Enzo Weber from the Institute for Labor Market and Vocational Research (IAB) of the Federal Employment Agency makes it clear that the under-30s don’t want to work less than previous younger generations. “Generation Z” just wants to work differently – and has good reasons for doing so. According to the labor market expert, this has little to do with a new disloyalty towards employers.
ntv.de: According to current surveys, “Generation Z” is particularly disloyal to their employers, and their desire to change jobs is more pronounced than in other age groups. Do your research results show that too?
Enzo Weber: There was no wave of layoffs in Germany like there was during the corona pandemic in the USA. In this country, even fewer people have changed jobs than before the pandemic. But of course young people are less tied to their jobs than older people. They often have fixed-term contracts and often have not yet found the job they want to settle down in the long term. In addition, younger people have less company-specific human capital, i.e. internal experience and networks. A weaker bond among younger people is therefore quite normal, regardless of generation.
So today’s younger generation is no different from their predecessors when it comes to the demands they place on their employer?
Yes, of course things have changed, for example household models. Earlier young generations grew up with the expectation that a woman would eventually become a housewife and a man the sole breadwinner. Nobody grows up with this expectation anymore. This has consequences: if both parents are employed, their jobs have to fit in with family life, parents need flexibility. In the past, a father’s job didn’t have to fit in with family life. The “corona shock” has shown that this is also possible: You can work mobile and flexibly. This “shock” has a significant impact on the entry conditions into the professional life of Generation Z.
And because of the shortage of skilled workers, this generation is better able to get what they want than previous young generations.
Exactly, my generation of the 1980s, for example, entered the labor market at a time of mass unemployment. Demanding something was relatively far away – one could be glad to have found something reasonable. Today there are two million vacancies, a record. You can implement wishes more easily. However, this does not only apply to Generation Z. Mobile work and the like are also required by 40-year-olds.
According to the survey, one reason for wanting to change jobs is a high level of stress for 42 percent. Do younger people feel stressed more quickly or has work intensification actually increased so that on average more work has to be done than before?
Satisfaction at work comes from self-determination, dissatisfaction from external determination: if I’m constantly being pressured into deadlines or overtime, someone else always decides. But of course stress also arises when I am self-determined but have too many tasks. I have no evidence that young people today tolerate less stress than they used to.
So you don’t think the accusation made by some older employees that their younger colleagues lack commitment or work ethic is correct?
No, I don’t see that. The frequently voiced assertion that young people want to work less is not true. Working time preferences have been similar for decades. In men they have fallen a little, in women they have even increased. If young people who “haven’t achieved anything yet”, as one might think, now make demands such as a free Friday, this can be misinterpreted as a lack of willingness to perform. Instead, I assume that they do not ask for less, but for something different. What is true, however, is that loyalty to the employer has decreased, but also if you ignore age effects, i.e. independent of generations.
WHow can employers promote the loyalty of their employees, under what conditions do employees feel connected to them?
I recommend looking at the essentials. You don’t have to follow every posh trend that might come from Silicon Valley. Self-determined working hours and a good mobile work concept are really essential. This is fundamental if you want to reconcile work and childcare. A personal development perspective is also important. We are experiencing major upheavals such as digitization and ecological transformation, which did not exist in the previous young generations. A job has to mean that you can grow, develop and get involved. Employers shouldn’t make generational conflicts out of it, because young people get something for shouting loudly. Not everyone has to get the same, but employers should treat everyone as equals, according to individual wishes. The big challenge then is to get all the wishes under one roof from an organizational point of view. This is complex but important.
What role does salary play in this?
The fact that workers are scarce is also reflected in wages. On the other hand, we have been experiencing a drop in real wages for three years now: salaries have risen less than prices. But wages will increase in the future. However, a job is not just about the salary, today the working conditions are essential. If they don’t fit, you don’t get people with a little more salary. It is important that employees not only get compensation for pain and suffering, but that pain does not arise in the first place.
With what claims have the young employees already asserted themselves on the labor market?
Mobile work is very different today, albeit not as strong as it was during lockdown times. But as I said, that doesn’t just depend on the younger ones. Anyone who demands office presence five days a week can cancel the position immediately. And working hours have become more flexible.
Is this also evident in jobs that cannot be done at a desk?
Craftsmen and other professions are also thinking more and more about it. In the past, it was often unthinkable that not everyone worked the same hours, for example. In trade or industry, of course, this meets a different corporate culture. It may take a little longer for this to become widespread.
On the other hand, the shortage of skilled workers will continue to grow as a result of demographic change. So such changes will increase, right?
It can be assumed. By 2035 we will lose seven million workers due to demographic reasons. This can be offset, at least in part, through immigration and greater participation in the labor market. But the competition for labor is becoming even more intense. The points mentioned are essential.
You had also mentioned fixed-term employment contracts. No wonder employees always feel a bit on edge with it, right?
That’s correct. As a result of the shortage of skilled workers, the fixed-term quota has also fallen. Before that, in the 2000s, it had risen significantly. Academics are still often employed on a temporary basis at the beginning of their working life, but most of them find a permanent position with good professional development over the course of their working life.
Aren’t young people today also less tied to their place and therefore less closely connected to their employer?
Mobile working can expand the labor market circle. If I only have to go to the office once a week, that can be a lot further away than it used to be. As a result, the scope of the labor market also increases for employers. They can no longer only look for their jobs in their own district. Someone who is best suited to the position in terms of content can also live further away.
Christina Lohner spoke to Enzo Weber