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In a recent interview for the Guardian, the famous Hollywood star Jodie Foster said that Generation Z is “really annoying” to work with. Her comments have contributed to the ongoing debate regarding Gen Z’s work ethic. According to FOX news, it seems that Generation Z does not have the same spirit of abnegation, demands higher pay, and is more concerned about their work/life balance.

There is no unanimous definition of Generation Z. For reference, according to the very serious Harvard Business Review, the various groups include: GenX (post-baby boom to late-1970s/early 80s); GenY a.k.a. “Millenials” (1984-1996); and GenZ (after 1997). But is Generation Z really so “annoying”?

What follows is an attempt to defend Gen Z's work ethic.

First of all, we have to understand that Generation Z did not appear out of thin air. It is the product of baby boomer and/or Generation X parenting who had a clear message to their progeniture: “Study hard and you will get a good job.” And so, Gen Z did just that. Generation Z’s educational attainment levels are second to none. They speak several languages, they went to college, and they are still studying.

To understand the world Gen Z is living in, let’s look at the continuing education offers available to them. According to, online education (normally used as a complement to more traditional on-campus education) is expected to generate approximately $257 billion in revenues by 2028, while in 2017, it generated only a quarter of that figure. And after so much formal instruction, they now claim to be in a “better position”.

Generation Z is probably the real first generation that does not rely on a single university degree to develop their career. The traditional formula, ‘graduating from college then landing a plush job’ is becoming ‘graduating from college and getting a job, then going back to school to earn a second degree and getting an even better job’. This paradigm shift is also reflected in university curricula, which increasingly offer cross-discipline competencies rather than specific, narrow skills.

In just one example, here at EHL Hospitality Business School we prepare students for other business sectors besides travel and tourism, because our graduates also go into finance, management, economics and other fields. EHL develops students’ skills in a raft of areas that will help them excel in a variety of positions and industries. Put in pedagogic terms: nowadays academic programs have to offer ‘transferable skills’ that graduates can take from one job to the next.

Secondly, we have to understand that Generation Z is adapting to the world that past generations created. In an archaic world, a parent went to work and the other took care of the household. The working parent was accessible only during holidays (if they were lucky) or on the weekends to be with their kids. It was not uncommon for the working parent to call home and say “Sorry, I’m working late tonight” or “Honey, I have to work this weekend” - and nobody argued! Nowadays, the story is completely different. There is no longer a working parent vs. a housewife/househusband. Increasingly, both parents are working full time. In a survey concerning parental work distribution, the OECD found that “in practically all OECD countries ‘full-time dual earning’ has become more common [i.e., over 50%] since around 2010.” In 2021, this figure rose to an astounding 70% in a handful of countries (Lithuania, Portugal, Slovenia and Sweden).

Both parents work and both parents take care of the children. The consequences of putting work ahead of family might be a divorce, broken parent-child relationships and emotional stress. Divorce is becoming more and more costly. In an interview, Veronica Weisser, a pension expert with UBS, states: “It is better to leave work half an hour early to buy a bouquet of flowers for your partner” than pay for a divorce.

Gen Z found out the hard way: first, by watching their parents’ marriage disintegrate, then by being in a relationship themselves. Work-life balance for Generation Z is not only a spiritual choice but—fearing a failed marriage—also a financial investment. Divorce annihilates one’s income, assets and pension fund, not to mention the emotional impact wrought on all family members.

Thirdly, we have to understand that Gen Z has less to lose, in terms of financial assets anyway. Generation X and baby boomers enjoyed the sustained economic growth of the Reagan era. They had fewer kids. So, this means more money and fewer people to split it with. Losing a job and staying at home, maybe even at their parents’ home, for a while is less of a drama for Generation Z (who can fall back onto wealthier parents… although the guilt trip presumably still stings!) than it would be for previous generations.

Finally, what we have to understand is that Generation Z is no more slovenly, spoiled or careless than previous generations. Putting work ahead of everything else means having more to lose (e.g., costly divorce, splintered family) and much less to gain (e.g., career advancement, higher income, social status). Gen Z understands this. In purely economic terms, Gen Z is adapting to the economic stimulus/penalty and allocating its effort where it can get the most benefit (e.g., happy marriage, long-term wealth accretion, etc.).

Past generations may not share the same vision but will be impacted by this paradigm shift nonetheless. And this will be reflected in how we work. We will be more skilled but competition will grow ever fiercer. We will be less of a workaholic, but we will have to dedicate more time to continuously updating our CVs. There will be more flexibility in our time management, but we’ll have to figure out a way to structure that time. We will be able to work remotely to be detached from the 9-5 job, but at the same time, we will have to learn to live with time off and use it productively. Our careers will be less important but our intrinsic motivation will be somewhat diminished—or at least different.

The legal framework will also be called into question: traditional work contracts will start to resemble principal-agent contracts (where a company mandates someone to perform a task). And the distinction between traditional work contracts and mandates will be increasingly blurry. For example, is an Uber driver an employee or a freelancer (with no benefits)? In brief, it will be fun but also challenging.

However, if we insist on playing the “back in my day” card, we should still go back to Hollywood and recall the words of Marcus Aurelius in a great movie beloved by all generations: “Your faults as a son are my failure as a father” (Gladiator).

EHL Hospitality Business School
Communications Department
+41 21 785 1354

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