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Three Strikes Against Paying Dues.

Last night, I listened to a speaker talking to a bunch of young graduates about how to get a job in the marketing world. At one point, he mentioned that his daughter was "a perfect Gen Y". She'd only been in her job for 6 months, and already thought she should be doing director-level work. The speaker told us that in a voice laced with sarcasm, and all the college seniors laughed on cue.When I heard that though, I wondered how many of them will still be laughing once they get out in the real world. I think a lot of them will change their minds pretty quickly.

By Gen Y representative Katie Konrath

Last night, I listened to a speaker talking to a bunch of young graduates about how to get a job in the marketing world. At one point, he mentioned that his daughter was "a perfect Gen Y". She'd only been in her job for 6 months, and already thought she should be doing director-level work. The speaker told us that in a voice laced with sarcasm, and all the college seniors laughed on cue.When I heard that though, I wondered how many of them will still be laughing once they get out in the real world. I think a lot of them will change their minds pretty quickly.

Why? Because there are more and more signs in the workplace that having a steady, reliable job that rewards workers for paying their dues is like winning the lottery!Yesterday afternoon, before I heard the speaker talk to the college seniors, I read an article in the New York Times about professionals who, after being laid off from their high-paying executive positions, are now finding work at call centers, UPS, liquor stores, and as janitors. Most think those jobs are only temporary, but it's hard to bounce back. Some professionals never do. One manager, who made $150,000 per year as an executive director, was laid off in 2002 after September 11th. It took him a year to find work at half the pay, and he was downsized two years later. Then, it took him another year to find a new job, and he was laid off from that one after only a short time. After that, he worked for $10 an hour in a grocery – but was downsized again after a few months. His latest job, processing immigrant applications, pays only 23% what he earned only 7 years ago!An article on CNN I also read yesterday was about the growing number of working professionals who are forced to go to food banks to survive. In San Francisco, people in marketing, sales and software are asking for help for the first time. Most used to donate food themselves, but are now finding themselves in trouble because of job losses, overextended mortgages and plummeting stock values. Some are using the last of their savings to pay down their mortgages.A few professionals are finding themselves in that position due to bad decisions, but most of them are suffering for reasons beyond their control.

Finally, last week, I read an article in the Wall Street Journal about senior citizens who are reentering the workforce – in their late 70s and 80s! Their retirement accounts have plummeted, and they need money to pay for their mortgages and medical bills. In January 2009, there were over 75,000 unemployed workers aged 75 and older, nearly twice as many as a year before. 

Those articles, and the many others like them, are frightening. There are no guarantees anymore. If you lose a good job through no fault of your own, that doesn't mean you'll be able to find a better (or even a comparable) one. If you do everything right and get a job in a successful, professional field like marketing, that doesn't mean you'll never need to ask for help from social services. And even if you worked your entire life, your savings could be wiped away in the blink of an eye and you could find yourself at a job fair in your golden years.In this environment, there are more and more reasons for people to want to do meaningful work. Maybe not director-level right away, but definitely interesting and challenging work.

After all, when paying dues no longer pays off in the long run, it loses a lot of its appeal.I think a lot of those college seniors will start to realize this as they pay more attention to what is going on in the workplace as they look for their first jobs. Once they've seen lay-offs affect their generation firsthand, they'll stop laughing about "those youn'uns wanting to do director-level work" because they'll want that as well.

Zs came of age in an era of disruption

In many ways, it’s symbolic that Generation Z is named after the last letter in the alphabet because their arrival marks the end of clearly defined roles, traditions, and experiences. After all, Gen Z is coming of age on the heels of what has been referred to as the most disruptive decade of the last century. America has become an increasingly changing and complex place.

For example:

  • ‍Zs were born into a “modern family era” in which highly involved dads help out at home, and the nuclear family model (two parents, married, with children) represent only 46% of American households.
  • ‍Zs are the first generation to be born into a world where everything physical, from people to places to pennies, has a digital equivalent.
  • From the time they were infants, Zs had access to mobile technology. As a result, their brains have been trained to absorb large amounts of information, and Zs are especially adept at shifting between skills and subject matter.
  • Zs tend to have crystal-clear memories of sitting up for the first time at six months old because they can easily and quickly reference the photos and videos their parents shared on social media or saved in the “cloud”. 

Members of this generation have undoubtedly been shaped by crisis and disruption. This generation will largely be responsible for confronting the aftermath of the Great Recession, high youth unemployment, the effects of climate change, terrorism, energy sustainability, and more. These dark events have undoubtedly made this generation more cautious and pragmatic, but they have also provided this generation with the inspiration to change the world – and their grit will likely allow them to do it.

Coming of age during disruption means that most Zs will be comfortable being the disruptors. While Millennials tend to be collaborative and innovative, this generation tends to be sincere, reflective, thick-skinned, and self-directed, and will likely approach work in much the same way.

Zs were raised to be competitive

In the era following World War II, Boomers (1946-1964) were born and eventually became the wealthiest, most prosperous generation in history. Raised to aspire for the American Dream, this very large generation moved into positions of power and influence, and served as the workforce majority for 34 years.

With the American Dream alive and well, Boomers had no reason to teach their children, mostly Millennials, about competition. Instead, they taught them to focus on academic achievement and to be team players because if everyone works hard, everyone can win.

Enter Generation X (1965-1981). In contrast Boomers, Xers came of age during a time when change and economic and political uncertainty began to take root. They have lived through four recessions, struggled with debt and economic decline most of their lives, and watched the best educated and accomplished generation of all time (Millennials) graduate during the Great Recession and become the most debt-ridden generation in history.

Gen Xers can be defined by their independence and anti-status quo approach to life, and they have taught their Gen Z children to be competitive, believing only the best can win. They have encouraged their children to be realists, finding something they are good at and aggressively pursuing it.

Xers have raised their Zs with an intense focus on competitiveness -- in academics, sports, and other activities. This approach to parenting has many implications, but one stands out in terms of business: Gen Z is likely to lead.

Millennials in the workplace created and aggressively advocated for collaborative work environments. In fact, their aversion to leadership has been so strong, some Millennials sought out companies that boasted boss-free or team-managed workplaces.

In contrast, Zs have been raised with an individualistic, realistic, and competitive nature. They have been taught the skills to successfully defy the norm. This means we’re going to see the pendulum shift away from collaborative workplaces towards a widespread demand for, and pursuit of, leadership development.

Zs are career-focused.

While Millennials have been criticized for their “delayed adulthood”, Gen Z is showing signs of “early adulthood”. Educators and parents often describe this generation as being more serious and contemplative about the world. Zs are thinking about their career paths and exposing themselves to career training at an earlier age than Millennials. It’s probable that some of this early onset of adulthood is caused by parents, who are pressuring their children to be competitive and successful and to avoid the debt that plagued both the Gen Xers and Millennials.

The numbers from our global research found 46% of Gen Z said they know what career to pursue and 51% have taken a class at school focused on their career interests. Forty percent joined an extracurricular program (team, club) based on their career interests.

Zs are seeking financial security. 

Zs have been shaped by the aftermath of the Great Recession. They watched Millennials become debt-ridden and are concerned about falling into the same trap. XYZ University’s survey results show 66% of Zs said financial stability is more important than doing work they enjoy, which is the exact opposite of Millennial survey results.  Also, 71% of survey-takers have a paying job.

Zs value leaders who are positive and trustworthy.

When presented a list of leadership traits, Zs ranked positive and trustworthy the highest. While Millennials and Gen Zs both value trust in a leader, Millennials usually cite collaboration and vision as most important. In other words, Millennials focus on the outcomes leaders inspire, whereas Zs are more likely to consider leaders’ attitudes and personalities. To Z, what leaders encourage others to do isn’t as valuable as how they make them feel.


Zs want to be challenged.

Both Millennials and Gen Zs place a very high value on feeling challenged and appreciated in the workplace. However, according to our survey results Millennials rank appreciation slightly higher than challenge, whereas Zs rank feeling challenged slightly higher than appreciation.

Time will tell how Zs go down in history, but we know this generation’s influence on history will be unlike any other.


Does your organization have what it takes to engage the next generation? Take this quiz to find out.


Sarah Sladek is CEO of XYZ University. Our generational intelligence can assist you with engaging and retaining young talent and members.

Sarah Sladek

Concerned about declining engagement in our nation’s membership associations, non-profits, and workplaces, Sarah Sladek founded XYZ University, the nation’s first and only generations-focused training and engagement strategy company, in 2002.

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