Not too long ago, Mark Zuckerberg logged into a question and answer session with his staff that I really wish I had seen.
Specifically, I wish I could have witnessed the Facebook founder’s face when a Chicago employee named Gary asked if the extra days off that were brought in during the pandemic would continue into 2023.
Zuckerberg seemed “visibly frustrated” by the question, according to one account of the meeting on news site The Verge.
He had just explained that the economy was probably going down. TikTok was a competitive threat and had had to freeze hiring for some jobs.
So no, Gary in Chicago, the extra vacation wouldn’t last and neither would the employee pamper days. People had to work harder and Zuckerberg didn’t care if some decided to quit. “Realistically, there are probably a lot of people in the company who shouldn’t be here,” he said.
Now, I have no idea how old Gary is, but considering the average age of a Facebook employee has been around 28, I doubt he’s seen the first moon walk. I also think a lot of bosses reading this would like what Zuckerberg said.
As work returns to something approaching pre-Covid normality, I’ve lost count of the complaints I’ve heard from managers, most in their thirties and forties, about their 20-something employees coupled, detached and indifferent years.
Here are some examples.
There was the bewildered investor who had told junior staff that they should be in the office when clients visited, only for that staff to say, thanks for the feedback, but I’d rather keep working from home.
There was the TV executive who was told that young staff working on a long shoot would prefer shorter hours if they had to leave headquarters.
A consultant told me about a younger colleague who refused to travel overseas for client meetings, insisting they could be done online. And a financial advisor who got angry because young people logged into important internal meetings where they kept the cameras off and said nothing.
I know these are just anecdotes. Some of the hardest working people I know are under 30 and too much weight is placed on lazy generational stereotypes.
Moreover, as British researcher Professor Bobby Duffy wrote in his excellent book, Generations, last year, complaints about youth date back to ancient Greece, when Socrates lamented his contempt by authority, bad manners and greed.
Still, the sheer volume and consistency of these latest complaints makes me wonder if something else is going on.
Dr Eliza Filby, a generational researcher who advises companies on how to manage and recruit twenty-somethings, thinks so.
He told me the other day that the pandemic had increased the factors that set these workers apart, starting with their overworked, burned-out bosses in their thirties and forties.
These older managers had weathered the tumultuous uncertainty of the global financial crisis, post-Covid, but often still relied on their parents to avert financial disaster.
It’s no wonder, Filby says, that his juniors ask, “Why are you working so hard? What do you have to show for it?”
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Younger workers also have a much better idea of how their job compares to what’s being offered elsewhere, thanks to endless social media updates.
They grew up knowing that they could make money on e-commerce sites like Depop, which is just as well because they often do. less part-time work than older employees their age, in part because the school is more competitive now.
The result of this is that a lot of younger, over-parented staff arrive at their first job with little idea of what’s better than serving beer, and little faith that it will meet their financial needs for life.
Filby’s advice: Listen to them. Provide great training. But, in no case, do not pay attention to all their whims, because “in reality you are not helping them during life”.
I agree. I also believe there has never been a better time to be an ambitious and hardworking young worker. Finding a great job isn’t easy, but if you can do it, you might find yourself surrounded by a lot of people your age, setting an unusually low bar.