We don’t want to work – but give us a promotion, says Gen Z

Millions of young people are economically inactive, and many more say they don’t care about work. But research shows they're still after a promotion.

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Written and reviewed by:
Helena Young

This week, figures released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) revealed a record number of young people are ‘inactive’, fuelling further debate around a perceived lack of work ambition amongst Generation Z.

Three million people under the age of 25 are unemployed, the data shows, and those who are in work are increasingly coming under fire for unprofessionalism and low effort.

Despite poor performance reviews from business leaders, new research shows that Gen Z is also the generation most concerned about career progression. So how do managers square competing employee ideas about success in the workplace?

Who’s afraid of Gen Z?

Hollywood socialite and self-styled businesswoman, Kim Kardashian made headlines last year when she was asked by Variety to offer some words of advice to women in business.

“Get your f**ing ass up and work,” she said. “”It seems like nobody wants to work these days. You have to surround yourself with people that wanna work.”

Kardashian might have been widely mocked at the time, but her words increasingly look like a wise prophecy for the current state of the job market.

Employers have joined in on the rant, raving about ‘lazy young people’. 74% of bosses describe Gen Z as the most difficult generation to work with, describing them as unmotivated.

Rather than taking offence, many Gen Zers have embraced the label. Across TikTok, they are openly criticising their employer and participating in anti-work trends like quiet quitting.

The movement is impacting relationships from day one. In a study by Indeed, 93% of Gen Zers said they haven’t shown up to an interview before. 87% said they had not even shown up on their first day of work.

Others are leaving jobs altogether to embark on a ‘quarter-life gap year’. Putting career development on pause to travel the world, workers in their early to late twenties are rejecting expectations to build up a CV, deferring learning the ropes until later in life.

We still want a promotion, say young employees

With young people gallivanting off on trips abroad, it would be fair to expect the next generation is unbothered about career progression. But research from Instantprint shows Gen Zers are also the most likely age group in the workforce to care about a promotion.

In a survey of 1,000 UK employees, just 43% of Millennials said that career progression was important to them, while 28% of Gen Xers shared that career progression is neither important nor unimportant.

50% of Gen Z, however, shared that career progression is very important to them, indicating that despite an apparent laid-back attitude to work, Gen Zers are still interested in gaining a pay rise or a new job title.

Whether they’ll get them is doubtful. With many managers of young employees arguing their demands are unreasonable, relationships appear to have soured.

Career regret and confusion for Gen Z

Confused? So is Gen Z. Their paradoxical wish to reject traditional work culture while still climbing the corporate ladder indicates that the group is struggling to find its place in the workforce – a workforce that has undergone huge changes in the past two years.

Flexible working is a relatively new phenomenon for most UK employees. But for Gen Zers, it’s all they know. The same can be said for habits like office slang replacing corporate language or casual dress codes leaking into ‘formal’ industries.

Wages also cannot be ignored. In today’s poor economy businesses have tightened the purse strings and invested less in entry-level roles which require a bigger training budget, making it near impossible for young people to get a job without years of experience.

Graduates and school leavers are also entering the workforce with sky-high student debt to pay off and rent payments many can’t afford to make. It’s no surprise that, in a survey of 2,000 Gen Z workers to uncover their attitudes towards their career paths, a massive 43% said they already regret choosing their current profession.

Disappointed by salaries that have not kept rate with inflation, many are incredulous at being asked to work for a promotion, such as by putting in additional hours, without more pay.

“They’re very much used to being rewarded for their effort, rather than hitting their goals,” one manager told Startups. “Leaving at 5.30pm as opposed to 5pm makes them feel as though they’ve gone the extra mile.”

What does success look like in the modern workplace?

Senior staff with decades of experience in the workplace might be tempted to dismiss Gen Z’s employee engagement crisis as “lazy young people”. Certainly, ghosting a job interview or not turning up to work on the first day is behaviour that should be quashed.

Still, this Kardashian-esque sweeping statement misunderstands the context behind the clash. The post-COVID workplace is still deciding what it looks like. As the pendulum swings between traditional and modern, the result will fall somewhere between the two.

Both parties must evaluate how they view success in a job and where a new definition might be drawn. For example, the Instantprint survey found that one in seven Gen Z respondents start work at different times every day.

Previously this might have been seen as ill-discipline. But the truth is it's not about laziness, but a generational shift towards flexibility that's becoming the norm across the workforce.

Updating performance reviews to be more in-line with these new work habits will enable bosses to set clear boundaries for promotion and reward without having to accept genuinely inappropriate behaviour. In short, bridging the gap requires flexibility, not judgement.

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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