Gen Z is joining the labor force, and with new job responsibilities come new understandings of work-life balance. JUV reached out to The Receipt*, our in-house global research network of over 5,000 young people. We asked them for their thoughts on work, life, and the balance struck between the two. We found that while many Gen Zers feel pressure and stress from their work, they have plenty of methods to help them unwind at the end of the day.
It’s called “the daily grind” for a reason
The Gen Z perspective on work-life balance is all about time management.That means ensuring we have enough productive time to do well at work and in school, and enough down time to recharge and practice self-care.
“You should be able to have time fully dedicated to work and time fully dedicated to you-time,” said Sophie Howery, a 18-year-old Senior Partner at JUV.
Work, especially nowadays, can be incredibly demanding. When asked to rate how much stress people felt at work, The Receipt responded with an average of 6.5 out of 10, with a majority of respondents providing numbers higher than 5. But what is it about work that is so stressful? 32% of respondents said that trying to meet their boss’s expectations gave them the most stress. This could be due to the desire of many Gen Zers to prove that they do not all fall into negative stereotypes. Another 24% of respondents said that attempting to find meaning and stimulation was the most stressful part of their jobs.
When asked to describe their feelings about work in one word, only 23% of respondents provided a word with a positive connotation. Stressful was the top word used, and other respondents said they felt overwhelmed, exhausted, or bored. Of the respondents who answered positively to this question, emotions such as fulfilling and rewarding were commonly used. It is important to note, though, that a stressful job and a fulfilling job are not mutually exclusive, and Gen Z knows this. We want to be confident that the work we do, even if it is incredibly stressful, is ethical and meaningful, so we hold our employers to a much higher ethical standard than past generations.
Working from home makes work-life balance….complicated
The past fifteen months of remote working and learning have left a profound impact on our senses of work-life balance. The lines between our workplace and our homes have been blurred as our bedrooms transformed into our offices. As per a Receipt survey from October 2020, many Gen Zers would like to be able to work from home permanently, but even more admitted that offices lead to more productive use of time.
One thing that working from home definitely taught us about work-life balance is how important flexible hours are. When asked about preferred work schedules, 36% of this month’s survey respondents said they would prefer to have completely flexible hours—this allows us to manage our own time and determine for ourselves when we want to work and when we want to, well, do literally anything else. Flexible hours, therefore, is a top job benefit for Gen Z.
For some people, however, completely flexible hours can make it quite difficult to just “turn work off.” Having a set schedule very cleanly delineates work time and life time, rather than leaving it up to the individual. Nearly a quarter of respondents said they prefer the traditional Monday through Friday, 9-5 schedule. More than a year into the COVID-19 pandemic has given a lot of people a desire to return to once-familiar routines, which can be very comforting in otherwise chaotic times. Plus, Gen Z is getting older, with more of us entering the labor force each year. There is a certain je ne sais quoi romance to working the traditional office hours that many of our parents had.
Trying to achieve work-life balance can have a toll on mental health
Work takes up such a large portion of our adult lives; it’s no wonder that our relationship to it has an effect on mental health. Work pervades our downtime like nothing else.
51% of respondents said they think about work frequently during their time off, and another 29% said they think about work “almost all the time.” Only 3% of respondents said they never think about work when not actively working. In the words of blu3franklin on TikTok, “It’s Sunday, I’m on top of a beautiful mountain with a beautiful view with one of my besties and I’m thinking about work. That’s the American dream, baby.”
On top of that, “rise-and-grind” influencers are all over social media, glorifying the hustle and not paying nearly enough attention to mental health. This workaholic culture often stigmatizes down time, but don’t get it twisted: down time is not wasteful. Time spent doing “nothing” can, in fact, be incredibly productive toward ensuring personal mental and physical health. Hustling too much can lead to high rates of exhaustion, burnout, and even death.
20% of survey respondents claimed that their workplace had systems in place to take care of employees’ mental health, a number that should be much higher. Only 10% of survey respondents said that mental health support is a job benefit that would help them maintain work-life balance.
This is quite a change from Millennials, who highly valued the Employee Assistance Program as a job benefit. Programs such as these provide employees with resources to find mental and physical healthcare, from therapists to meditation studios, to dentists. However, these programs can be difficult to navigate, and many employees are left unaware of how much they offer, which could explain why so few Gen Zers are interested in them. It also might seem counterproductive to turn to your workplace when seeking resources to help you stress about work less, especially as more digital resources for mental health support become available.
However, not all Gen Zers are working yet, so their attitudes about benefits are subject to change as more of them enter the labor force (and get kicked off their parents’ health insurance). Companies might have to offer benefits that include flexible hours to attract Gen Z talent and mental health support to ensure employees don’t burn out, even if they don’t know they need it yet. With the right resources, employees can set their own boundaries to achieve their own work-life balance.
How do we maintain work-life balance?
The most popular activity, by far, is consuming content. Be it television, movies, books, or something different altogether, Gen Z loves content: 48% of respondents said that it is one of their top activities for unplugging from work.
39% of respondents consider quality time with friends and family to be a top unplugging activity, something that the COVID-19 pandemic has made much more difficult. This might explain why so many Gen Zers are so stressed at this moment—for the majority of lockdown, spending in-person time with friends and family was restricted by health concerns and physical distance.
So how should people try to achieve work-life balance if they can’t do their favorite non-work activities? Felipe Mendez, a 22-year-old Senior Partner here at JUV, says that routines help: he has a ten-step morning routine that helps him relax before he has to buckle down and get to work. Felipe likes to take a couple of hours before work “to check in with [himself] and do something leisurely before the stresses of work get to [him].”
Caroline Zhu, a 17-year-old Consultant, added that you should “get to actually understand your physical limits.” If your body says no to a certain stressful activity, listen to it.
To sum it all up: “Practicing self care is also something incredibly important to having a good work-life balance. Even when you feel super stressed, if you pay attention to yourself and your needs, you’ll have control,” said Srilekha Cherukuvada, a 17-year-old Content Contributor.
The perfect work-life balance may be different for everyone, but one thing will always ring true: you can never go wrong in spending time taking care of yourself. Go have a snack and do something nice for yourself today: the work can wait.
*Based on JUV Receipt survey of 308 respondents, aged 14 to 24, conducted online in May 2021. Average respondent was 18 years old.
JUV Consulting is a Gen Z collective that works with companies to create purpose-driven and authentic marketing campaigns that engage young audiences. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to learn how to reach Gen Z, or sign up for our weekly newsletter, The Screenshot, to get Gen Z insights straight to your inbox.