The stereotype that young people have less work ethic than their older colleagues isn’t new, but it also isn’t specific to Gen Z. This perception that younger generations have it easier or don’t work as hard likely dates back to prehistory.

But, in the modern workplace, there’s strong evidence that stereotype is flat-out wrong.

Generational Misperceptions Abound

“Some statistics and experts alike say young people are the most likely to be putting in unpaid overtime,” writes Megan Carnegie in an article for BBC Worklife. She points to April data from ADP Research Institute’s People at Work 2023 report based on input from 32,000 workers across 17 countries.

The data showed employees aged 18 to 24 tended to put in an extra 8 hours and 30 minutes of “free” work per week. They came to work earlier, stayed later, and often worked during breaks or lunchtime. This compares with about 7.5 hours for those aged 45 to 54 and about 5 hours for those 55 and older.

Lived Experiences Have an Impact

Part of this trend might have to do with the lived experiences of a generation that came of age during the upheaval of the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic disruption that came with it.

Those whose lived experiences included uncertainty on entering the workforce may have a very different outlook on work ethic and job security than others. Consider, for example, the famous frugality of those who grew up during the Great Depression.

“Gen Z workers have had to navigate a tough job environment from the start of their careers,” writes Carnegie. “Many started their jobs during the pandemic, and others have experienced furloughs or layoffs for the first time while still in their early 20s.”

Insecurity Drives Productivity

Since the pandemic, younger workers have also watched their companies cut back on jobs, pay increases, and promotions during economic uncertainty.

This, experts say, have left many employees insecure, resulting in their feeling they need to work harder and longer to impress their employers.

“It’s an effect that’s left them toiling in overtime—and setting them up for stress and burnout down the line,” Carnegie notes.

Data suggesting Gen Z tends to put in more unpaid hours on the job may be surprising to some managers and HR professionals, but the numbers speak loud and clear. Employers may therefore want to rethink their preconceived notions of younger generations’ work ethic.

Lin Grensing-Pophal is a Contributing Editor at HR Daily Advisor.

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