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The Changing of the Workforce

One of the things I hear and read is from business leaders who say they are having trouble finding people who have a good "work ethic". This usually comes down to a generational complaint about younger people.

First, it is important to point out that this article will speak in generalizations. Of course not every Gen Z person has the same work ethic, just like not every Baby Boomer had the same work ethic.

I make 3 points when I hear this:

  • I knew quite a few slackers when I was younger, but we tend to forget those people as we get older and think we all worked so hard - we didn't.

  • Yes, I think the work ethic of most younger people today is much different than when I was new to the workforce.

  • I think the workforce of today has more right ideas than wrong - so I applaud their work ethic as more intelligent and healthy.

Let me step back into the Way Back Machine to remember my early career days. We were happy to find a job (although it wasn't as hard as it was for many generations) and did the dutiful work. We started at the bottom, did the grunt work, did a ton of overtime, and slowly worked our way up. We did things not because we thought they were right or the best use of our time, but because it was the expectation. I didn't leave the office before I had put in 10 hours because I liked my work (or even had that much work), but it was good to be seen leaving the office late. The expectation was that the company would see it, promote me, and I would have a good career.

Let's analyze it a bit more:

  • Many of us tried to find stable jobs with good companies. Guess what - good jobs with stable companies don't exist anymore. The idea of a company that was likely (not even guaranteed, but likely) to be around for retirement as you enter the workforce is insane.

  • We did the grunt work not because it was all we could do - we all complained that it was boring, beneath us, and a waste of time. It was because you had to "pay your dues". What a gross negligence of duty by executives. Use your resources wisely.

  • Guess what, many times we stayed late, we were playing solitare or doing something useless at work. We had finished our tasks at 3 pm, but you couldn't leave - so you spent a great deal of energy "looking busy".

  • We worked so hard thinking it wasn't hurting our physical or mental health (spoiler: it was) and because it was the unspoken pact. I'll work hard, pay my dues, and the company will take care of me. The problem is that the company broke that covenant by changing to the Friedman model of shareholder concern. It was no longer they would take care of me, because if the shareholders could get an extra dollar of profit by me going away, then I was gone.

  • Meritocracy was the unspoken rule, but no one ever followed it. Promotions, pay raises, benefits, etc. wasn't because of merit, but because of useless factors. Note: I am a white male and I worked damn hard, but I also know I had an advantage when it came promotion time because of it. Did I earn it - yes. Did I deserve it more than someone else - not so sure.

The generation that says I want to put my happiness and health ahead of profit and your businesses. Good for them. The generation that says I want to work for a company making a difference in the world, I'm right there with you. The generation that says the org looks out for themselves so I should look out for myself, hell yes.

Is the younger generation different in terms of work ethic? Yes. But to those who say that as if it's a bad thing, I say you are wrong.

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