Parents spend so much time inside the world of their children. From extracurriculars to school events, parent-teacher conferences, and hosting their children’s friends in their homes, parents almost always have an inside look into their kids’ world. But over the summer, it was my turn to get that inside look. Between internships and exploratory visits this past summer, I got the opportunity to infiltrate several work environments, and you will never guess what my takeaways were! So, here are the top 10 observations on the work world from me, a Gen-Z’er.
#1: Stop the Generic Narratives About My Generation
What people want from a workplace is highly personalized. It shouldn’t be a blanket opinion of one generation, because the person and the profession make a difference. And when did work stop becoming work? When did work stop being a job where you solve a problem you get paid to solve? When did it become a person’s second home where they look for psycho-social development and support? These days, we’re hearing so much about the conflict of the new ways of working – working from home, changing priorities, the great resignation, and NOW the great regret – it’s almost impossible not to feel like maybe we are all just romanticizing work a bit too much. It seems to me that what the workforce wants out of a company is, well, they want it all… and I am not sure if I agree that “work” is the place to find it all.
#2: Have Food, Will Work
The number one thing people want from a workplace is food. I’m kidding, of course, but although it seems like such a small thing, the need for food is an intrinsic human drive. It’s not about whether or not having free food attracts employees – nobody has made a job decision because of that on its own – but about the general goodwill toward a company and how that contributes to a broader sense of how you feel. So at the very least – have good snacks!
#3: What’s Up With All the Meetings?
I was struck by how meetings took up the majority of everyone’s day. I was even more struck by how little seemed to be getting done in larger group meetings. It seems to me that most are made up of catching up, brainstorming, and going over something already said in an email conversation. And many people seem to be just sitting in the meeting on their computers. I noticed that 1:1 meetings appeared to be more valuable because ideas and solutions flowed and decisions were made.
#4: Bring It Home
I can see why my dad has trouble unplugging when he gets home from work – or even when he works from home. There is such a level of intensity that happens when his day is made up of conversation after conversation – and then trying to catch up on work between the meetings. There are no mental breaks. There is no time to think. You have to shift gears to solve an abundance of problems, and I’m not sure if that is a good or bad thing. My dad has worked hard all his life (both my parents did!) – and I always knew the sacrifice it took, but never fully appreciated it. So thank you, dad.
#5: Space Matters
Now, I haven’t visited every single office in the world – but from the several I have experienced, it is easy to see that the space you work in directly impacts your mood and overall performance. I noticed my dad, while at work, would fluctuate to his 14th-floor (marketing team floor) office more than his 17th-floor office (executive office floor). My theory of why he does this is because of the excess of windows, open space, and the ability to have organic conversations with his team! Some connection to the outside world while you are busy on your computer is so important. No one wants to stare at four walls all day!
#6: Hierarchy Stinks
Are the boss’s needs ‘Bible’, or are the needs of the customer/audience more important? I saw this fluctuate from workplace to workplace. But no matter what the company believed, it was easy to see the toll office hierarchy can take on workflow if an organization is too concerned with what the big boss thinks. Being a “yes person” will not breed a winning company or a vibrant culture. I feel there is a balance that needs to take place for proper growth and production to happen. “We hear you, Boss, but we are going to take it, think about it for a moment, and then get back to the real work and make things better for our customers every day.”
#7: I Can See it In Your Face
The difference between my dad working remotely and coming home from the office is quite drastic. Convenience comes from being at home. Energy comes from interacting with others. We’re all human, and there is no substitute for human interaction – we desire it, we need it, and it makes for better energy in the workplace. Whether you need it a little or need it a lot, it’s always good to give people the option to have that flexibility, but it’s my contention that being able to interact in a real way makes a difference.
#8: At Work Self and At Home Self
C’mon, everyone knows the difference between these two and why there is that difference – especially when you are in a leadership role. Observing my dad at work vs. at home would certainly shock my mom. At home, he uses heuristics and habits; At work, the other side of his brain is turned on. When my father did a development evaluation on himself, his team gave very different answers than his family. It’s interesting to see how the people around you can see you so differently depending on the role they play in your life.
The commute to the workplace makes a HUGE difference for most people. It’s a big reason why so many people are embracing remote work these days. Working in the Chicagoland area, most people typically have a lengthy commute, which could lead to higher stress levels and less time to get the work done you needed to do that day. After all, think about what 10 hours a week not in a car could mean for productivity and family time. But a commute can also be great. It gives people time to reflect and think before heading to work. Throw on some music or your favorite podcast, ‘Hold Me Back’, and take a drive or train to work.
#10: Culture Comes Down to the CEO
The shadow of a leader. It’s a common expression, and now I know what it means. The impact of the CEO on the workplace culture is by far the most important thing I’ve observed. There is a palpable difference in the workplace cultures – and it was directly related to how the company tried to “accommodate” the CEO or leader of the company. It was clear to me that culture did not come down to the words written on the wall, but what people truly believed was the right or wrong way to be a member of a community that the CEO defines.
So what’s a company to do? Can companies adapt to the growing need for employees who want more from work than a paycheck? Can a company find ways to keep everyone happy, even though that might look different for each person? Individuality is the defining principle of today’s world, but is it realistic for companies to meet the mental, aspirational, and value-based needs of every employee while still answering to shareholders? It might be the new realities companies have to face. On the other hand, what if companies decided that work is work – a much more dictatorial view. “Here is what our values are. We don’t individualize. We want to treat you fairly, and you’re responsible for being productive and going home.” From this perspective, a company puts the onus on each employee to take pride in or love their work, or not. Perhaps anything else is a fool’s errand because, eventually, anything you are paid to do and evaluated for will feel like work.
In the end, my experience taught me the work world is complex and not simply about work culture, corporate values, or how each generation is defined. It’s much more complicated and appears to be heading toward an inevitable day of reckoning.