Gen Z would rather quit a job than be unhappy in it

Our tolerance level for bullshit is far lower than our parents, a new study shows.

by Douglas Greenwood
|
06 April 2022, 1:06pm

Having a job is the grotesque inevitability of contemporary life in a capitalist society. We work to eat, pay rent and do fun shit -- and, at present, we have to do even more of it in order to survive on the bare minimum. The system is broken and we all know it. But from it comes encouraging news: Gen Z’s priority of self. A new study by Randstad, published on Business Insider, shows that today’s younger generation would sooner quit a job than remain unhappy in it, essentially leaving bosses who treat their staff like workhorses in a dangerous predicament. 

The boomer, grin-and-bear-it attitude to life -- one that led us down a path of anti-union consultants and zero-hour contracts from companies with a multi-billion dollar net worth -- is officially dead. The idea of making massive compromises to get or do our jobs has become old-school. According to Randstad’s survey, 56% of Gen Z and millennials would leave their jobs if it got in the way of their personal lives, or wouldn’t accept it in the first place if they had issues with the company’s social or environmental politics. 

In a statement, Randstad CEO Sander van ’t Noordende said that “young people want to bring their whole selves to work, which is reflected in their determination not to compromise their personal values when choosing an employer”. So what does that mean? Well, for one, it’s an indication that the power dynamics have shifted. With the change being generational rather than individual, our collective mindsets are beginning to force employers to wake up: if you can’t get anyone to bend to your requirements, you’re going to have to bend in the opposite direction instead.

If you’ve spent any time on TikTok recently (let’s face it, you have) you will have noticed a handful of videos in which employees, usually those working in the service or hospitality industry, call up their boss to let them know they quit. One, posted by @Avathynne in January of this year, saw the user quit her job in Subway over the phone after being “treated like shit” by her boss, as her co-workers watched on.

The burden on service workers to pick up the extra work required during the pandemic has left them rife for exploitation. Warehouses and food production plants were key sources of outbreaks during the first wave, then, as the world reopened, those in hospitality were put in the firing line, particularly in the UK where the ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ scheme significantly boosted infection rates. 

It’s not that nobody is interested in doing these jobs, it’s just that our generation has clocked on to the fact that they are a) mostly thankless and b) pay less than jobs that are far less mentally and physically strenuous. If you pay staff members the living wage, give them ample paid breaks, holidays and sick pay; and don’t set up elaborate ways of blocking the formation of unions, then maybe you’ll get happy, productive employees? Treat people like shit and the consequences are now inevitable. Of course, this long standing position -- overworked, underpaid -- has forced many to become stuck in those positions out of necessity, with bills to pay and families to support. Even more reason, we think, to fight for better working conditions and a wage that gives people more than enough to live on. 

There’s also the added factor of our world progressively hurtling towards a hellish norm of pandemic fatigue, global conflict, and the climate disaster. Life for many of us is too short to be spent doing jobs we don’t want to do. In fact, frugality, or trying to find other less exploitative ways to fund our own lifestyles (perhaps a justification for the OnlyFans boom), has become increasingly more attractive in the meantime. And thankfully, happiness and contentment has emerged as our top priority.

And we’re willing to fight for it now too. The days of accepting the bare minimum are over. “Businesses need to rethink their approach to attracting and retaining staff, or face serious competition,” Sander said.

Follow i-D on Instagram and TikTok for more on work and unions.