Last week, a TikTok video went viral after recent graduate Brielle Asero filmed herself complaining that current working standards are leaving workers with an unhealthy work-life balance.
“I know I’m probably being so dramatic or annoying,” Asero said, “but, like, the 9-5 schedule in general is crazy”.
The video has racked up over three million views on TikTok alone, as well as receiving almost 25,000 comments.
As she cries to the camera explaining that she is in her first job since graduating university, she complains she is unable to afford to live closer to her workplace, and that she is required to go into the office every day.
“I know it could be worse. I know I could be working longer, but I literally get off and it's pitch black. I don't have energy,” she said. “I don't have time for anything. And I'm, like, so stressed out.”
To say the video caused a storm across social media is an understatement. Many online were quick to call her a “snowflake”. However, she also gained many supporters who said the video showed the importance of flexible working for a healthy work-life balance.
Jane Bradshaw-Jones, HR technical consultant at AdviserPlus, said the video highlights a “seismic shift in workplace dynamics”, with Gen Z workers “boldly prioritising a work-life balance and are left dissatisfied with the traditional 9-5, onsite expectations of the working week”.
Bradshaw-Jones told People Management: “Gen Z’s demand for a work-life balance and disdain for the antiquated 9-5 model speaks to a generation that refuses to be tethered to conventional norms and who are championing a revolution in work culture.
“By leveraging social media to broadcast their experiences and expectations, Gen Z is sparking a vibrant conversation that could redefine the future of work.”
But what does this teach us about younger workers, and their expectations of the working world?
A generational disconnect?
The pandemic ushered in a revolution of hybrid and flexible working, and this may be causing a “disconnect” between younger workers who have only ever known flexible working options, and “older workers who experienced traditional office life before the Covid pandemic”, Bradshaw-Jones said.
“Gen Z workers have different expectations and preferences regarding how, when, and where work is done in comparison to the older workers, many of whom established their careers in environments where a standard 9-5 office schedule was the norm,” she continued.
“This could explain why they are more comfortable with these traditional work arrangements, less likely to complain about a return to 'normal' and may perceive remote work as less productive.”
Meanwhile, Lou Campbell, co-founder and director of Wellbeing Partners, said older generations can be “too scared or ashamed” to talk about workplace issues due to fear of repercussions, or have been taught to “get on with it”.
Differing generational views on the expectations of work “can lead to friction within teams because quite simply, Gen Z are rejecting the traditional paradigms on which concepts of work and success have been based”, Jess Lancashire, CEO of From Another, added.
“But this doesn’t have to mean there’s a disconnect. Trust and empathy in the workplace can build bridges to understanding, shared purpose and success.”
Graduate salaries and “commuter premiums”
“We see repeatedly that Gen Z talk openly about their experiences, thoughts and feelings,” Campbell noted, including on subjects that have historically been seen as taboo, including salaries.
While social media has given young people a platform to voice their opinions, an unprecedented cost of living crisis and housing crisis may have provided ammunition for young workers to demand more from their workplaces.
“What is interesting in the video is her perception of the commute as part of her working day, and her perception of ‘if I get paid to work until five, I should get off at five,’” Lancashire noted.
But this continued debate around flexible working and what that means when your commute is no longer seen as necessary may be leading to a trend.
Lancashire continued: “In some industries, we are seeing salaries for in-person jobs needing to be 25 per cent higher than those for remote jobs. And we can expect the ‘commuter premium’ to become more widespread.”
With young people’s increasing willingness to take a public stand against what they deem as unacceptable behaviour, businesses must take social media and reputation damage seriously.
Bradshaw-Jones said: “Organisations must be mindful about the potential risks to the company when being mentioned in social media posts. They need to ensure they have robust policies in place and set clear expectations for appropriate social media behaviour to navigate this and effectively protect their brands image and reputation.”
Death of the 9-5?
But does this signal the death of the 9-5, and is Gen Z leading the charge?
“The 9-5 week is absolutely a thing of the past,” Chris Preston, director of The Culture Builders, said. “It has been for some time in many organisations. But there’s still a volume of work needed, and shifting the times you work doesn’t solve the commute or the impact on our lives.”
But, he noted, young people entering the workforce may need more support and supervision as they adjust to the world of work before being able to have an effective flexible pattern.
“[Gen Z workers] need close supervision, support, mentoring and help. Doing this remotely is almost impossible. The critical point is to clearly explain this, and ensure that you deliver on the promise to nurture them at every opportunity. Make the commute worthwhile.”
Campbell instead said that the 9-5 should be seen as a “benchmark” that provides a “useful framework for ‘reasonable working hours’’’.
“I don’t think it should be eroded,” she said, “but an additional framework of flexible working needs to be accepted and welcomed in order to keep employees productive, engaged and creative”.
Read the CIPD’s tips on implementing and managing flexible working