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  • Writer's pictureKathleen McCaughey

I’m Not "Lazy”: Understanding Gen Z’s Approach to Work-Life Balance


woman contemplating work like balance in her head

Scrolling through my TikTok feeds back in July, I came upon Gabrielle Judge, who admittedly caught my attention. I found her “Lazy-Girl” videos rather blunt yet thought-provoking. While I thought the delivery was jarring, underneath the catchy branding, I found a profound resonance with what she was working to articulate.


For those of you who don't know who Gabrielle Judge is, she is a content creator, social media influencer, and advocate for work-life balance who coined the phrase "Lazy Girl."


What is the “Lazy-Girl Job”

A "Lazy-girl job" is one where you can earn a decent living, work from the comfort of your home, and not get overwhelmed by the perpetual hustle. Judge posted a video explaining that it is described as a “lazy-girl job” not because her followers are being “lazy,” but because it seems like it when compared to some of the toxic corporate workplace expectations out there. She also emphasized that her reason for using the word “lazy” was for marketing purposes, and wanted to get the message out to as many people as possible.


Although I am not advocating for some of the tactics promoted in some of these videos, i.e., quiet quitting, I do support the core message of the importance of real work-life balance. To me, this is more about taking a mindful approach to how we spend our time and energy. The reality is that my generation is simply taking a more holistic approach to their careers, life goals, and wellness by setting different boundaries. By being more intentional with our actions, Gen Zers can break out of the "grind" that has become the norm for some of our predecessors and instead focus on ensuring we succeed in all aspects of our lives.


The Double-Edged Sword: 'Lazy-Girl' and Other Narratives Perpetuating Stereotypes

While the 'Lazy-Girl Job' concept has certainly resonated with many, it's part of a broader trend where playful and catchy 'girl' tags are becoming increasingly popular online. They often highlight underlying social commentaries or reflect unique aspects of the Gen Z experience. Let's take a moment to explore some of these other narratives that are capturing attention.


In an article published by the BBC, they dive into various 'Girl' trends that are deemed "sticky and fun." The author points out that over the past month, there has been a rise in the viral “girl-math” trend, which includes spending habits that don’t make mathematical sense and “girl-dinner” which is a meal that only comprises of snacks. In the article, they state,

“Branding them as girl trends is a smart move if they want maximum impact. At their core, these labels are clever marketing, which gets people talking. However, as much as girl trends can build community and drive conversation, they can also be infantilising and reinforce harmful gender stereotypes.”

While I agree that most of these viral posts are funny and highly relatable at times, I do fear that publishing them and promoting them on social media is indeed infantilizing my generation without realizing it. This is opening us up to these quips being misconstrued and used against us.


Unfortunately, I think the hashtag and branding hurt us. While I deeply value its role in highlighting a critical issue, it seems to have inadvertently created a generational divide.


As a marketer, I understand the power of a platform with catchy positioning. When I have a message that I want to be both heard and understood, I recognize the importance of clarity in both the intent and content of that message to ensure it resonates with the intended audience. From experience, I've learned that if a message is misunderstood or not embraced, we must adjust to help change the narrative.


Beyond The Humor: The Real Message

My point is that by dramatizing this conversation, we are losing the sentiment of the joke. You see how quickly news outlets jump at the term “Lazy Girl” and focus on the “lazy” aspect rather than the work-life balance piece to it. Yes, it’s funny and relatable to say that all you did today was move around your mouse so that your Team's status wouldn’t change to “Away”, but we are missing the point. What someone is really trying to say is that they are not enjoying or not feeling fulfilled in their current position, and that’s a valid point. It is important to discover what you are looking for in a role and then look for positions that will align with the values and boundaries you have set.


That being said, it's also important to be flexible. Things don’t always go to plan, no matter how hard you try. Your job is never going to be sunshine and rainbows all the time. There will be times when more work is needed that might require you to be flexible in your expectations. Even if that is the case about twenty percent of the time, that still keeps a very good balance.


When you strip down this “Lazy-Girl” concept, to me, it’s about working somewhere that meets your work-life balance needs. And while that might mean different things to different people, it still boils down to not being overworked, being appropriately compensated, and feeling heard and valued by your employer. And none of these are very big asks, so when you try and mask this very serious conversation in the “Lazy-Girl” joke, people are missing the sentiment and seriousness of it.


The Sobering Facts (Some Unsettling Truths)

Looking at the bigger picture, the reality of employee engagement in the U.S. is eye-opening. According to Gallup, we've been on a downhill slope, with engaged employees dropping from 36% in 2020 to 32% in 2022. And let’s not forget women are feeling this dip more acutely.


This article underscores a growing trend that aligns closely with the values and priorities of Gen Z. The significant decline in employee engagement, especially among younger workers, accentuates the importance of aligning workplace practices with the evolving needs of the workforce.


US employee engagement trend chart from Gallup

But it’s not just about work. The pressures of today's world are weighing heavily on Gen Z’s minds. As per an Ogilvy study from 2022, a staggering 70% of Gen-Zers feel their mental health is dangling by a thread. These aren't just numbers; they're real-life issues faced by real people.


It's crucial to underline that Gen Z's quest for work-life balance is not about dodging responsibility or passion. After all, who doesn't remember the age-old advice from our Gen X parents about loving what we do, and it won’t feel like work? But isn't it essential to question whether the job aligns with our individual values and aspirations? Of course, you are going to want to do the bare minimum if you don’t like what you are doing. So, to me, determining whether you like what you do is the first step to determining if you are in the right job and role. While, yes it is important for a company to make employees feel engaged and supported, it is equally the employee’s responsibility to assess if they truly want to work at said company.


Bridging the Generational Divide

Many Gen Zers are adamant about striking a better work-life balance that most of our predecessors have not experienced. And just because our approach is new or different doesn’t mean it’s wrong. When the work ethic of Gen Z is discussed, some remarks such as “This generation doesn’t want to work at all” emerge, a perception that I believe is inaccurate. But when Gen Z tries to articulate that they just want to work within reasonable work hours and not overwork themselves, it seems lazy in comparison to what previous generations have done before. That is why a multi-generational conversation is crucial.


Gen Z is not being lazy; we're just not willing to sacrifice personal well-being for professional advancement as previous generations have done. Gen Z isn’t shying away from hard work; we are simply advocating for reasonable work hours that prevent burnout and preserve health. And we just want to make sure it's for a company that makes us feel heard. We do not wish to upend the system, just to simply evolve and take new perspectives into consideration from the new players entering the workforce.


I think it’s also important that the younger generations recognize the amount of work and the struggle there was specifically for women to get their seats at the table. While that struggle is not over, many young women today might have an easier path to securing that position. And we have those generations of women before us to thank for that. We might not say it, but we feel it. And we might not think it needs to be said or recognized. We now have the privilege and the space to say these things because the generations before us created this space.


Conclusion

To genuinely advance the dialogue, we need to come together. Gen Z's vision of the workplace is a call for understanding, empathy, and open dialogue. Instead of casting shadows of generalizations, it's time we promote meaningful, open discussions. By providing a platform for Gen Z to voice their perspectives, we can bridge the generational gap. Business and marketing leaders should understand that Gen Z's drive to redefine work stems not from a desire for lethargy but from an urgent need for balance, wellness, and meaningful engagement. In reimagining our work-life balance, we're not just shaping the workplaces of tomorrow but the very essence of our future societies.

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