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'Work hard to get ahead,' Seattle Boomers say. 'Extra work, extra pay,' Gen Z says

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Working from home.

The concept of a work/life balance "was not a thing" for most of Baby Boomer Eileen's career. You worked, and then you worked even harder to get ahead.

Fast forward a few generations and you come to 22-year-old Jade, a member of Gen Z.

"I refuse to, most times, even check my email when I’m not on the clock, definitely won’t respond to anything … there is a true boundary between my work and my personal life, and I never really let those bleed into each other," Jade told KUOW.

Both are workers in Seattle, but work quite differently. Why?

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There's a generational gap among the workforce. Employers are trying to understand this gap amid an ongoing national worker shortage. Millennials are now the largest group in the workforce, with Gen Z coming on the job more and more each day.

In the latest episode of "Booming," a podcast about Seattle's growing pains, KUOW's Monica Nickelsburg endeavors to answer: Why does Gen Z, and some Millennials, have a reputation for being difficult to work with (if they're working at all), and why they're less inclined to go above and beyond at work?

The answer may not be what you assume.

KUOW conducted a survey of Seattle workers to gauge perceptions around work habits. A focus group was formed to follow up (Gen Z didn't show up).

A few insights:

  • Younger generations feel that exceeding expectations should be paid for.
  • Older generations feel that going above and beyond is the pathway to success, raises, and a better career.
  • Younger workers are less likely to believe in a future that pays off. They are less likely to envision a life where affording kids, owning a home, or retiring comfortably is possible.
  • There is a sense among every group that the pandemic shifted how people see their jobs; there is a higher desire to bring personal lives into the workplace.

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Included in this survey was the question: "In your job, your goal is to…"

The most common answer among all generations was to "exceed expectations" ... except when it came to younger Millennials and Gen Z (folks under 35). This younger crowd aims to "meet expectations." They won't work nights, or weekends, and don't feel they should do any work that falls outside the scope of their job description.

Meeting or exceeding expectations

It's about standards for 28-year-old Maya, who works for a nonprofit and part of a union. Doing the job, and just the job, is about sending a message to management that if they want more, they have to pay more. It's also about looking out for your colleagues.

“If we’re not communicating clearly when something feels out of scope of our work, or that we need to be compensated fairly for work we are expected to do, that is not just for ourselves, it’s also for each other," Maya said.

Maya said that her extra work is not valued. She found out that her pay is lower than co-workers who do a similar job. The only time she started working more is when she got promoted, and more duties were added to her job description.

That's a world away from Baby Boomer Eileen's experience.

“It was expected that you go outside of your job description because when it came to review time they had a five-point scale, and three was ‘meets expectations.’ So if you wanted any kind of a raise you had to be a four or a five, which was ‘exceeds expectations,’ and I forget what five was, ‘walks on water’ or something," Eileen said.

Is there a payoff?

The classic American Dream promotes a certain lifestyle: Owning a home, affording children, retiring well.

“Many people of my generations, myself included, don’t have any faith in that model anymore,” Maya said.

While Baby Boomers had the option of working hard to achieve such goals, younger workers express doubts about that potential — especially around Seattle where the average home price is about $815,000.

“If I were to be working that much, and if it would ever pay off for me to be able to buy a house anywhere around here, maybe anywhere that is not like Kansas … I don’t think it is promising enough to bet on it," Jade said.

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Woven into this issue is the idea of a work/life balance, something younger generations are more likely to value.

“I feel like I didn’t really grow up seeing my parents having healthy boundaries between work and personal, especially my father," Jade said. "If that is what success means, that is not what I want. To be honest, that is not what success looks like to me.”

Solutions? Nickelsburg asked about that too. What could spur younger workers to get more involved with the job?

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For full insights into Seattle's generational work perceptions, check out the latest episode of "Booming."

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