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Beyond Stereotypes: Embracing the True Potential of Gen Z at Work

When you think of Generation Z, several words may come to mind. You might think of the self-deprecating humour that is often associated, or you may think of the progressive and forward thinking mindsets of many. But, if you’re thinking about Gen Z in relation to work, it is probable that words such as ‘lazy’, ‘unmotivated’ and ‘unprofessional’ may come to mind. It is a common phenomena at the moment to see older generations shun young people born between the mid 1990s and the early 2010s, looking down upon them, and creating a narrative that all from this era are disappointments when it comes to the workforce, who create nothing but a culture of lethargy within society. However, within this blog, we will explore whether this is a fair judgement or not. Are young people just completely uninterested when it comes to work, or, on the contrary, have they missed a trick that older generations can learn from?

A Day in the Life:

Picture this: you’re 21, fresh out of uni, and about to look for your first job. It is not something you’ve done before, and despite the best efforts of your university, you are wholly unprepared for what to expect in your first job interview. You scour the internet, pouring over endless websites, trying to find somewhere that makes you feel somewhat excited. At last, you find somewhere, and you spend hours trying to learn everything about the business. You’re not quite sure what to wear, but opt for that elusive term of ‘business casual’. You sit in the lobby, so nervous, so apprehensive about what will happen in your interview- mouth dry, palms sweaty. You hear your name called, stand up and walk into a brightly lit room. A man sits in front of you, unsmiling. Now you’re unsure what to do with your hands, how to address him. It’s not that you’re rude, or ungrateful for this opportunity. It’s simply that you haven’t done it before. Much of your education took place online, and since then, formal social interactions have been that much more tricky. He stares at a piece of paper in front of him, and asks, almost mockingly, “how would you describe yourself in three words”. You feel your mind go blank, glancing down at your lap, unable to meet his eye. You look around the room for inspiration- nothing comes to mind, and at last you blurt out three words that in fact could not be further from your personality. After a painful 20 minutes you leave, completely mortified that you let yourself down like that. 

The perception:

Looking at this experience from an outsider's point of view, you would see a young person who seems entirely unprepared for an interview, supposedly wasting the time of the interviewer. This member of Gen Z seems rude, ill-fitting for the role, and not someone whom any business would want to hire. Yet instead of asking what might be wrong about the question styles, or the environment, we immediately blame the young person. We are expecting this younger generation to fit into a mould designed by those from generations before. So much has changed in the last 5 years, let alone the last 20, and if we take a step back and think about it, what is wrong is our way of assessing candidates for roles, rather than the candidates themselves. How can we realistically expect every young person to go through the same interview process that we did? When most interviewers were young, emphasis was placed on preparation for in person events, and there was far more social interaction, with mobile phones and the internet not readily available. Much of Generation Z suffered socially when it came to Covid 19, with a large amount of their education forced to take place online. So much of how we interact with others is learnt from both school and university environments, and with that stripped suddenly away from young people, how can we expect them to socialise in the same way we do?

Reconsidering the situation:

Another thought is that potentially, Generation Z have got it right when it comes to interviews, and jobs in general. Maybe the antiquated, stuffy generic questions that are always asked are hard to answer, and more specifically, hard to answer in the way interviewers want them to. Maybe they aren’t disrespectful or impertinent, but rather see the ridiculous side to the interviews. Maybe, they are more sure of what they want, and their determined mindset and ability to ‘stick to their guns’ when it comes to the aspects they're unprepared to compromise on is something so unexpected by the older generations, that they are immediately branded as rude rather than decisive. Around 75% of people agree that searching for a job is one of life’s most stressful experiences- so why aren’t we taking more notice of this? If the vast majority agree with this opinion, there must be some truth to it, and Generation Z undoubtedly are no different. 

A fresh perspective:

It seems that perhaps we should reframe the narrative surrounding Generation Z in the workplace. Snap judgements are made of them, reinforced by society, all of which label them as lazy, insolent and impolite. Yet, if we remove ourselves from the negative cloud which surrounds this issue, we may be able to see Gen Z for what they are. Like every generation, they are products of their environment, with flaws and skills that set them apart. Let’s look not at the negatives, and reframe young people in a positive light. They bring fresh perspectives to a business, alongside a willingness to learn and adapt with whatever the future brings. For a minute, let’s put ourselves in their shoes, allow ourselves to give them a break. Who knows, we may even be able to learn from them!