Mentl Logo



As Generation Z joins the workforce, their values and beliefs shake up traditional workplace structures, making us rethink how we do things. But to truly understand their needs and desires in a job, we must start with listening to them, writes Sasha Dyachenko.

Studies labelling Gen Zers ‘entitled, lazy, and difficult to work with’ seem to have garnered significant support from employers, while Gen Zers stand their ground, refusing to accept these labels.

The titles given to youngsters don’t just underscore the challenges of intergenerational collaboration in the workplace, they also show the need for mutual understanding. In situations like this, fostering empathy and curiosity can help resolve the tension.

Giving voice to young professionals to share their struggles may help employers understand their standpoint and develop a more compassionate view of the youngsters.  

Sasha Dyachenko

Generation Z didn’t have it easier than the others

The term ‘Generation Z’ (or Zoomers) refers to people who are now aged between 12 and 27. They are characterised by being money-driven, ambitious, and able to set firm boundaries.

Born into a world of global upheaval and digital dominance, Gen Zers have been navigating uncertainty throughout their lives. Unlike their predecessors, Millennials, they didn’t have the luxury of growing up in an atmosphere of stability and economic prosperity.                  

Postwar generations enjoyed simpler lives, unaware of the global issues and the world’s complexity. Zoomers, in contrast, only remember international conflicts and adverse events shown on the news.

“I was born three days after 9/11. I know it all seems sad, but guess what? I didn’t build the system, nor did I f*** it up,” reflects Rue, a troubled Zoomer character from the popular Gen Z series “Euphoria”.

Generation Z has lived through major events, such as 9/11 and the pandemic, seen the climate change crisis become only more concerning, and witnessed era-defining social movements.

From a very young age, they have been exposed to terrible events unfolding live on their screens — something previous generations have never experienced. All of this has left an indelible mark on their worldviews and values.           

What moulded their mindsets?

Born between 1997 and 2012, they are perhaps too young to remember the Great Recession but they witnessed their parents become unemployed and lose their homes. Now, as they’ve seen the system’s fragility, they have little belief in it.

Most Zoomers have probably learned about 9/11 from history classes and have little recollection of the tragic events. They came of age in the post 9/11 world, filled with tension, global conflicts and injustice broadcast daily on TV, and grew up highly social-justice-oriented.

The pandemic, a global experiment of unprecedented proportions, altered their life trajectory. Pulled out of traditional classrooms, Gen Zers found themselves in a stranger virtual learning environment. The fallout?

A substantial 30% now experience challenges in face-to-face workplace interactions. Looks as if the education experiment didn’t unfold as seamlessly as expected. 

Are universities to blame?

Struggles with communication affected Zoomers in many ways, one of which is the recruitment process. The transition from academia to the workforce presented challenges for Gen Z, with many ill-prepared for the recruitment process.                           

Julia, a 25-year-old strategy consultant, shared her struggle:                                              

“It took me a year after graduation to find a job because I didn’t want to settle just for any job. The CV application process wasn’t straightforward, and interviews were difficult, too. I was nervous and didn’t know how to answer the employer’s questions correctly, which made them choose other, more experienced candidates,” she says.

Kate, a 26-year-old social media manager, had a similar experience. She struggled to secure a job despite completing a placement year with Disney’s marketing team.

“University doesn’t teach you about the recruitment process. We were taught how to make a good CV, but without relevant experience and good interview skills, you will struggle to find a job,” she says.                                                                 

Even though universities should prepare young people for the job application process, today’s education system seems to fail to equip youngsters with a profound understanding of the job market.

“The questions that are asked during interviews for entry-level positions are very demanding. There is an expectation that you would know about the industry and the job you’ll be doing already, but when you’re fresh out of university, you only know the theory,” Kate adds. 

“We need a university graduate with five years of relevant work experience”

Zoomers faced their first disappointment in the system when entering the workforce during the pandemic. Soaring unemployment rates led businesses to prioritise experienced workers over young, inexperienced individuals.                                                                    

This pattern persists even today, in the post-pandemic era. Recruiters’ posts on LinkedIn urging companies to lower their expectations for entry-level positions are gaining traction and receiving substantial support from Zoomers.                                                                     

“I think the requirements for entry-level paid jobs are getting a bit ridiculous. There’re so many unspoken barriers for certain jobs, and I think it’s a shock for a lot of people going into the job market for the first time after graduating,” says 21-year-old content writer Hannah.

Don’t expect graduates to come and know the ins and outs of the job

Reports indicate that Gen Z individuals struggle with a lack of training when starting employment. A clash of generations and a lack of compassion from senior managers seem to negatively impact young professionals, causing significant stress.

“I had just one day of training and ended up going around asking what I was supposed to do. I also learned the hard way about where I should be involved and where I shouldn’t. It made me stressed and caused a lot of anxiety. I was constantly afraid of making a mistake,” Kate recalls her first work experience.

Here’s where the misalignment between employer expectations and universities comes into play again. Managers often expect young professionals to be fully versed in their roles upon hiring, while universities are unable to provide them with practical skills for the workforce.

“During the pandemic, there might’ve been a few internships here and there, but they weren’t pushed by the universities anywhere near as much as they would’ve been during normal times. A lot of the experiences people would’ve gained through university simply weren’t available,” Hannah says.                                                              

All work and no play

Disconnecting from work in the 21st century is close to impossible. While older generations could forget about work after leaving the office, at least when they started their careers, Zoomers started their jobs in an environment where being available 24/7 is expected.

“In our field of work, we are expected to be available 24 hours a day. We even get Teams, Skype, and work email installed on your phone to be available at all times, sometimes at 1am or 3am. My colleagues and I have our managers ring us even at night if they need to,” says strategy consultant Julia.

Working hours in the digital era place new expectations on Zoomers. Straight out of university, they are thrown into a hostile work environment, with an expectation to work even ‘after work’.                                                          

“I want my workplace to help me have an easier life while I do my job”

As Gen Zs are social-justice-oriented, they want to stand their ground in the workplace. Their strong beliefs that the system was flawed before they arrived make them resistant to mistreatment from the same system. They believe the only way to change is to fight for their principles.                                               

“We prioritise mental health and work-life balance and try to have boundaries with employers. Our generation has stronger opinions and voices, and we are not afraid to speak up when we are being wronged — if we are underpaid, work extra time, or are being mistreated, we have no other choice but to be difficult,” says Kate.                        

“It’s important to feel like your efforts are valued and that your workplace is compromising with you to help you have an easier life while you do your job,” says Julia.                      

“The job is where you spend most of your time, and to have a sense of purpose and work fulfilment, you need to enjoy what you are doing. You can’t enjoy it if you are severely underpaid and your workplace doesn’t provide any benefits, such as working from home and having a bit more time just to sleep in,” she adds.                

Gen Zs are willing to work hard and realise that, in today’s reality, they probably need to try twice as hard as their predecessors to achieve the same results. And that’s why they want their employers to collaborate rather than just manage them.                             

It’s the first time when we have a younger generation that has access to more information and completely different life experiences than the one before. Older generations can no longer presume to know everything and have an unshakable authority.                                   

So, instead of just labelling youngsters ‘lazy’ and ‘entitled’, we can reassess the classic top-down hierarchy and admit that it simply no longer works in the digital world. Collaboration and compassion are the approaches to attracting and retaining young talent in the 21st century.