When the pandemic hit, members of Generation Z, born between 1997 and 2012, were just entering adulthood. After enduring a particularly difficult time during lockdowns, today they face an acute mental health crisis. As a result, in 2024, many will demand more from their working lives.
When my research team at Harvard University interviewed 80 Generation Z college students, we noticed an overwhelming desire to redouble their efforts to live authentically. This means doing work they are passionate about, building meaningful bonds with their peers, making their private selves (whether their tastes and preferences, their sexual identity, their past traumas) public to those around them, when they feel moved. .
In general, members of Generation Z are also much more skeptical about pursuing the American dream than their elders. For example, many consider homeownership not only out of reach, but also another consumer trap, a part of the addictive “hedonistic cycle” that should be avoided. They do not want to subordinate their personal priorities to profit or hide crucial aspects of their identity in order to perform the “ideal self” that employers have traditionally expected. In the past, this often required dedicating yourself completely (40+ hours a week) to externally dictated goals. That is no longer the case.
The Gen Z college students we interviewed have specific questions for their employers. Her goal is to combine her passion for hard work and entrepreneurship with self-actualization, work-life balance, social inclusion and political engagement. The usual incentives for employees do not work.
To continue attracting these young, reluctant workers as boomers retire, employers will have to foster organizational cultures that facilitate what I call recognition: making others visible and valued. Therefore, “seeing others” will have to become a new management mantra. In this context, formal “affinity groups” of workers who share similar interests or identities will become particularly important. This will allow people in increasingly diverse workplaces to talk about how they experience their working lives together, what they aspire to and how things could be improved.
In 2024, this quest for self-creation and actualization will mean that therapeutic culture will play an even more central role than in the past. Both workers and managers will focus less on “working harder” than “working better” and will think more about talking about what motivates employees beyond economic imperatives.
The sharing economy, as well as self-employment opportunities that can be used as a business tool, are also giving Generation Z a way out of stagnant work routines.
However, there are important differences between social classes. In a study of how middle- and working-class college students responded to Covid-19, the former group was more likely to see themselves as leaders of social change, while the latter saw their aspirations limited by the reality of having to support their families. . They also operated with a much shorter time horizon and perceived pandemic challenges in the context of a long history of dealing with crises. In this context, in 2024, the pursuit of passion will continue to be seen as a luxury by many with fewer resources, while the gap between university-educated people and the rest of the population will continue to deepen, including their search for dignity through to work. If we want to live in healthy societies, we must extend recognition to those without a college education and learn to truly see others correctly.
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