Amid a mass job exit, one generation is standing out for their relationship with employment, what they look to gain from work, and how long they’ll stay in one spot. Gen Z, which caps off around 23-24 years old, with inbetweeners being maybe one year older, is staying at a job for 2 years and 3 months before moving on to the next gig, one 2021 study from CareerBuilder says.
It’s important to note that since the oldest Zoomer is in their mid-twenties, job longevity isn’t fully an option unless a person was to stay in the same role from their teen years until now. Even still, they’re exiting positions quicker than previous generations, including Gen Y (Millennials), Gen X, and Baby Boomers. Attitudes towards the role of work, in general, differentiate them from predecessors.
All that Gen Z has endured beyond work plays a part in their approach.
“Despite just starting their careers, Gen Z has already lived through major life events including the economic recession and ongoing pandemic,” says CareerBuilder’s VP of Communications Sara Skirboll. A December 2021 poll conducted by MTV Entertainment Group and The Associated Press revealed that 46% of Gen Z believes the COVID-19 pandemic has made pursuing education and a career more difficult. They are also dealing with anxiety and depression connected to several stressors, including school shootings and politics.
“These experiences have stacked them with steep tuition fees and escalating rent leaving them somewhat afraid of risk-taking, which may explain why they stay in jobs about as long as Millennials,” Skirboll says.
Millennials have been scarred by external factors, too. Student debt is one hurdle with legs — and the student loan pause will not extend past January 2022, President Biden says. Issues with work-life balance, money/benefits, and environmental concerns are also among the reasons that will lead Millennials to exit a position and on average, they’re staying in roles for about 6 months longer than Gen Z. The rapid expansion of social media during Gen Z’s life has set them apart though, as it makes possibilities for employment limitless and encourages personal values to take center stage.
“Tech and social media have also connected this generation to one another, leaning into their similar emphasis on values and dislike of authority, especially within the workplace,” Skirboll adds. “These factors make them less likely to continue in a job that does not align with values like diversity and sustainability.”
During the summer 2020 protests around police brutality against the Black community, Gen Z pushed brands to speak up about injustice, even when some would say there was no direct link between inequality and the services provided. Refusal to do so or acknowledge the unrest in roundabout ways resulted in call-outs. Clear stances matter to the young group and they want to be in spaces that uplift their sense of what’s right.
As Skirball shared, jobs with an ecological conscience are a priority for young people. (Employment and healthcare follow, as documented by Deloitte.) Flint, Michigan went through a five-year-long water crisis, while climate change and global warming are literal hot topics. Twitter users routinely make jokes about the weather misaligning with the season and laugh through gritted teeth about the end of the world. So they want to be in a place where they know those in power are making good decisions for the planet. Ultimately though, that’s not enough to make Gen Z stick around.
Work culture also contributes to why young workers, especially young Black women, are heading out of the door.
Gen Z Speaks
Kelsey Beckford, 25, works in human resources and has been in her current position since July 2021. A previous position was in customer service (she submitted a two weeks notice of resignation and was promptly let go after 3 months) and another role lasted for a few months until she was ghosted by her employer.
During an interview for one job, Beckford recalls being “tested” by a manager. “[S]he asked me to say like a greeting, and she reached out for my hand, so I shook her hand. And then she was like, ‘It’s COVID, why would you shake my hand? That was a test.’” She says the same person later spoke ill of her in a company group chat she wasn’t included in. The experience made Beckford want to take her next role into her own hands. She went through a temp agency for her latest gig and she’s glad it’s not permanent.
“It’s been the best transition for me,” Beckford says.
She notes she’s remained in the role because the hours are “straightforward,” meaning she’s able to have strict boundaries about when she’s off work. Plus, the commute is brief. What she holds onto the most is the fact that she knows she’ll always be ready for the next move.
In May 2021, ‘Saturday Night Live’ debuted a skit called “Gen Z Hospital,” wherein they poked fun at Gen Z doctors, nurses, and the population overall.
For the parents and grandparents of Gen Z, company loyalty was a cultural expectation. Remaining in one position was indicative of character, but some young people no longer view it as a priority.
When asked if she subscribes to the idea of company loyalty, Arial Robinson, 21, says she once did but doesn’t anymore. “I feel like these companies don’t really have loyalty to us…at the end of the day, they’re trying to make money and run a business and they will get rid of us just as quickly as we could get rid of them.
Makeen Zachery, a 21-year-old who works in media/advertising and non-profits, has a similar outlook.
“Even in work that I have done with companies/organizations whose missions I feel aligned with, I have not yet been in a role that I was not already thinking about exactly how long I’d stay in it for and what I hoped to gain from it in order to reach a different (and often better-paying) next position,” she shared via email.
Will young workers’ attitudes stay this way? Maybe. The changes they seek could have a lasting impact on how we’re expected to work and how work is seen as more of a collaboration between businesses and employees.
Millennials Are Taking Notes
“I definitely learned from [Gen Z] how to balance, especially as an entrepreneur,” says 31-year-old Amanda Cayemitte, the founder and CEO of hair and body care brand Mango Moi. She describes working overtime, staying up late, and working on weekends in a previous corporate role, but now she believes those habits aren’t essential. Taking time when she needs it has proven to be beneficial and she credits her young team members for helping her realize her needs matter. “They just taught me that all that’s not necessary,” she says.
Cayemitte employs three Gen Z-ers and says they’re “cool to work with.” They’re not afraid to tell her an idea feels aged (“They’re very blunt and honest,” she reveals with a laugh); they also want to have fun with their tasks. Additionally, they prioritize their mental health, which is one of the changes Caymitte believes will be vital to the foundation of work in the future. “They do what they need to do, and that’s it.”
The phrase “mental hygiene” dates back to pre-Civil War America, but its derivative has become popular in the past 70 years — Mental Health Month was established in 1949. With the internet and social media, in particular, the notion that mental wellness should be a focus seems to have picked up. As the personal and professional became one, as some had the privilege of working from home at some points during the pandemic, conversations about internal stability seemed to be pushed to the forefront. Gen Z wants it to be baked into the cake of any vocational ecosystem they’re a part of.
Jasmine McCarton, 26, works as the Chief Design Officer of a creative agency that’s Gen Z-led. “I’m actually the oldest person on the team,” she says. She reveals her Gen Z co-workers are considerate of others’ personal matters and time and focus on their mental health — the latter being something that didn’t matter to her previous employers.
“I’ve had so many different jobs and that never felt like a priority,” McCarton shares. “Like, my wellbeing never felt like a priority from my employer until I started working with Gen Z.”
What Lies Ahead
Zachery would be down for a company that had a relatable message, would compensate her well, and could be malleable.
“I look not only for mission alignment between my own values and the work I’m doing but also for the promise that I will be paid well and have ample opportunity to be paid better as I prove myself successful,” she says. “I could only imagine myself feeling loyal to a company that proves willing and capable to change and grow, and in which it feels that my perspective can have a direct impact on said growth.”
Meanwhile, Robinson would look for a healthy working space and fulfillment. “I think just having a good work environment and creating impactful work,” she says in response to my question about what could lead to her staying with a job. A 2019 survey from Tallow shows that 99% of Gen Z participants value personal fulfillment when it comes to working. This ties back into individuality, specifically the reflection of their deepest concerns wherever they are employed.
“Gen Z simply prioritizes their values and identity over anything else,” Skirboll says. “It could be that this would eventually translate into longer-term employment as more and more Gen Z-ers enter the workforce and gain the power to reshape it while finding work of value to them.”
Until then, the resignation will be live.
Artwork by Brooklyn White.