Gen Zers experience career regret amid rapid workplace changes

Young people are already feeling jaded about work life, as employers struggle to keep up with their specific set of demands.

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Helena Young
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Members of Gen Z are in the bloom of youth. But a new report has revealed that many of them are already feeling washed up at work, despite having barely passed their probation.

EduBirdie, a student advice website, surveyed 2,000 Gen Z workers to uncover their attitudes towards their career paths. It discovered that 43% already regret choosing their profession.

Meanwhile, a large percentage also regret their education, with 25% saying it was useless for their careers. Their fears echo sentiments from business leaders, who overwhelmingly argue that new graduates are unprepared for work.

As young people struggle to find their place in today’s workforce, business experts have been left wondering  what the modern workplace will look like for future generations.

Doomed from the start?

Gen Z’s career dejection is likely a result of their entry into a business world that is changing beneath their feet. As the first new cohort to join the working population post-COVID, this age bracket has absorbed some major workplace shifts, such as a more relaxed attitude when it comes to office dress code and the availability of flexible working options.

Another trigger is the advent of AI. The technology is expected to change the world of work unrecognisably, and tech giants including the CEO of IBM have estimated that a significant chunk of roles will be obsolete in just half a decade as a result.

The education sector is struggling to keep up. In August, one training expert said that AI is now more useful than an English or maths degree, marking students as underqualified for the workplace before they can even enter it.

Careers outside of the technology or science sectors have been rubbished by organisations as high-brow as the UK government.

In July, Rishi Sunak hinted at a possible cap on the number of students who study so-called “rip off” university degrees that do not lead to what it terms as “good jobs”. For example, the creative arts.

According to the EduBirdie research, 45% of young people already work in a field unrelated to their formal education. The statistic reflects a general feeling of dissatisfaction amongst graduates, many of whom view their degree as a poor investment.

Is sole trading better for the soul?

Discontentment with salary is not a new phenomena. But it appears to be more keenly felt amongst today’s young people, who – due to lower experience levels – are the most likely group to occupy a lower-paid junior role.

Based on Longitudinal Education Outcomes (LEO) data, the average entry-level salary in 2022 was £26,000, which represents a 4% increase from the 2019/20 cohort of graduates. This growth is outweighed by the annual inflation rate peaking in January 2023 at 11.8%.

Perhaps as a result of these higher salary demands, some firms have paused hiring for entry-level roles. Analysis by the job search engine Adzuna in July found that vacancies are rising across all employment types except for graduate roles, which are instead falling.

EduBirdie’s survey reflects this struggle. 31% of Gen Z said they had needed more than three months to land their first real job after leaving education. For one in seven the search stretched on for more than half a year.

Ksenia Hubska, Data Lead at EduBirdie, comments: “It’s not an easy time to enter the workforce, even with a degree. Millions of graduates face months searching for a role and once they secure a job, chances are, it won’t pay nearly enough.”

Fed up with the rat race, Gen Zers appear to have been seduced by a ‘be-your-own-boss’ mentality, with a higher percentage considering a switch to entrepreneurship than in previous generations.

2023 saw a 400% uplift in the number of student entrepreneurs as young people reject control of a jobs market that does not address their needs. More still are planning to work as a sole trader, with 71% of 16-25 year olds labelling freelancing as their ultimate career goal.

Finding meaning in work

The EduBirdie research is cause for concern for employers. An engagement crisis has already gripped the UK, with staff openly employing anti-work trends. Gen Z, the so-called “anti-ambition generation”, is often blamed for the movement, which originated from TikTok.

Still, the silver lining in EduBirdie’s research is that, by diagnosing the problem, businesses will understand and be better-equipped to tackle it head-on.

Those who feel they might have taken a wrong career path could simply be in need of a professional pivot. Investing in learning and development opportunities would therefore be enough to improve employee engagement amongst younger workers.

Adopting a coaching leadership style would also give managers the tools they need to help younger colleagues find their niche and develop the necessary skills required.

Research has also shown that Gen Z is more likely to be attracted to and motivated by companies that have a clear purpose. For much of the age group, work is not just about getting a paycheck; it’s about making a meaningful contribution to society.

As young people display uncertainty about their long-term career ambitions, now is an excellent time for employers to snare those who are seeking more meaningful work opportunities that motivate them.

Firms boasting positive, purpose-driven branding will be more likely to attract fresh talent who share similar goals and beliefs. This should be backed-up by concrete materials, such as a mission statement and clear company values, for full transparency.

For Gen Z workers to find their place in a rapidly-changing world, employers must make space for them. By providing an attractive, values-based job proposition, SMEs can ensure they hire right and retain well in the years to come.

Next up: read about another key way to understand and define your brand in our guide to developing organisational culture.

Written by:
Helena Young
Helena is Lead Writer at Startups. As resident people and premises expert, she's an authority on topics such as business energy, office and coworking spaces, and project management software. With a background in PR and marketing, Helena also manages the Startups 100 Index and is passionate about giving early-stage startups a platform to boost their brands. From interviewing Wetherspoon's boss Tim Martin to spotting data-led working from home trends, her insight has been featured by major trade publications including the ICAEW, and news outlets like the BBC, ITV News, Daily Express, and HuffPost UK.

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