Artillery Row

Leave Gen Z alone

The supposed laziness of young people has itself become a lazy trope

Complaining about young people is an age-old tradition, recognised as far back as 1965 in The Who’s smash hit “My Generation”. This tired trend of the middle aged and above griping about the allegedly useless youth of their time is rearing up again, with a range of people from the Chief Executive of Channel 4 to Jodie Foster criticising Gen Z.

As someone born in 1998, I am an elder Gen Z, and while I disapprove of this unhelpful label, which covers everyone born between 1997-2012, I feel my protective instincts kicking in as my cohort is attacked. Generational analysis not only over-generalises: it neglects to point out that youth-bashing is a self-defeating endeavour, and also downright ignorant.

It is incredible how many problems in the world can be unfairly blamed on the youngest set of adults if one puts their mind to it. Listening to journalist Nina Myskow in a recent Good Morning Britain debate or Matthew Lynn in his scathing Telegraph article, Gen Z are molly-coddled, unproductive, home-working obsessed deadweights, who are uniquely difficult to assimilate into the average office. For a generation that is apparently abnormally depressed and disengaged, this level of resistance seems pretty impressive to me. Perhaps we do overthink, but to their minds, this plainly hasn’t hindered our ability to disrupt the country’s productivity.

But this level of malicious power would only really make sense if most institutions were led by Gen Z. Seeing as none of us have made it to 30 yet, how could this be true? The answer is, it isn’t. Generation X (1965-1980) and Millennials (1981-1996) make up the majority of the leadership of our civic and private institutions. They are also the generations which, in their youth, instigated the majority of counter cultural movements now popularly bemoaned — whetherthat be something as trivial as punk bands praising anarchy, or the rise of the internet creating an online platform for increasingly relatable opinion articles in newspapers such as the Guardian, which in September 1999 published a list of complaints about working in the 90s. Yet, when a very young person expresses similar sentiments on social media today, they are often criticised in extreme terms, by the seemingly resentful older users.

in writing off everyone under 27, our elders demonstrate a negligent lack of self-awareness

Nobody is arguing that Gen Z are perfect. All litters have their runts. But in writing off everyone under 27, our elders demonstrate a negligent lack of self-awareness. They are interacting with a product of the world that they produced. Gen Z grew up surrounded by messaging about the recession, and were educated during the highly liberal 2010s. Securing work experience or a Saturday job was generally tougher. Many joined the full time workforce during a global pandemic. Some have sincerely believed since primary school that Earth will soon overheat and they will die. Sowing seeds of anxiety and disillusionment in the young, and then complaining about the adults you reap, displays a lack of accountability in those who lead us. 

Us Gen Z’ers didn’t create the HR departments that are disliked, or the educational standards that are slated — so why begrudge us for sticking to the rules as they are written? After years of being told to “bring yourself to work” and “reach for your dreams”, is it really crazy that a more forthright and self-focused generation is the outcome? Are we that different, or did we receive dissimilar standards from an early age?

It should also be emphasised that there is a lack of recognition that Gen Z are fully fledged adults working in the same tough industries as the rest of the population. While we only make up 20 per cent of the workforce, rest assured you can find Gen Z working as nurses, dentists, teachers, cleaners, and in many other vital roles. Highlighting cases of unusual laziness and holding them up as typical of a whole generation is reductive. For the majority of Gen Z, honesty about their disappointment with “boring” or “exhausting” work, as seen in hate-watched TikTok videos, comes from a socially-engineered focus on applying yourself to something you care about. After years of pushing teenagers into university, highlighting the options and claiming that they’re attainable, are we surprised that the young have higher expectations? Now that Gen Z are adults, we can make choices about what our lives will look like and, of course, we want them to be exciting or meaningful. Expect resentment when that promise goes unfulfilled for many.

For your own sake, you should realise that this youthful zeal can be a benefit. According to Forbes, in 2023 the three industries that majorly attracted Gen Z were: the public sector, manufacturing, and finance. If those key industries can be filled with highly motivated people who want to be there, excellent. If less specialised work is then filled by people who openly admit that they’re taking work hour-by-hour and will stick to the confines of their contract, is that not precisely what we expect? Perhaps Gen Z aren’t the people you hoped would be produced by the institutions you sculpted, but that isn’t our burden to bear. We’re normal, and we want to do a good job — it just may not be the job that you expected us to aim for.

We are not a group to dread or fear. We’re young and energetic, but nervous about the future. We’re hoping to find love, fulfilment, money and comfort, but consistently warned that these things are often in conflict. Is it so insane that, in these circumstances, people in their early 20s might prioritise the first two more than the second? If your answer to this is still yes, perhaps the reality is that the young aren’t getting lazier: you just got older, like we all will.

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