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Gen Z Isn’t “Missing Out” On Office Life. It’s Opting Out.

Can older generations stop picking fights with post-grads about the future of the workforce and accept that Gen Z is dictating the new workplace culture? In another attempt at a generational conflict akin to “cheugy” and skinny jeans, Business Insider published an article in October titled “What Gen Z Misses Out on by Not Being at the Office.” The article discusses the benefits of working in an office environment, but is framed as condescending: Babies grace the cover image in classic work attire, an obvious dig to Gen Z.

The article argues that younger people need to be humbled. Erica Komisar, psychoanalyst and author, is cited in the article saying, “At work, you’re in an environment where you’re not the top dog, so you have to learn to deal with authority and regulate your emotions when you don’t get your way. …It’s identity building.” It sounds like Generation X just wants to get its rocks off by controlling Gen Z.

The titular argument fails to recognize the “new normal” in the changing professional world. The COVID-19-induced work from home (WFH) push turned the privilege of remote work into a necessity. And most people like it. The Pew Research Center found in December 2020 that many workers described the transition as relatively easy and that a majority of 54% wanted to continue working from home post-outbreak.

And Gen Z is at the forefront of this shift. Some of Gen Z’s dream jobs include being a doctor, performer, content creator, entrepreneur, or a lawyer. The pandemic demonstrated how doctors and other health specialists can virtually conduct check-ups through telehealth technology. Litigation lawyers started “going to trial” through their computer screen. According to Bloomberg Law’s 2021 Remote Practice Survey more than half of practicing lawyers have embraced the experience and wish to permanently work remotely. Some lawyers threatened to quit if a virtual option wasn’t made available, which would further contribute to the increase in labor turnover.

But job options don’t have to be a binary choice when people can have the best of both worlds. Dror Zaifman, Director of Digital Marketing at iCASH, tells Her Campus, “The hybrid work model has already transformed the traditional workplace. Apps like Slack have made it easy for companies to adopt this prevailing culture. The great resignation is already here.” 

Job options don’t have to be a binary choice when people can have the best of both worlds.

According to Slack research published in October 2020, 72% of people prefer the hybrid model. Some employees are quitting their office jobs instead of giving up the remote ability to work from home as many companies return to in-person work.

Zaifman continues, “Companies are hiring freelancers to complete their one-time projects. The chief goal of the company is to survive in this competitive market. [B]y offering a flexible work schedule, [they] attract talented people who have time and again shown that they can deliver results from anywhere.” Being able to work from home means that companies can find talent that they wouldn’t normally be aware of in their close vicinity. 

One young talent, Sarah, 22, tells Her Campus of the benefits to her newly remote job. She says, “With most office and computer-based jobs, there are some days where there’s just not enough work to fill every minute of the day. In my old office job, I’d occasionally finish my workload early and just sit at my desk doing nothing until it was time to clock out.” She adds that because she works remotely now, she can fill that downtime with household chores that need to get done like laundry, grocery shopping, and cleaning. “This allows for more free time later,” she says. “And saving money on gas and work clothes is a huge perk.”

Sammuel, 21, also sees the advantages. “Remote work was less stressful as I no longer had to focus on my commute,” he tells Her Campus. “Instead, I now have the opportunity to do morning exercises and make myself breakfast, something I didn’t actively do beforehand.” 

In a report published by the American Psychological Association in January 2019, 91% of Gen Z adults reported experiencing a physical or emotional symptom due to stress but only half said they do enough to manage their stress. Gen Z’s focus on health and wellness translates to a more pressing need for a work-life balance. According to a GOBankingRates survey, 42% of adult Gen Z workers label work-life balance as a top priority when looking for a job. This isn’t new as “a flexible schedule” is also important to Millennials and Gen X, as found in a CommericalCafe study. After surveying 1,496 employees, the results found that 27% of Gen Z is dissatisfied with their work-life balance in comparison to 13% to 16% of their older Generation counterparts. Office work doesn’t always allow adequate time to continue your hobbies and recharge your energy with the same ease that remote work does.

If a typical 9-to-5 doesn’t accommodate for personal pursuits, it’s no wonder Gen Z can be put off by office life. Sarah tells Her Campus, “I don’t think office life is entirely overrated, but I don’t always think it’s necessary. It is valuable to come into an office space and be able to collaborate with coworkers in person. But I think companies should utilize a balance of WFH and in-office time.”

“I like that Gen Z culture is advocating for the normalization of more casual work environments. I think allowing your employees to have more flexibility contributes to more productivity.”

As the emerging workforce in the post-lockdown era, Gen Z is reinventing remote work. The traditional office environment can be improved. “I like that Gen Z culture is advocating for the normalization of more casual work environments,” Sarah says. “I think allowing your employees to dress comfortably, have more flexibility in their schedule, and have openness with their superiors contributes to more productivity.”

Office culture changes are necessary, as Gen Z — a notably outspoken generation on social issues — is aware of issues with professionalism and power dynamics. Something as unchangeable as your natural hair or socioeconomic background can be stigmatized in an office environment. For example, curly hair can be read as unprofessional for being frizzy. Additionally, office attire may rely on a dress code that isn’t always within one’s financial means. Standards of professionalism at the office are often dictated by the assumption of whiteness as the norm, prompting discrimination against non-Western and non-white professionalism standards related to dress code, colloquial (or AAVE) speech, work style, and timeliness. Adherence to professionalism exacerbates inequalities because of the standardization and required conformity to the dominant culture, and Gen Z’s desire for more casual environments is subsequently a desire for relaxing those discriminatory standards.

Gen Z is also subject to certain power dynamics due to their young age. Current office culture is heavy on social stratification and arbitrary rules. Getting your start as an intern or assistant means that you do not get paid as much as the established workers and often do not work the same many hours as the other workers, yet may be expected to pay the same amount for an office parking permit or other necessary amenities in in-person offices.

Age also plays a role because Gen Z is often students. While everyone has a complex personal life, students also have to worry about their academic and extracurricular activities, while planning for the future. When socializing, the age difference often means Gen Z won’t relate to other generational experiences. They may find that their personalities need to be digestible for older workers, rather than authentic. When we’re all behind a screen, we can deconstruct these arbitrary rules of professionalism and hierarchy. There are no visual and audible markings to ostracize Gen Z in the workplace.

This isn’t possible for everyone who still works in person at an office. Jeremiah, 21, tells Her Campus, “[I admire] a lot of [Gen Z] advocacy. Luckily I had bosses that actually listened to critiques and suggestions and were supportive of [them]. But because my job was in the legal field, it was much more difficult for [them] to be implemented. In other fields, however, I do have friends that tried to advocate for these things such as assertion of rights, deconstruction of professionalism, etc., and it has been very difficult for them to even be heard. But they are making moves!”

When we’re all behind a screen, we can deconstruct these arbitrary rules of professionalism and hierarchy. There are no visual and audible markings to ostracize Gen Z in the workplace.

Admittedly, there are benefits to working in an office. Johana, 21, revels in the ability to connect with people face-to-face in an office environment. “I think office life is underrated,” she tells her Campus. “The relationships you build in the office are 50% of what makes the job enjoyable. In my office we have snacks set up in the cubicle, usually when we grab some we chat with co-workers and it’s nice having those kinds of relationships. I think the view of office work is very boring, when in reality, it can be rewarding.” 

Socializing isn’t exclusive to the office environment. Remote work’s reliance on apps like Slack requires workers to build strong communication skills by constantly keeping others in the loop and answering questions promptly. Working remotely promotes selective and intentional communication, and you can still build relationships online.

Whether it’s the office and in-person, or remotely delivered, Gen Z knows they’ll eventually have to work. As the “new normal” prompts remote work, the latest workforce may usher in more virtual opportunities with new types of jobs. Both formats have their benefits and drawbacks, so trust Gen Z to choose the option that best serves their individual needs.

Expert:

Dror Zaifman, Director of Digital Marketing at iCASH

Sources:

Halliday, E. (2021). 2021 Remote Practice Survey. Bloomberg Law.

Slack Research. (2020). Moving beyond remote: Workplace transformation in the wake of Covid-19.

YPulse. (2021). Gen Z’s Dream Jobs Are Very Different from Millennials.

Bethune, S. (2019). Gen Z more likely to report mental health concerns. American Psychological Association.

Bizouati-Kennedy, Y. (2021). 42% of Gen Z Prioritize Work-Life Balance Over Other Job Perks, Survey Says. GoBankingRates.

McGregor, P. (2021). Generational Survey: Working from Home is Benefitting Millennials & Gen X, but Hasn’t Been Great for Gen Z. CommercialCafe.

Gray, A. (2019). The Bias of ‘Professionalism’ Standards. Stanford Social Innovation Review. 

You are what you love. In my case, it's riot grrrl music, healing reads, and bell hooks quotes. I am a national HC writer and a chapter editor at UC Irvine, where I study political science and social ecology.
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