The balancing act of Generation Z

Studies and surveys indicate Generation Z values work-life balance more than any other generation to date. Its members, the oldest of whom are now in their mid-20s, are resistant to working long days, do not want to respond to emails on weekends and evenings, and value mental health and time off more than the daily grind. Photo credit: Pexels/Jonathan Borba


There has been a great deal of discussion recently about the views of Generation Z (born between 1997 and 2012) toward work-life balance and other societal issues, and how their approach differs radically from previous generations. This is the generation that grew up with the internet and social media, and the oldest among them are likely just entering the workforce. They will soon become the largest cohort of consumers in the economy and will drive trends both socially and economically. 

Studies about Gen Z members show them to be a skeptical bunch regarding issues such as data privacy, as a group are very ethnically diverse, not terribly optimistic about the future and tend to spend a very large portion of their time online. But perhaps the most defining feature of Gen Z is their pursuit of more work-life balance. They are resistant to working long days, do not want to be expected to respond to emails from the workplace on weekends and evenings, and value mental health and time off more than the daily grind. They also, however, want improved working conditions and higher pay. 

The leading edge of Gen Z came of age during the pandemic, when their education and social life was turned upside down. They are not unique in finding some advantages in this, as many people got used to working or studying remotely and now that things are normalizing again are fighting the old schedule of a five-day work week or school schedule. One of the few positives coming out of the pandemic was that technology permitted people to function reasonably effectively from anywhere, and became commonly used and continues to facilitate many people working from home or away from a traditional workplace at least part of the time. 

But the jury is still out on how this experiment will pan out for the economy overall. Canada has had a productivity problem relative to the US and other developed countries for decades, and we have yet to see how a group of people working from home in larger numbers than ever before will affect our economic performance when we already lag behind many of our competitors. A number of workplaces in both the public and private sectors are currently experimenting with the four-day work week which, if it pans out, could go some way toward satisfying Gen Z demands for balance. 

The Gen Z focus on mental health and work-life balance will also be aided by technological change, which continues to replace many of the most physically demanding and dangerous jobs with robots and other advanced technologies. The impact of Artificial Intelligence (AI) is yet to be fully seen – and is frightening many observers who believe many more jobs currently held by people will be dominated by AI bots in future. Gen Z may well end up regretting what they wished for, as that ideal job with lots of time off but higher pay could end up being no job at all. 

What much of this debate comes down to is how different generations value work as compared to leisure and other activities. As a boomer, I have always believed that work can be enormously satisfying and an integral, essential part of a meaningful life. Not to mention that most of us are not independently wealthy and have to earn a living. Many previous generations revelled in spending long hours at work and would not have chosen to do otherwise. 

It is also relevant that socialism is in the ascendency currently among our youth, which seems to be a cyclical trend. Socialist principles have the effect of discouraging work and encouraging entitlement. Societies with more socialist-leaning governments typically seek to reduce working hours, increase entitlement programs such as unemployment benefits and earlier retirements and discourage those who work hard and earn good incomes by imposing punitive taxes on “the rich”. These types of societies have also consistently failed throughout history, with the lowest income earners ultimately suffering the most. 

It will be interesting to see if the Gen Zs succeed in accomplishing their ideal work/life balance, earning a good income while enjoying lots of time off. One thing they might want to consider is the massive debt being accumulated by so many Canadian governments of late. These debts will inevitably fall on future generations to repay, and will get worse if left-leaning governments that don’t care much about accumulated debt continue to be elected. Perhaps Gen Z should revise their voting intentions to lighten the load on their future liabilities, so their desired work/life balance can be achieved. 


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