Young digital natives crave the social aspect of the office—sometimes.
When Ben Chipman first read through the contract for his summer internship position at LinkedIn, he made sure to pay close attention to one section in particular: social media policies.
For Chipman, a senior at Duke University, it was important to ensure that taking the position wouldn’t restrict his budding TikTok presence, which includes posting about his life, and in turn, his career.
Chipman’s TikTok account has garnered 1 million likes and nearly 7,000 followers since he started posting seven months ago. His most-viewed videos focus on his internship and living in New York for the role, which he said he began posting to connect with his audience.
“I was just making a silly video on not knowing what to wear on my first day in the office, and I was like, ‘This is relatable,’” Chipman said. “Like who’s gone to an office in the last two years? And so I was just motivated to share it to connect with more people.”
Chipman is among the members of Generation Z, or the nearly 70 million Americans born between the late 1990s and early 2010s, who are launching their careers at a time when the shift to remote and hybrid work has largely eliminated the existence of full-time, in-person workplaces.
In turn, this generation has turned to social media to share both authentic realities and glamorized images of embarking on a professional path in the wake of the cultural shift that has hung in-person work in the balance.
Glamorization is a work incentive
On TikTok, it’s easy to make office life look glamorous. Career-related content has become especially popular in a time when most careers do not carry as many perks—like complimentary meals or compensated travel—as they once did.
But for younger people whose education and early careers have been disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, in-person work has an inherent appeal. A scan through “work day in my life” videos on TikTok turns up videos with hundreds of thousands of views each.
“There’s something that is glamorous about having the flashy company title,” Chipman said. “And if you work in a historic building, being able to be like, ‘I work here, do this, and this is what I wear,’ … You want to look the part, and if you’re at home, you’re not really incentivized to do that.”
Chipman said sharing small aspects of what in-person work looks like leads young people to be attracted to the traditional workplace.
Amanda Kehoe, a career development specialist at Quinnipiac University, said that although some young people may seek the structure of in-person work, there are benefits of the alternative that may be overlooked.
“I think [Gen Z] might think, ‘Man, I wish I could have that (in person) experience,’” Kehoe said. “But I don’t think that they realize how lucky they are that now the world has changed into a flexible work world where you can set your own hours and you can work at home and you have that flexibility.”
Rachel Vogel, a third-year student at Northeastern University, also looks at sharing her life online as a source of everyday motivation.
“It’s almost like you’re romanticizing your life [as] a way of getting through it,” Vogel said. “So sometimes I would be struggling to get into the office and go and get things done. … I like to make it more of an incentive.”
Vogel held a position at Boston Consulting Group during the spring 2022 semester through Northeastern’s cooperative education experiential learning program. She maintained her personal TikTok account throughout the position, often posting videos sharing insight into her role and experience at the company.
Sometimes, her videos divulged into the benefits she received through the company, ones she only had access to due to the role’s in-person nature. Although she is a proponent of sharing such content online, she emphasized the one-sided nature of it.
“You don’t see the actual work that people are doing,” Vogel said. “You just see the perks and how cool the office looks and what we’re wearing and what we eat and stuff like that—you’re not actually seeing what a day-to-day is actually like.”
Such perks, like complimentary food and coffee, provide motivation to get through the realities of work, Vogel said. She added that consumers of career-centric content should consider the fact that social media posting is often contractually restricted based on the privacy of company information.
“Us as a generation have to look at things and say, ‘Well, yeah, they’re not showing those things. So how much of it is our point of view?’” Vogel said. “We have to just put into account [that] they can’t show everything.”
The generational gap in remote work
Since the most glamorized parts of corporate life—benefits like free food—are only possible with in-person work, opportunities for career-based content are limited when positions are hybrid or fully remote. As such, members of Gen Z are faced with the decision of whether seeking out remote or in-person roles is more valuable.
Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and the shift to remote work across most industries, Gen Z has entered a workforce with fewer in-person opportunities. A February 2022 study from Pew Research Center found that of adults with jobs that can be worked remotely, 59% are working from home most or all of the time.
Maia Ervin, chief people officer at JUV Consulting, a Gen Z marketing agency, said younger people tend to favor a hybrid model of work. However, she said, Gen Z’s outlook on in-person work is different than other generations.
“Gen Zers look at coming into the office and in-office interactions completely different than previous generations,” Ervin told the Daily Dot. “They’re not looking at it as, ‘Oh, I need to come in here to work.’ It’s like, ‘Oh, I need to know who’s going to be in the office that day because I want to connect with them.’”
Chipman said one of the factors that led him to accept his position was the in-person nature that would allow him to network with other employees.
“Having those casual water bubbler conversations that everyone says are valuable was honestly something that was really important to me,” Chipman said.
An emphasis on equitable working conditions
Despite the social privileges of in-person work, Gen Z recognizes the convenience of staying home.
A 2022 survey from training platform TalentLMS found that 74% of Gen Z prefer some level of remote work, and 30% would quit their job if it did not offer any remote work opportunities.
Kali Lewis, a junior at Penn State University, works remotely as an intern at an architectural firm.
Lewis posted a viral TikTok in June discussing the fact that she was able to secure a remote position over audio that says, “I win.”
Lewis’ video, viewed more than 165,000 times by Aug. 15, resonated with other Gen Z users because of the benefits of remote work.
“I was personally really happy to have it remote because it kind of takes away some of the anxiety of having to go into the office every day,” Lewis told the Daily Dot. “And also cuts down on gas and transportation costs.”
Though she is working remotely, as a social media user, Lewis said she finds it compelling to see a continuation of career content from members of Gen Z.
“It’s definitely interesting to see how people of our generation, in Gen Z, are being very transparent about how they’re working,” Lewis said.
This desire for accountability also extends to Gen Z’s attitudes about working conditions, specifically when it comes to the values of their company.
Data largely shows Gen Z demands more growth and support opportunities from employers than other generations.
Gen Z values company investment in mental health and wellness, and working for employers who align with their personal interests or values more than other age groups. Belonging to a company that cares about diversity, equity and inclusion is also significantly more important to Gen Z than previous generations.
Gen Z at the helm
Regardless of the future of the workplace, the content put out on social media by Gen Z will continue to shape the generation’s context of what work looks like. As many of its members embark on early career opportunities, Gen Z will continue to rely on each other to shape their expectations in the best way they know how: online.
“[Videos] that are showing off all the glamor and glitz of their jobs, that’s driving a strong brand and increasing their selectivity and increasing their strength of their applicant pool,” Chipman said. “Which I think is really interesting and is a direct result of social.”
With Gen Z at the helm, workplace benefits and conditions will continue to positively evolve, especially when they’re able to turn to others going through similar things at their fingertips.
“I’ve heard from other friends that have seen my videos, and they’re like, ‘Hey, it’s so cool that you share this because I’m actually going through similar stuff,’” Vogel said. “So even though I didn’t realize it, I was helping other people. Because we do tend to feel like what we’re going through is one in a million when it’s not.”