People are increasingly struggling to find the right balance between their work and their personal life. Many people are overworked, leading to stress, burnout, and decreased overall life satisfaction.
Gen Z believes that working less is the solution.
I think that this is a fallacy.
I derive a lot of fulfilment, belonging, esteem, cognitive fun, and stability from my corporate career, which I have recently been able to strengthen even further by working even harder - on my side hustle.
Paradoxically, that's how it is with me: The more I have worked in recent years, the happier I have been. But it also has to be the right work. One in which you are more or less in control of direction, quality, quantity and pace.
Rush-hour in everyday working life
The modern work environment can be cruel. Many people work long hours, often with little or no breaks, to keep up with the demands of their job.
This can result in chronic stress, anxiety, and depression. The situation is even worse for those who work in high-stress environments, such as healthcare, education, or social services.
For many knowledge workers, the lines between work and personal life have blurred, making it challenging to achieve a healthy balance between them.
I believe that it is not necessarily only about the volume of work. I think that organisations themselves are also the problem because you have so many dependencies. The more finely divided the division of labour and the more dynamic the market environment, the more likely you will feel like a small cog in the corporate machine, where you don't have control over why, where, when and how much work is done.
It makes a huge difference whether you're the cog (small or big) that turns other cogs or whether you are the cog that is twisted. In one scenario, you have the power and control to make decisions; in the other, you feel compelled and unhappy.
Challenges of the "Generation Z"
"Generation Z" faces a unique set of challenges regarding work-life balance. They have different expectations and priorities than their parents and grandparents.
Unlike previous generations, Gen Z tends to be more socially conscious and diverse, emphasising inclusivity and individuality. They are also known for their entrepreneurial spirit and desire for authenticity in their personal and professional lives.
As the newest generation enters the workforce, companies adapt to meet the needs and expectations of this tech-savvy, socially conscious group.
They place a high value on fulfilling and rewarding work but also want time for their personal life. This can be a tricky balance, especially in a world where work demands are constantly increasing.
If you ask me why Generation Z is the way it is, I have three answers:
- They are afraid of their transience, and accordingly, they don't want to spend their limited time on supposedly meaningless work but on seemingly meaningful journeys, experiences and friendships.
- It is a narrative that society and Gen Z tell each other reinforced, as if in an echo chamber.
- Like everyone else, Gen Z is searching for meaning in life. However, they face a unique challenge due to the flood of options and information available, making it difficult to discern the truth.
The only problem is that it is based on false theses because of (social) media:
- Film and television dominate the narratives of the underdog corporate workers in dull corporate environments with mean bosses who eventually dare to strike the liberation blow (e.g. Matrix 1). Rarely are the positive sides of the 9-5 presented.
- Social media is full of fake experiences and amazing pictures of people spending time together or travelling in the most beautiful places. The blunt truths behind the images and videos are often hidden.
I believe the truth is the other way around: what Gen Z craves – these Instagram lifestyles – is just a fulfilment patch that provides short but unsustainable dopamine shoots. And then, like junkies, they run after these subsequent document-worthy experiences, one after the other.
The Instagram lifestyle models Gen Z strive for can be compared to sugary food or nicotine in that they provide a temporary sense of happiness but ultimately only fill a void they created in the first place.
Investment Banker - focus on fancy job
Riding professional - focus on owning a horse with the perfect equipment and yard where they go regularly.
Cycling professional - with ambitions to race and with the new purchase of a new racing bike.
Music professional - with an expensive e-piano and the ambition to practise it intensively to perfect this art.
See? This is what I mean by this search for the next lifestyle "hit".
The alternative models are unconsciously overlooked or deliberately ignored as Gen Z dismisses them as Boomer lifestyle models.
The Impact of Work on Life Satisfaction
Many people believe that their job is a source of stress and dissatisfaction. However, research suggests that work can be a source of life satisfaction. The Harvard Study of Adult Development found that people who were satisfied with their work and had positive relationships with their colleagues were likelier to be happy in other areas of their life.
One may perceive the diligent worker who consistently works on their goals in a controlled, economical, and ambitious manner as dull compared to those glamorous Instagram lifestyles. However, this worker derives significant and sustainable fulfilment from creating tangible impact and value.
The genuine key to achieving work-life balance is not finding a balance between work and personal life, but to integrate it in a way that your work is just part of your life.
That's exactly how I see it: my corporate job is one life area just as any other, on par with other topics such as Health & Fitness, Family & Relationships or Knowledge & Learning.
For example, when I plan my goals at the beginning of the year, my work goals align seamlessly with my personal goals. There is no artificial wall.
How to get fulfilment from your job
Now comes the big catch. As described above, this does not work with every job. It would be best if you carved out a position that allows you to be the small cog that drives big cogs.
If you are the driven one, you will never be able to get happiness out of your job.
And here, unfortunately, we have a chicken-and-egg problem: if you have the mindset from the start that work is a chore, you will lack the motivation and drive to work your way into a suitable position in the first place.
Readers with a fulfilling job can now leave this article with a nod. For everyone else, here is how you can work your way into this situation:
Wherever you are on the corporate ladder, you should consider adopting the "Principal Agent" mindset.
The mindset is called that because it comes from the entrepreneur's point of view. Entrepreneurs who hire people to do work have the problem that they are often the only ones who genuinely act in the company's interest. This is understandable because the risks and opportunities lie with the entrepreneur, not the worker.
Now and then - maybe five people out of 1,000 or so - there are workers who, for whatever reason, are intrinsically motivated to bring the company forward holistically.
These are the few workers who solve problems instead of causing them. They are the ones who take a step forward when things go wrong and don't take a step back like everyone else. These are the ones you give a task to, and they do it autonomously, without needing instructions for all the details. They take care of it. If they lack experience, they bring the energy.
How do you get to a role or position in an organisation that allows you to fetch lasting fulfilment? Be that rare kind of principal-agent worker.
Entrepreneurs are greedy for this type of worker. They shower them with good salaries, development and appreciation. And not only the entrepreneur but also the colleagues value this rare good of the reliable, apolitical colleague who does not just work through checklists.
In conclusion, the pursuit of work-life balance is not solely about working less or escaping the corporate world. Instead, it is about finding fulfilment and meaning in our work and integrating it seamlessly into our lives. The key lies in becoming a valuable and indispensable employee, adopting a principal-agent mindset, and owning our organisational roles. Doing so creates opportunities for growth, development, and long-term satisfaction.
Generation Z faces unique challenges in the modern work environment, with the lines between work and personal life increasingly blurred. However, it is essential to recognise that seeking short-term, superficial fulfilment through social media or constantly changing lifestyle pursuits is not the solution. Instead, establishing a solid work ethic, focusing on personal and professional growth, and deriving satisfaction from our accomplishments will lead to greater life satisfaction and a more sustainable work-life balance.
Organisations also play a crucial role in fostering a healthy work-life balance for their employees. They must recognise and adapt to the evolving needs and expectations of the workforce, particularly as Gen Z enters the workplace. Encouraging a culture of autonomy, innovation, and personal development, while promoting a supportive and inclusive environment can help employees find meaning in their work and contribute positively to their overall well-being.
Ultimately, achieving work-life balance is not a one-size-fits-all solution. It is a continuous process of self-reflection, growth, and adaptation, which requires individuals and organisations to work together to create a fulfilling and sustainable work experience.
By doing so, we can create a better future for ourselves and the generations to come, where work is a necessary chore and a meaningful and rewarding part of our lives.