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Expert Says Companies Need To Adopt Gen Z's Attitude Toward Work, Not The Other Way Around

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Gen Z woman working

Gen Z's attitude toward the role they want work to play in their lives is a topic of constant conversation and constant complaint in the case of many business leaders.

But one expert says we all better get used to it, business leaders included.

Expert Ravin Jesuthasan said companies need to adopt Gen Z's attitude toward work, not the other way around. 

Depending on who you ask, Gen Zers are either lazy, entitled brats who are impossible to work with or visionaries who've seen our punishing economy and work culture for what they are. Either way, they aren't willing to play by the rules like previous generations did.

But the perspective offered by Ravin Jesuthasan, an expert on the ways the workplace is changing, aka the "future of work," suggested that coming at Gen Z from this perspective is asking the wrong questions entirely. 

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Jesuthasan said Gen Z is choosing to 'work to live' rather than 'live to work' because of a 'legacy of broken promises.'

Jesuthasan, who is the Global Leader for Transformation Services at the human resources consulting giant Mercer, recently spoke with Business Insider at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, an annual meeting of business and government leaders.

Jesuthasan told the outlet that Gen Z's attitudes toward work are so staggeringly different in part because of all of the struggles they've endured, from financial insecurity which is on a level unprecedented among the generations before them to the disruptions and lessons of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

This has imbued them with "an attitude of work to live as opposed to live to work that many of us grew up with," Jesuthasan said. But the crucial factor at play is that they sense their dark financial and economic present will almost surely not give way to a brighter future. 

As Jesuthasan put it, "They have seen the legacy of all these broken promises. In the old days … they would promise you if you worked for 30 years, you have this defined benefit pension, you have retiree medical care, etc. None of that exists today."

He said that employers are going to have to adjust to Gen Z's attitude toward work because it is unlikely to change. 

So far, much of the business world and even many cultural leaders have met Gen Z's attitude toward work with ire and pushback, from return-to-office mandates that employees hate to Whoopi Goldberg's now infamous rant about Gen Z's laziness and entitlement.

   

   

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But Jesuthasan expressed that these responses were very much barking up the wrong tree because younger employees' attitudes aren't likely to ever change. 

Jesuthasan said Gen Zers are keenly aware that all those "broken promises" add up to a lack of any kind of secure future, from home ownership to retirement, because they've watched the way millennials have been economically hobbled by them. 

This has created an intensely and in many cases non-negotiably present-focused approach. "There's a sense of, 'I'm only as good as … the value I'm delivering today, and so these are the terms under which I want to work, and you either meet them or not,'" Jesuthasan said.

   

   

So what's the answer? He said it's past time for companies and business leaders to start meeting Gen Z's terms instead of fighting them. 

This includes putting aside one-size-fits-all approaches to management and compensation — like sweeping return-to-office mandates, for example — in favor of individualized approaches that allow workers to​​ "pick and choose" from a "portfolio of rewards." 

Leaders can only sniff at their attitudes for so long, after all. Eventually, Gen Z will be the bulk of the workforce, and unless our jobs go back to the fairness and security that used to be the order of the day, there's absolutely no incentive for Gen Z's attitude toward work to change or for the older among us to continue falling in line either.

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John Sundholm is a news and entertainment writer who covers pop culture, social justice, and human interest topics.