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It’s not just Gen Z who care less about work, it’s an epidemic in America

Published May 30th, 2024 8:00AM EDT
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Image: SFIO CRACHO/Adobe

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By Amanda Kavanagh

American attitudes to work are shifting, and many are laying fault or credit – depending on your outlook – on the pandemic, which lessened the psychological hold of the workplace in peoples’ minds. 

Post-pandemic, jobs in industries with fixed hours or mandatory full-time in-person attendance, like retail and hospitality, are receiving fewer applications, and shortages of workers are widespread across the country.

In tech, where more flexible working is possible, a skills gap has grown in particular areas, like AI, cybersecurity and cloud computing. Here demand is outstripping supply, and while some engineers are rapidly upskilling to cash in, many others aren’t bothered chasing the gold rush.

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That’s largely because title and salary are no longer the primary guiding forces behind a job search, as a role’s terms and benefits, which affect quality of life, have become more and more important. 

Work ≠ identity

According to 2023 Pew Research, four-in-ten workers (39%) say their job or career is extremely or very important to their overall identity, but a greater number aren’t as keen: 34% say it’s somewhat important, and 27% say it’s not too or not at all important. 

It also found that workers with postgraduate qualifications were more likely to say their identity was tied to work (53%), followed by upper income (47%), and those with a Bachelor’s degree (39%).

And while trends like “quiet quitting” and “lazy girl jobs” makes many believe that a decline in caring is just a Gen Z thing, there is a much broader prioritization of a balanced life among workers of all ages. Older workers just may not be as obvious about it. 

The demand for fewer hours, more benefits, and more pleasant work conditions has surged. Employees expect more from their employers in terms of flexibility and wellbeing. 

The days of sacrificing personal life for professional success are dwindling – remember “work hard, play hard”? This has been replaced by a new ethos that values personal time and mental health.

Economic impact 

These evolving attitudes towards work have left noticeable marks on the economy. In December 2023, 5.6% of jobs were vacant, and in January 2024, 40% of small businesses had at least one unfilled opening—both record highs since the pandemic began. 

To put these figures into perspective, let’s look at previous years. 

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, before the pandemic, the job vacancy rate hovered around 4.0% in December 2019, which was the lowest rate since 1969, and small businesses reported an unfilled opening rate of approximately 25% in January 2020. 

Since then job vacancy rates gradually rose each January, to 4.8% in 2021, to a peak of 7% in 2022, followed by 6.3% in 2023. 

Future of work

Entry-level and junior employees should consider what they have a chance to observe and learn through direct interactions in an office setting. 

By daily osmosis, you develop essential skills such as communication, problem-solving, and teamwork when you’re sitting near more senior colleagues.

So while flexibility is important, a balanced approach that includes some degree of in-office presence can offer significant developmental benefits for young professionals. 

And older professionals, who wish to land interesting projects and promotions, should consider the many surveys that reveal that remote workers were less likely to nab both.

For example, a study conducted by Live Data Technologies, which analyzed data from two million workers, found that remote workers were 31% less likely to receive promotions than their in-person counterparts. 

Additionally, compared to 5.6% of employees who worked in offices, just 3.9% of remote workers received promotions in 2023, according to the same report. 

Workers of all age demographics should also remember that physical presence allows you to build relationships with colleagues and superiors, which can be crucial for career advancement, and in many cases, sanity. 

Despite these points, flexible working may remain your guiding factor in a job hunt. And depending on your priorities, looking beyond title and salary may include examining flexibility and benefits offered, whether an organization fosters a supportive and inclusive work environment, and if opportunities for career growth and development abound. 

These are all meaningful elements that are important for workers at every career stage. 

The future of work is not just about where we work, but how we work, and what we value both in our professional and personal lives.

Whether it’s remote, hybrid or in-office, discover your next great tech job on the BGR Job Board

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