There seems to be a contagious disease at the heart of BV Holland. ‘A young generation of employees is cutting corners,’ I read in a column this week NRC. Numerous outlets wrote last year that members of Generation Z would ‘quiet quietly’, a vague term for saying what you’ve agreed with the boss, and then play a game of paddle tennis or something. I enrolled in March times magazine that even the young Taliban threaten to resign quietly, because now that the jihad is over they are just civil servants, and apparently lack the dedication of the good old times when they were still sitting in the back of a Toyota pickup with M16s, their beards blowing in the wind.
All alarming, though it also reminded me of ten years ago when I read this in slightly different terms about millennials, the yo-yo-yo generation. Is there also a problem? Not that we know. Silent abandonment is, above all, a good example of how a buzzword can become a quasi-fact through consulting firms and the media.
The term was made big on TikTok by a coach who was quite enthusiastic about it: it was about a healthy work-life balance and defining boundaries. All right, you could say, but quietly quitting soon became synonymous with laziness and indifference, and it came from TikTok, so it had to be a specific Gen Z ailment, right? Consultants conducted a full consultation with Gen Z to investigate this generation-specific condition and tell employers how concerning it is.
One poll (from Gallup) showed 50 percent of all US employees would quit smoking quietly, on a different continent, but hey, it was also quoted here and linked to Gen Z. Also, the commitment of US employees were under 35 last year. a few percentage points below that of their older colleagues. But in the Netherlands there is no evidence to support the idea that Gen Zers (or millennials) check out faster than everyone else. For example, I&O research shows that 18-34 year olds are just as likely as other age groups to say ‘they work to earn money, not to develop’. A reassuring fact from Gallup’s research on global workplace morale: all the Dutch feel relatively unengaged in their work compared to other countries.
Well, there are a lot of question marks over generational research anyway. When you read that “young workers don’t feel a close connection” to their jobs, is it because Gen Zs are disloyal and work-shy, or are they just young and looking? Maybe it makes a difference that they started their careers in the corona crisis, often with shitty contracts? And was the commitment among young people much greater in the year 2000? Despite this, generational research is often used to confirm boring prejudices about youth.
The idea that today’s youth are just lazy is more comfortable for some managers than answering tough questions about work culture. Colleagues may become suspicious of each other. A Gen Z person who says they don’t have time for that extra work can be accused of being “mentally switched off” a little quicker to tick-tock at home. Concerned HR managers write fact-free, concerned blogs on the internet that confirm the specter: how do you get those damn Gen Z people to work? Giving up quietly is quatsch which, with the help of consulting firms, automatically leads you to half the truth.
And that’s while finally starting a conversation between millennials and Generation Z about the fair distribution of caregiving tasks at home. Perhaps even with consequences for its accessibility outside of the boss’s hours. They must invent a term for it, which is then used to lecture them, ghost race more or less. I can’t promise I’ll ignore it.