15th Apr 2024
3 Min Read

It’s five o’clock somewhere

Charlie Feasby
Charlie Feasby
People & Change

Is Gen Z really shirking their work duties by clocking off at 5pm? Or have older generations just not mastered proper work/life balance? Or is it just another attempt at culture wars to divide us more? Whatever the case, bridging the generation gap starts with our comms.

“Gen Z are an employer’s nightmare”

Not my words, but the provocative title of a Telegraph article that did the rounds on Twitter (X) for a hot minute and kindled a media storm. This kind of reductionist statement is the epitome of a society obsessed with what divides us (hence the noise). One in which, supposedly, older people work hard and younger people do the bare minimum and expect an executive salary for the pleasure.

It’s not true of course; many younger people work incredibly hard while some older people are the first ones out the door at 4:59pm. Stereotyping based on gender, race, etc has always been, and will always be, reductionist. The same is true for these age-based generational labels.

Regardless, there’s still evidently a disconnect around workplace expectations between Boomers, Millennials and Generation Z, not to mention the newly arriving Generation Alpha. So how do you bridge the gap between generations and get everyone behind a common goal?

First in, last out

To backtrack to that Telegraph article, author Sophia Money-Coutts talks about working ridiculous hours at the beginning of her career to try get ahead. “I stayed late and came in early. Extremely early, some days. Once at around 4am. […] A few years later, working for a different newspaper, I arrived at 7am and left at 10pm most days.”

Those are some very intense hours and hats off to her for sustaining that. I can’t help but think though, isn’t that a bit too much? It sounds like her employer was taking advantage of her eagerness to succeed while offering little in reward. Yes, she’s now a well-established journalist – but this work ethic would burn out many people, and the only beneficiary is the company, which could replace her with a click of its fingers.

That’s the shift we’ve seen in the world of work. Gen Z has grown up seeing burnt-out parents and relatives, and it’s something they don’t want to repeat.

Where’s my Aperol spritz?

After doing the rounds online, the Telegraph article ended up as a segment on BBC Radio 2’s Jeremy Vine Show. There, we heard from a small cross-section of the general public. A highlight came from the Gen Z representative, and content producer for the BBC, Isaac Shelton. To paraphrase: “I’m never going to retire, the world’s on fire, I’m going to leave work at 5pm and have an Aperol spritz.”

Perhaps that leaves the rest of us wondering, where’s my Aperol spritz?

As communicators, we need to show all colleagues that hard work pays off (and is appreciated). Happy workers are more productive ones, anyway; it’s net positive. Whether that’s cash-based (salary, bonuses, health insurance, pension) or value-based (recognition programmes, workplace flexibility, career opportunities, learning and development), you need to make sure it’s enough to keep your dream team together.

Everyone expects something different out of work and, even if there’s a generational divide, you need to communicate what makes your business unique to your people and what’s in it for them.

That’s where your Employee Value Proposition (EVP) comes in. When the employee experience doesn’t match expectations, people either leave or quiet quit. And don’t forget: what motivates one person may be entirely unappealing to another. You could make decisions about rewards, benefits and employee experience based on age-based stereotypes – but do so at your own peril. Talk to your people, and don’t forget to listen!

The bare maximum

So let’s hold off with the criticism of the “lazy younger generation” – if we can.

I’m well aware that moaning about the youth of today is an age-old pastime that’s sadly not going anywhere. Because it’d be so much better if we talked instead of ranted at each other online. As our head of D&I, Russ Norton, rightly says, “No one’s mind has ever been changed by a post in the comments.”

What divides us weakens us. But, when it comes to the workplace, getting the most from your employees and not just the bare minimum starts with setting clear working expectations and fairly rewarding hard work.

Maybe then we can all expect to clock off at a reasonable time and enjoy an Aperol spritz of our own.

Got the drink, missing the menu

Rewards are great, but not if no one knows they’re there. If you’re struggling to serve up the right cocktail of communications, get in touch.

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