|>>|| No. 90351
Let’s now consider Generation Z and the younger bunch of millennials: those who either graduated into a recession or are about to (I’m in the luckier elder bunch, we just missed it). The fight for good jobs has become tougher, yes, but also much less fair. In a downturn, access schemes dry up and rich kids who can afford internships and precarious starter jobs are at a spectacular advantage. Specialist training and master’s courses get more expensive, too. As a result some careers, particularly fun ones, now look entirely out of range for most people. For example, as The Sunday Times reported at the weekend, nearly all of England’s present cricket stars were privately educated, breaking the previous record.
Then there’s nepotism, which tends to get worse as opportunities really thin. Powerful parents get anxious enough to make some calls; employers get anxious enough to think they might be worth appeasing. (I can hear the comments from here, by the way, and whoever you think I’m related to, I’m not). If an influential parent with friends in the company thinks it’d be great to give their daughter a break, it’s a brave middle manager who says no.
Work is also less predictable now. It doesn’t matter how hard you have worked if your industry fails or your company goes belly up. And the usual paths in are closing. In my own industry it used to be that talent and hard graft on a local paper would at some point lead you to a job on a national. It still might, but mostly it doesn’t. And for those members of Generation Z who do make it really big — influencer is the route du jour — fame seems to strike at random and with terrifying speed, and disappear just as fast.
For the young, then, the workplace might look much as it does to a disillusioned 60-year-old. Opportunities thinning, success increasingly out of reach and subject anyway to forces outside your control. You could grind yourself into the ground working 12-hour days — but really, why would you bother? Trying to enjoy life a bit instead looks like a far safer investment. Generation burnout is here.
What are employers to do about it? One idea, of course, is to fix unfairness where they can and hope the economy picks up. But cultural change is needed, too. The idea that anyone can succeed if they put in the hours just won’t cut it with the new workforce: they already know it’s not quite true. The philosopher Alain de Botton has pointed out that the Danes have some saner ideas about work: that ordinary achievement is perfectly good, while long hours at the office are not. That strikes me as a far better workplace philosophy for the moment, particularly as many young people have already reached that point themselves. Sensibly, they don’t trust that rewards will come later, so, rationally, they would at least like a few small ones now.
Millennial work habits have long been scoffed at — low tolerance for boredom, anxious inquiries at interview about whether a pet can come to work — but they’re quite right. Pets and a bit of work-life balance are what really matter, and we all realise it in the end