Gen-Z is placing new demands - Rightly so!

A post by:     Karsten Jänicke
Executive Board Member
Last updated: 2023-10-06

Generation Z and the world of work - hardly anything has been discussed more in the area of work and careers in recent months. The debate ranges from sweeping accusations that Gen Z is work-shy to demands for completely new working conditions. One thing is clear: Gen Z is placing new demands. And I think: rightly so.

Why I'm writing about Gen Z

First of all: I am aware of how diverse Gen Z is and how difficult it is to make generalizations. And yes, it may be an irritant to some young people when I write about Gen Z as a member of Gen X. I'm not a Gen Z person. But as a board member of a company in which a significant part of the employees belong to Generation Z, the topic is of utmost importance to me.

In this context, I am irritated by the massive amount of criticism young people are currently receiving. I talk to junior staff and young employees at RENOLIT almost every day, and I also have two Gen Z sons myself - born in 1999. Based on this experience, I would like to bring a completely different perspective to the debate.

We live in a changing world full of crises

We all feel it: The world is changing faster and faster. We face major challenges and have to cope with ever new crises. Global climate change threatens the future, especially of the younger generations. War and peace have suddenly become acute opposites again. The pandemic is having an impact. And at the same time, we are facing an enormous structural change through AI and digitalization.

Gen Z sees the world much more holistically

All of these changes are incredibly present for Generation Z. They are better informed than any generation before them. The naturalness with which young people communicate with each other today, retrieve and use information worldwide, and publish it themselves, means that they see the world in a much more holistic way. They are thinking in ever larger contexts. This naturally also changes the way they look at life and what young people expect from their lives.

New perspectives of working life and career

It's quite clear that this opens up new perspectives. For life, for work, for careers. Sara Weber, author and digital expert, therefore asks in her book with the same title: "The world is coming to an end and I still have to work?" I think it's a fair question - even though the answer certainly can't be "no." But the myth that Generation Z is only concerned with work-life balance is simply wrong in my eyes. They're just questioning previous truths - and finding their own answers.

New priorities in life

This means that the company and the job are no longer automatically the top priority, to which everything is subordinated. I often see young people - including employees and trainees at RENOLIT - as particularly value-oriented. Thus, work should also be meaningful, serve a higher goal, a "purpose".

A company study conducted by the University of Bamberg also revealed: The most important value of applicants from Generation Z is satisfaction. Four out of five of these young people say in the study: I work in order to live - and not the other way around. And I would like to add: Unlike my generation, for example, we as companies today apply to young job seekers - and not the other way around!

Changing demands

Young people therefore often place high demands on us employers. They expect work and companies to be guided by their values and to live up to them. At the same time, they are ambitious and want to achieve something. They see themselves on an equal footing with the company and their managers, and no longer accept old role assignments and some traditional working conditions. What particularly impresses me is that young people are often much more self-confident than I was at the beginning of my career, for example. They know their value, know their rights and actively discuss them with friends and family.

Gen Z is right about a lot of things!

In the area of management and leadership, we have been talking for years about how important it is to always meet at eye level. And we keep calling for personal responsibility. And that's exactly what Generation Z is doing in my eyes. That's why I'm surprised at the sweeping criticism.

On the one hand, we can't expect young people to take on more responsibility and think in larger contexts in an increasingly complex world - and then be surprised when this produces results that we're not so comfortable with.

Generation Z is definitely right about one thing: things can't go on the way they were. I think: In a world full of crises and new technological possibilities, we need self-confident young people who actively shape their future.

It's about more than just one generation

Moreover, Gen Z is not a homogeneous group, as Andrea Nahles, head of the Federal Employment Agency, rightly points out. It is difficult to see people as a single unit simply because they belong to the same age group or generation. Studies show that it's not just young people who want to shape work and life today in such a way that the two fit together. For many respondents, of all ages, work-life balance is becoming increasingly important.

We as companies have responsibility

The next generation is our future - and it will shape that future, whether we like it or not. As a company, we therefore have a responsibility to prepare for this sooner rather than later. Of course, this doesn't mean that everything will suddenly become very easy and that great performance is no longer a requirement in professional life.

But a company that succeeds in communicating strong values, makes a meaningful contribution to shaping the future and inspires people of all ages will become stronger. A company that actively confronts challenges like climate change and makes a contribution to solving them will become stronger. And a company that adapts to a new world of work and thus attracts the best minds will become stronger.

Let's seize the opportunities!

Listening to Gen Z and seeking new paths together with them can be a real opportunity for companies. An opportunity to make themselves fit for the future now and thus strengthen themselves. That's why we need to involve young people whenever possible and shape the future together with them. That's what I'm fully committed to at RENOLIT.