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Why Gen Z Is Opting Out of the 9-to-5 Job Grind

A new survey by Upwork shows many Gen Z workers are basically shunning traditional office work norms altogether.

By Kit Eaton, Inc. (TNS)

Gen Z workers aren’t just the youngest folks in the office. They’ve got a radically different approach to how they make a living than preceding generations. Consider fresh data from the freelancer networking company Upwork to see why. Its new survey shows many Gen Z workers are basically shunning traditional office work norms altogether.

We already know Gen Zers have AI chops, and “issues.” They may seek higher salaries than you’d expect and are keen on changing what “work-appropriate conversations” means. They may even be the most entrepreneurial generation. Now Upwork’s data could impact how you hire a Gen Z staff member, and even how you think about assigning them tasks.

Freelance, free time?

Upwork, a small San Francisco-based online freelancer marketplace, quizzed 1,070 Generation Z workers across the U.S. and found that a staggering 53 percent of them were performing freelance work for “at least 40 hours per week across a portfolio of different types of work.” A third of the workers had been working like this for over two years—roughly the end of the COVID pandemic.

Those statistics are interesting all by themselves, since they imply that Gen Z is moving away from traditional career-based roles, with particular emphasis on that idea of a “portfolio” of different types of jobs.

You may be tempted to argue that thanks to the internet, fast-moving technology like AI, and workplace changes brought on by the pandemic (yes, we’re talking about you, Zoom), this is a new norm that Gen Z is more or less being forced into.

But Upwork’s data show that Gen Z is keen on freelance work by choice, not out of necessity. The survey report notes that although “Gen Z professionals across all modes of freelancing are motivated by financial stability,” fully 70 percent say that they chose freelance work specifically because of the flexibility of schedules. Sixty-four percent said that freelancing freed them from an environment where age, race, and gender could limit them, and 62 percent because it let them pursue work they were “passionate about or find meaningful.”

But why?

Underlining that this is a self-driven trend, 61 percent of the Gen Z people surveyed said they did freelance work because it let them “take more control over their personal development and career path.” Gen Z is not going to yield to the demands and expectations of a crusty old millennial boss, cracking the corporate whip to improve the company’s bottom line, it seems.

In more proof that Gen Z isn’t just doing meaningless gig work, 45 percent of surveyed freelancers said they were performing “specialized tasks” such as “computer programming, writing, and design.” Twenty-four percent said they were part of the influencer and social media workforce, creating content for other people.

This last statistic will resonate when you remember that TikTok is facing a ban, driving up anxiety among many small-business creatives, and that recently Instagram changed its algorithms to, hopefully, favor smaller, less well-known creators.

An eye on AI

Since AI is the buzziest workplace jargon at the moment, Upwork also looked into how Gen Z is embracing it. You may expect the younger generation to embrace upcoming tech more quickly than older workers, and yes Upwork found 51 percent of Gen Z professionals overall are using generative AI. But freelance Gen Z workers use it even more often: Sixty-one percent use it in their work, compared with just 39 percent of full-time Gen Z professionals. This aligns neatly with data from Microsoft and LinkedIn that showed 45 percent of U.S. executives weren’t investing in AI tools for staff and just 39 percent of staff using AI had been given training. Gen Z freelancers simply aren’t constrained by a company’s training budget, or manager’s reluctance to embrace the tech.

How to hire Gen Z

All of this makes sense, if you take a big-picture view. Gen Z is a generation happy to pick up the black mirror slabs of their devices for almost any reason—and working at a job through a phone, tablet, or laptop from wherever they choose fits with that device-centered conditioning. The practical lessons from Upwork’s survey mean that if you’re looking to hire an AI-savvy, technology-embracing Gen Z staff member for your company, you may have to move away from the idea of typical staff members.

Upwork’s report quotes Kelly Monahan, managing director of the Upwork Research Institute, who says, “Business leaders and professionals associate freelancing solely with short-term, transactional work,” but they need to rethink things since “it’s much more complex than that.” Be prepared for your new staff to not arrive in the office for the Monday morning briefing, but instead Zoom in from wherever they’ve chosen to work that day.


(c) 2024 Mansueto Ventures LLC; Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.