Expectations v Reality: Gen Z’s Introduction into the Wild World of Work
August 17, 2022

Expectations v Reality: Gen Z’s Introduction into the Wild World of Work

Gen Z are just beginning to enter the wild world of work. Read this article to understand how some areas of work may differ from their expectations.

Over the past two years, we’ve seen the introduction of a new group into the workforce: Gen Z. Recently graduated from sixth form or university, these 18 to 24 year olds are just starting to get a taste for what a career could be. In this blog post, we’re going to break down the three most common expectation versus reality moments Gen Z face in their first jobs.

However, before we get into it, we want to make it clear that we will not be hopping on the Gen Z bashing bandwagon. Every generation has had an issue with the newest intake. It’s nothing original that the young are considered “lazy” or “weak” and that perception is certainly not going to change with Gen Z either. Rather, we’re going to focus on the unique challenges that these newest workers face.

What we’ll cover:

  • Changes over the past two years
  • Main character syndrome
  • Lack of feedback

Expectation: Work will look like it does in the movies

Reality: Almost every aspect of work has changed in the past two years with very little uniformity left

It’ll be no surprise to anyone to say that work has drastically changed in the past two years. But, for those of us who have worked through it, at least we’ve had the time to adjust together. For the Gen Z intake, they are coming into a landscape that is unrecognisable from their reference points.

Perhaps worse, ways of working are now increasingly diverse, meaning that new team members will have even fewer shared experiences. From company to company, or even team to team, there is little uniformity left in terms of hybrid or office based work and culture.

Do this: Given the above-mentioned, it's essential to be clear about ways of working in the interview process and guide employees through the best remote and hybrid work practises once they start.

Expectation: I’ll immediately be doing high-value work that directly correlates to the company’s mission

Reality: Dang, that will probably not be the case from day one. For a new worker, most of the focus and work is on learning new skills and admin.

While this isn't going to become a rant about the perils of social media, it is true that the internet has altered the way we look at the world of work. In particular, TikTok has popularied the “main character” trend in which users see themselves as the centre of a film plot.

In work terms, this leaves new joiners expecting to be able to revolutionise the company within just weeks of joining. Gone are the days of slowly rising up the ranks, instead many Gen Zers enter the workforce wanting to be a “Head of X” or millionaire by 30.

Love the hustle; hate the game. If faced with this situation, remember that Gen Z’s expectations are influenced by many more elements than previous generations’. They probably don’t mean to come across as arrogant (who does?); however, their idea of work, what it means and how it fits into their lives is unique.

Do this: Give Gen Zers space to express their ideas while providing guidance, managing expectations and helping them develop the skills they need to be successful (whatever that looks like for them).

Expectation: Work will be like school. My manager is my teacher and s/he has all the time / attention / care in the world for me

Reality: Monthly check-ins and work given without discussion

Whoa! What just happened? Work is not school and my manager is not my school teacher. The tempo switch from school to work is enormous. Students often go from regular, if not daily, meetings with teachers to receiving feedback perhaps once or twice a month. This can lead to Gen Z workers feeling overwhelmed, isolated and confused.

Do this: During the early months of their employment, it's essential that Gen Zers (all new employees, actually) receive regular check-ins with their manager to assess workload, skills and any personal concerns. Create trust right off the bat so employees (especially Gen Zers) feel confident to share their feelings, perceptions and concerns.

To wrap it up

Social media and the Covid-19 pandemic have created a novel and tumultuous work environment for new starters. And while it may be easier to attack the work ethic and personality traits of Gen Z workers, it’s more productive to understand the fate they’ve been dealt and how we can all work to facilitate their professional success.