Perhaps no other statistic encapsulates Gen Z’s attitude about work more than the recent finding that 56% of them would rather be unemployed than unhappy at a job.
At first glance this seems indicative of the alleged entitlement of Gen Z—while everyone from Baby Boomers to millennials has been dubbed the “me me me” generation, many employers fear that Gen Z will turn out worse. But I like to think this finding signals a much-needed reckoning with work that can benefit more than the youngest sector of the workforce.
The work culture of our dreams didn’t exist. So we built it.
India-based purpose-driven organization Girl Power Talk is aware of this too. With a commitment to education, gender equality, and community development, they empower youth from Southeast Asia and beyond with merit-based opportunities aimed at developing their technical knowledge and instilling a sense of purpose in their work.
In places where seniority reigns supreme, like India and the Philippines, young professionals are often viewed as expendable or capable only of menial tasks. Girl Power Talk challenges this longstanding assumption.
The Girl Power Talk team is 85% women; the average age of their member is in their 20s. In a world plagued with corporate virtue signaling, Girl Power Talk ensures that their advocacy is actually brought to life. In their own words, “The work culture of our dreams didn’t exist. So we built it.”
As Gen Z continues to populate the workforce, Young STAR spoke to some of Girl Power Talk’s young leaders from the Philippines and India to ask how an organization led by the current generation operates, offering hints at what we want the future of work to be like.
Gen Z is deeply passionate, and they want to be heard
Anjelo, 19, believes that when we empower youth early, we are able to maximize their potential: “We are able to give them the capacity to lead us eventually.”
“We have new ideas,” Dennise, 22, says. “And I think that opens up a whole new world.”
Age may also come with rigidity, according to 21-year-old Kurtney. “When you grow older, it’s harder to unlearn things that you’re already familiar with.” She urges young people to learn as many new things as they can as early as now.
Sreya, 20, observes that not only does Girl Power Talk grant them financial independence through fair wages for their labor, but they also get access to a platform where their ideas are heard and actually put into motion. “It’s getting implemented the way we want to, how we want to. It’s a utopia for me,” she adds.
“It’s important for [me] to be part of something that really values the things I’ll be able to contribute professionally,” Kent, 20, says. He quotes our Lord and savior Taylor Swift: “When you are young, they assume you know nothing.” Because Kent is listened to, he feels part of an active discussion towards meaningful impact.
They value equity in the office
Advocacy is what drew these young leaders to Girl Power Talk, but it’s the nurturing work culture that urged them to stay. Their feeling of being heard is rooted in the organization’s low-distance power culture—power is distributed relatively evenly, regardless of the company hierarchy. This manifests not just in their ideas being valued but also in how freely they interact with the rest of the team.
This is further supported by the fact that Girl Power Talk CEO Rachita Sharma interviews every candidate before making an employment offer. As a result of this commitment to personally selecting candidates, even new hires are afforded personal relationships and direct communication with their executive team.
“As an intern, I didn’t expect to be personally led and supervised by the founders themselves. That’s something you typically won’t experience in a corporate setting,” Kurtney says. Jesse, 20, adds that the onboarding process includes multiple members of the team reaching out to you. “[I thought], ‘Why did they want to call me, is this another interview?’ But they just asked me how I was, what my hobbies were. They just wanted to get to know me.”
Well-being matters to Gen Z—a lot
Young leaders are respected but not put on a pedestal. “They don’t expect us to know everything and execute everything perfectly,” Simran, 17, says. “When you make a mistake, you’re just told you will get it eventually. Ten people will reach out to you, [asking] ‘Can I help you make this better?’”
When I asked what they think the edge of Gen Z is in the workplace, Anjelo says, “We take care of everyone. We value everyone. We acknowledge their needs.” He says that because many Gen Z is aware of and are passionate about mental health, they make sure to cultivate a humane working environment.
Well-being is at the crux of why many Gen Z prefer unemployment over unhappiness at the workplace. There appears to be a consensus on the importance of work-life balance; the understanding that life doesn’t revolve around one’s career is becoming increasingly common.
“It’s not always [about being] material gworls. We also have to take care of ourselves,” Anjelo adds.
They are energized by growth and learning
Prioritizing well-being doesn’t mean Gen Z is lax about professional aspirations. In fact, Deloitte reported that we are likely to see “a return of the Renaissance figure: a person with many talents, interests, and areas of knowledge.” As such, organizations must be prepared to invest in their workforce through continuous learning and leadership programs.
Within Girl Power Talk, something that took interns by surprise was the multi-department model that trained them in different areas outside their assigned roles. Simran, who is a writing intern, shares that she also got to learn about social media marketing, reaching out to prospects, and public speaking. Sreya deems this system conducive to their personal and professional growth. It’s “training you to be a better version of yourself,” as succinctly put by Jesse.
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Perhaps my optimism has been blunted by the Doomed State of Everything, but it’s hard not to look for a catch. Apparently, the Girl Power Talk members I spoke to did the same. When Dennise first joined the organization, her mom asked, “Are you sure anak that’s real?” Everyone on the Zoom call laughed at their shared suspicion that it was a scam.
Yet there they were, some almost at the one-year mark, speaking about upcoming local projects they will spearhead; about carrying the title of “young leader.” “We’re a bunch of kids. We don’t know what we’re doing,” Jesse says with a laugh. “But we’re here, trying to make an impact.”
I like to think this impulse to change the world is a more accurate reflection of Gen Z’s relationship with work. They would rather be unemployed than unhappy; by which they mean doing something without the pursuit of fulfillment or common good is akin to—or worse than—not doing anything at all.