News Analysis

Why is Gen Z unhappy at work, and should boards care?

by Dan Byrne on May 25, 2023

Why is Gen Z unhappy at work? According to a recent survey, there are several reasons, but most of them centre on one key theme.

This issue is important because Gen Z represents a growing cohort of workers raised through significant global events and with vastly different outlooks on life. 

This is reflected in their attitudes to work, and as much as corporate leaders may wish to take a hands-off approach to it, the truth is their influence on culture could make a fundamental difference.

What’s the latest?

New figures demonstrate that Generation Z (born from the late 90s to the early 2010s) have the lowest levels of job satisfaction.

  • Only 59% of the 600 respondents to a recent Cangrade study (titled Happiness at Work 2023) said they were happy at work. That’s the lowest compared to the preceding generations (Millennials, X and Baby Boomers – 76%, 76%, 69%, respectively). 
  • 26% – 1 in 4 – said they were unhappy at work. This is the highest percentage among the four generations and double the next highest (millennials and Gen X unhappiness rates stood at 13%).

So, why is Gen Z unhappy at work?

First, it’s important to note that this research was conducted in the United States, so some factors may be based on regional variation. Despite that, the main factors in this 26% figure could easily cross borders. 

Primarily, Gen Z respondents repeatedly cited a lack of enthusiasm for their job and a lack of room to improve their CVs as reasons for their unhappiness. 

In other words, many feel they need more motivation from their work, and they also see no prospects to improve their skillsets, diversify their CVs or move up the corporate ladder in their current position. 

Non-alignment of values is also an issue. Many Gen Z respondents said their company doesn’t care as strongly about their core beliefs as they would like. Usually, these core beliefs fall into one of the ESG (environment, social and governance) categories. 

Environment issues include contributions to the climate crisis and resource exploitation. Social issues include greater representation of women and minorities.

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What does this have to do with corporate leaders?

It depends. If you’re a corporate leader, it is ultimately your decision how much you want this to concern you. That said, there are some factors you should bare in mind:

  • Generation Z is the youngest working generation, and their numbers in the workforce will grow. As they enter new roles and seek promotions, their influence will increase. 
  • Many of Gen Z’s beliefs about the environment and social issues are increasingly reflected in investor patterns – again, under the ESG banner. In other words, the generation increasingly reflects where the capital is. 
  • Generation Z (and Millennials) are known for moving between jobs quickly. This can create succession headaches for companies if it happens too often.

So, how can corporate leaders take this on board?

If they want to act, they should consider the above an invitation to engage, especially around corporate culture

Unhappiness at work directly reflects the corporate culture surrounding the employee. If it’s toxic, frustrating or even just stagnant, employees will likely have an opinion similar to what’s expressed in the Cangrade survey. 

Addressing this starts with analysing the company’s culture.

What does this mean?

It means a careful examination of trends both inside and outside the company. 

  • What’s the company’s turnover rate like? 
  • Are younger employees quitting disproportionately? If so, why?
  • How engaged do current employees feel?
  • How much do they feel they make an impact within the company?
  • What provisions are there for career progression?
  • Do the company’s turnover rates compare with those of the country or broader industry?

These questions will help corporate leaders identify aspects of a company culture that might fuel resignations. Stopping them is a different story. It requires extensive work to change any patterns that companies don’t agree with. 

That means further meetings and feedback sessions, changes to strategy and policy, and the appropriate staff to implement any changes – external if necessary.

In summary

It is an emerging trend that younger workers have less patience around staying in a job. If the role doesn’t move them forward to align with their views, they’ll make those criticisms known, leave, or both

It’s the board’s and executive’s decision how much they want to address this, but doing so means a close look at culture. 

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Corporate culture
Employee satisfaction
Gen Z

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