Understanding the work dynamics between Millennials and Gen Zers

29 min read
Understanding the work dynamics between Millennials and Gen Zers

Adam Piperdy, the owner of a business, has observed a shift in mindset on the part of younger job applicants at his company during the past year and a half, roughly coinciding with the beginning of the economy’s recovery following the easing of COVID-19 limitations.

“Right now, it is kind of the employee interviewing the employer,” said Mr. Piperdy, the founder of the events company Unearthed Productions. He was referring to the tendency of young people to question what the company can offer them, rather than the other way around. “Right now, it is kind of the employee interviewing the employer,” he said.

Mr. Piperdy is of the opinion that the pandemic has altered the “idea of work,” particularly among younger workers who have a more “aspirational” outlook on their careers. This is due to the fact that intermittent lockdowns gave people of all ages ample time to reflect on careers, relationships, health, and other aspects of their lives.

“The concept of a fixed contract, a fixed nine-to-six work, these things really don’t exist anymore. He went on to say that people desire to have a great deal of liberty, the kind of flexibility to work wherever they want, whenever they want.”

For instance, a significant number of his newly hired employees mentioned, during the course of their employment interviews, that they desired to engage in freelancing work on the weekends, which was considered “unheard of” until very recently.

“Five or six years ago, if somebody came to you and said, ‘Hey boss, I want to take (time) off to do some side projects,’ you would have naturally said no and said that your work and your clients come first. Today, however, if someone came to you and said, ‘Hey boss, I want to take (time) off to do some side projects,’ you would probably say yes. But (in today’s world), that would cause a significant number of these talented people to shy away, “ he remarked.

“Because of this, we have been forced to reassess the entire landscape and figure out how we can bridge the gap between their desire to strive for something for themselves and our desire to fulfill our economic objectives at the same time.”

The owner of a company, Delane Lim, who saw that young people looking for work have become more “choosy” when determining which offers to take, expressed some of the same feelings that Mr. Piperdy had expressed.

Mr. Lim, co-founder of FutuReady Asia, a social enterprise focused on the development of youth and leadership, noted that in particular, many small and medium-size businesses (SMEs) have been struggling to hire young talents. FutuReady Asia is a social enterprise focused on youth and leadership development.

“Some small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) have remarked that (some) young people are a bit more entitled; they want a greater income, but they also expect a balanced job in the sense that they expect a balance between their working hours and their personal time,” he said.

“If you are a good employee, then I think companies will be able to accept you and figure out a way to find a way to recompense you,” you said. However, if they have not yet demonstrated on the ground that they are capable of (delivering) without monitoring, then I believe that having that requirement placed upon them at this early stage is premature.

On the other hand, Mr. Lim emphasized that this does not apply to all young people.

There is still a sizable population of young people who are willing to put in long hours of labor, have a thirst for knowledge, and are sensible about the goals they set for themselves.

Indeed, the attitudes of millennial and Gen Z workers have become a major source of concern for employers in recent years. Terms such as “entitled,” “picky,” and “watch-the-clock” have been used to describe the approach of the younger generation to their work.

It seems that the pandemic promoted such ideas even further, which is unfortunate. Some managers have even gone to social media in order to express their frustrations with the situation.

Millennials are those people who were born between 1981 and 1996, according to the definition offered by the Pew Research Center in the United States. Gen Zers are those people who were born in 1997 and later.

Tjin Lee, the founder of a public relations agency, came under fire earlier this month for a statement that he made in a social media post. In the post, he stated that it is getting harder to locate young people who are enthusiastic to work.

She also mentioned in the post, among other things, that potential hires in their 20s had asked about “work-life balance” and “flexi-working options” as their first questions during their job interviews, and that there is a trend of people expressing on social media that they would “rather be on holiday than in the office.” She referred to this as a “worrying” trend.

Ms. Lee later stated in an interview with TODAY that she has developed the ability to “see both sides” of the problem and that she is happy to have generated a dialogue about work ethics. She claimed that she might have been clearer about her objectives and the purpose behind the post; however, she thought that her post had been “greatly misconstrued” to indicate that she was supporting hard effort at the expense of a healthy work-life balance.

It is not the first time that a company proprietor has been criticized severely on the internet for his or her remarks regarding the work ethic of young people. In the year 2020, Mr. Lim himself made a post on Facebook in which he discussed how some recent college grads he had interviewed for a job did not appear “eager” for the position.

As Ms. Lee did, Mr. Lim noticed back then that applicants had made a variety of requests, such as not wanting to work on weekends, asking for transport allowances and a team of junior co-workers to assist in tasks, as well as requesting more annual leave and higher salaries. Applicants also asked for higher salaries and more time off.

To explain the apparent negative views that some companies may have of younger workers, human resource specialists and sociologists told TODAY that the distinct circumstances that millennials and Gen Zers grew up in can account for the perceptions that certain employers may have of younger workers.

According to Mr. Adrian Choo, founder of the career advisory organization Career Agility International, previous generations in Singapore were more concerned with the rat race and advancing in their jobs during a time when the country was less prosperous.

“The younger generation, a lot of them are still living with their parents… so their immediate priorities may not be about getting married and starting a family, they are focused more on self-actualization,” he said. “The older generation, on the other hand, is more likely to have moved out by the time they are 30.”

As opposed to, for example, being focused on climbing the corporate ladder, this “self-actualization” involves learning new abilities and gaining new experiences. This is in contrast to the goal of climbing the corporate ladder.

A previous investigation conducted by TODAY discovered that the pandemic drove younger workers to rethink their objectives, with some of them viewing the uncertain times as an opportunity to pursue their interests.

Putting the negative labels aside, some experts have pointed out that it is not always easy for young people to make sense of what they are doing or feel motivated when they are confronted with the current state of the world and its litany of problems, which range from severe heat waves to armed conflicts and health crises.

Sociologist Tan Ern Ser from the National University of Singapore (NUS) remarked, “(Young people) wish to perform well in their career or business and live the Singapore Dream. However, the road that lies in front of them is not always an easy one: A high cost of living, uncertain income and employment, intense rivalry at work, and, in some situations, being a member of the sandwiched generation are all factors that might contribute to this predicament.”

He continued by saying, “The combination of these factors may result in feelings of disenchantment and, in some instances, a lack of motivation.”

What do younger people in Singapore believe about work, and more specifically, about the values that have historically been celebrated at the workplace, such as hard work and loyalty, and whether or not they need to be rethought?

And in the larger scheme of things, what place does work have in their lives as it currently exists?

In order to find out, TODAY conducted interviews with young people aged 23 to 35.

Those who were interviewed suggested that the younger generation may not feel inspired to work hard because there may be a valid explanation for why younger people do not feel the need to work as hard as previous generations have in the past. They also do not feel that working hard in and of itself is the key to achieving success in one’s professional endeavors.

According to Mr. Isaac Neo, who works in the security risk field, where he analyzes threats facing his clients when they travel overseas, the younger generation has a different conception of what it means to put in hard effort.

“We grew up in eras that were more pleasant…” According to the young man, age 28, “the nature of our work is considerably different, and the majority of what we do involves technology, which is an area in which ‘hard work’ is less obvious.”

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“In the past, hard work meant that you put in the hours to churn out production. If you stayed in the office for long hours, it indicated that you were working hard. However, this is no longer the case.” [Case in point:] “The definition of hard labor has changed.”

According to Mr. Neo, it is the responsibility of businesses to adjust to the new meanings of “hard labor,” and he believes that his own company has done a good job in this regard.

He remarked, “I’ve been lucky to have managers who just leave me alone to finish the job, and as long as it’s done, they don’t really care if you’re in the office or how many hours you clock every day. I’ve been lucky to have superiors who just leave me alone to accomplish the work.”

“And I think that is the way that one should perceive hard work – not about the amount of hours you put in, but how good the ultimate result is,” you said.

Younger workers, in particular, have been quoted as saying that they frequently experience exasperation when there are no obvious benefits for the effort that they put in.

One worker in the business of corporate secretarial services who is 32 years old and feels that there is a consensus among her peers that their hard work is not frequently rewarded expressed this sentiment to the author.

The woman who wished to be identified only as Ms. Kuan stated, “We still appreciate hard effort, but it’s just that a lot of the time we don’t feel like there’s reciprocation.”

“The way that the previous generation viewed the value of hard work, they did not actually engage in the kind of obvious rewards that the current generation anticipates.”

According to Associate Professor Kang Soon-Hock, who serves as the vice dean and head of the Behavioural Science Core at the Singapore University of Social Sciences (SUSS), younger workers are not necessarily opposed to hard work; however, the definition of “hard work” may be interpreted differently by younger workers than it is by older workers.

“This cohort is more accustomed to using technology to multitask as well as to shorten work processes that may traditionally have taken more time to complete,” said Associate Professor Kang. “This cohort is also more accustomed to using technology to shorten work processes that may traditionally have taken more time.”

“However, their actions may not be viewed favorably if it goes against the existing norms or practices at their workplaces,” and “in the process, they may be perceived to be more inclined to take shortcuts or have short attention spans. However, if it goes against the existing norms or practices at their workplaces.”

The traditional concept of hard work as staying more hours in the office is no longer as applicable in today’s world, where there are many “productivity applications” such as the work chatting application Slack and the work management software Asana that have made work more efficient, according to Mr. Piperdy from Unearthed Productions, who agreed with what was said.

“In all honesty, it doesn’t matter if a (employee) works for 10 hours but only produces two hours’ worth of good work because it’s only two hours’ worth of work,” he added. “It’s only two hours’ worth of work.”

The majority of young professionals who were surveyed by TODAY placed a high value on maintaining a healthy work-life balance, and many of them stated that they planned to bring up this topic during their job interviews.

The bank employee, Ms. Wong, shared that from the very beginning of her career, she made the conscious decision that she wanted to make time outside of work to actively follow her interests and ambitions.

“I am going to be spending approximately 40 hours a week on this job, so I want to have time to do other things such as travel, experience new things,” She went on to say, “I would really value a company that can give me a good balance between my career and my personal life.”

On the other hand, she would not mind working longer hours if the work that she does is meaningful to her or if she enjoys what she does.

In point of fact, there are some young people who are willing to sacrifice a healthy work-life balance in order to devote their time and energy to issues in which they have a deep-seated commitment.

Ms. Esther David, who is now 26 years old, stated that she launched her own tuition business three years ago because she enjoys assisting others in the capacity of a teacher.

However, in order to assure the success of her fledgling business, she was forced to place a lower priority on maintaining a healthy work-life balance.

In the beginning, Ms. David would frequently start her day before sunrise and stay at the office until close to midnight so that she could instruct the maximum number of students possible. All of this was done in the sake of establishing a good reputation for her brand-new company.

“No one provided me with any direction, and I had the impression that I worked really abnormal hours,” she remarked.

Ms. David’s company, which is now a “one-person show,” is about to undergo a growth in the near future because she is trying to hire additional tutors. Roughly thirty of her students are enrolled in junior colleges and/or secondary schools.

She claimed that the arduous labor she had put in over the years has allowed her company to reach a state of stability. Despite this, she would never recommend that anyone else follow in her footsteps because she believed it was “not helpful for mental health.”

According to her, the difficulty that lies ahead is not so much figuring out how to deal with the work attitudes of the younger generation as it is figuring out how mentors and employers can harness the fire and passion that many of these workers have.

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