or organisation cannot succeed without an underlying foundation of trust, whether your desk is at home or in the office (or even the back room of a pub if that works for you).

The next generation of employees belongs to Gen Z. Open conversations about workplace desires and expectations must be had because there is no avoiding the influx of this generation of opinionated individuals. After all, why maintain a tradition for tradition’s sake, especially if they aren’t improving the work-life or well-being of employees? Equally, as a generation, we have a duty to listen to and learn from those colleagues who have far more experience in the workplace pre-COVID. We all have much to gain from one another.

At 106, we understand the backbone of any healthy employer brand as being a strong, consistent and connected culture, welcoming and inclusive of all. If you would like to have a chat about how we can help your organisation better align your employer brand to cultural trends take a look at some of our case studies and get in touch.

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