Climate change is fueling Gen Z’s anti-work mentality

Life usually goes like this: you’re born, go to school, get a job, work for half a century, retire, then spend your days playing bingo or really caring about Jimmy Buffet. But many Gen Zers and younger Millennials feel like they’ve been handed an entirely different life script — and it doesn’t have a happy ending eating cheeseburgers in heaven.

Around the world, a number of workplace trends have sprung up this year: the #antiwork movement, the “flat-to-flat” and its sister silent abandonment, and the big quit. They all symbolize worker dissatisfaction, and while employees of all ages participated, Gen Zers often found themselves at the center of it all.

Like generations before them, entry-level employees in their twenties have a reputation for prioritizing work-life balance above all else, unable to shake the narrative that they don’t push hard enough or that they always quit their jobs for better pay. This is in part due to their life stage and the fact that they entered the workforce during an unprecedented global health crisis that has alienated the white-collar workplace.

But it’s climate change that’s the final nail in the coffin for some young workers who are already questioning the value of their jobs. Worse-than-expected global warming and rising sea levels have painted a bleak picture of the future, leaving some young workers to view corporate work with more apathy and less ambition.

“I see work as a necessity to survive,” says Ayem Kpenkaan, 23, who once worked as a software engineer for an auto retail company and is now a full-time content creator. He thinks most of his generation have negative feelings about work. “Why wouldn’t we? Proportionally, we are paid less than previous generations, we control less wealth and we have less and less to draw from it,” he says. Fortune. “I know very few people who wake up excited to go to work.”

When much of the Earth is facing one climate crisis or another (fire, flood, famine), it further relativizes the nine to five. “It’s hard to stress too much at work because we can watch the world crumble in front of us,” says Kpenkaan. “Emails or even TikTok numbers seem pretty small compared to all the weather news we receive daily.”

A new generational concern

The effects of man-made emissions are increasingly evident: look no further than the floods in Pakistan this fall, the 2021 heat waves in the Pacific Northwest or the increase in wildfires in across Europe this summer caused by record high temperatures. Older generations might have considered global warming a distant issue when they were around the same age, but it has become a major concern for Gen Z.

They are the generation most likely to say tackling climate change is their top personal concern, according to a Pew Research Center poll. A 2021 survey of 10,000 young people aged 16 to 25 found that 60% were “very” or “extremely” concerned about climate change, with many noting that their feelings affected their daily lives. And three-quarters of Gen Zers say they’ve had at least one mental health-related issue when reading about climate change, according to a 2022 Blue Shield of California survey.

The fact that other generations don’t prioritize solutions as much as Gen Z creates an ever-increasing sense of helplessness. “Climate change and the effects it has on older generations affect me because our generation is not in a position to make the decisions in government and make things work the way we want them to,” says Ryan Buck, a 21-year-old college student who runs Loud and Proud, an LGBTQ visibility nonprofit, and volunteers for a land conservation project.

It’s not just a feeling that the world as they know it might end, but that the future isn’t an end thing. “We are seeing larger than ever hurricanes sweeping through and destroying entire states. Having that promise of longevity is just not something our generation has had. At every turn, we saw how our lives could either be incomplete or cut short,” Buck says, referencing how Gen Z grew up after 9/11, graduated during a pandemic, and routinely coped. to school shootings.

Ryan Buck, young man in front of a lake
For 21-year-old Ryan Buck, climate change made him want to pursue activism

Courtesy of Ryan Buck

The society, economy, and workplace where Gen Zers build their careers are completely different from those of previous generations, says Lindsey Pollak, career expert in multigenerational workplaces. It’s not just about the environment; she cites student debt, the pandemic, growing political division and the potential downfall of democracy in the United States as other pressure points. Although these affect everyone, she says Fortunethis translates differently depending on your age.

Older generations may think more about their children, but people in their twenties may be more worried about their careers and financial prospects. “It’s a perfectly logical reaction to the really chaotic times we find ourselves in,” says Pollak, who is based in New York. “When it’s 75 degrees in November [in the Northeast]it’s weird.

Gen Z is leaving savings and career building

All of this uncertainty plagues Gen Z, whether in the workplace or in their bank accounts, prompting them to give up planning for the future.

“It feels weird to go into my job every day knowing that the impending future – or lack thereof – is simply beyond my control,” says George Oglethorpe, a 25-year-old employee of a creative agency that sees working as a necessity more than anything else.

It also created a more fatalistic mindset towards savings. “I want to enjoy the world while I can, I want to spend time with my family and loved ones, and while I would love to own a home, I know that now is probably not only pointless, but also incredibly unrealistic. “, adds Oglethorpe. .

It’s no surprise that younger generations are becoming increasingly disillusioned as life milestones like buying a home and retiring become harder to afford. The work begins to feel like a marathon with a finish line that keeps getting pushed back, and what’s at the end of the finish line is also uncertain. After all, it’s hard to look forward to your retirement days as a parrot head if Florida will be underwater.

As people live longer, the workforce changes. “It’s not uncommon to look at the career ladder in your organization and see people in their 60s, 60s, and even 80s who are continuing,” Pollak says. “So when you’re 22 and you’re like, ‘Oh my God, I don’t have a 30-year career ahead of me, I have a 50-year career ahead of me’ – that’s a really intimidating feeling. .”

Reheating world a Gen Zers quit business for activism

While climate change can make a person care less about their job, it can also be a key factor in whether or not they take a job.

Those who suffer from climate anxiety fall into one of three groups, Kpenkaan, the content creator, theorizes: “Hustle culture aficionados who believe that if they get rich enough, they can make money at through the crises to come; people who are sort of going through the stages and trying to find joy outside of work; and those who are beginning to engage in activism to fight the coming climate crisis and who are working only to support themselves.

Pollak says Gen Zers who attend his workshops often say they want to work for a company that aligns with their values, including environmental concerns. She notes that companies are increasingly expressing their environmental commitments and beliefs when recruiting. But the majority (81%) of respondents to the Blue Cross Gen Z survey said leaders were not doing enough to tackle climate change.

For Buck, the lack of good wages for young workers and the general failure to convince the generations in power to become more active in the fight against climate change seems a bit like a kick in the face. But that doesn’t stop him “from wanting to work and wanting to express my passions and trying to do something bigger than me.” This means working for himself or for a company that corresponds to his beliefs: “I can’t say that I would one day want to work for… an oil company that is making 500% more profit this year and is no longer paying its employees. ”

Instead, Buck chose activism. He plans to grow a vegetable farm through the land conservation project he volunteers for to provide food for his community and reduce emissions. Buck says if he were to work in a corporate environment he would probably be anti-work, but acknowledges that “sometimes we have to make ends meet”. After all, climate activism can be a rich man’s game; some Gen Zers may want to focus on activism but must prioritize a stable income instead.

The kinds of jobs that live outside the corporate world also seem like a way out of existentialism for Kpenkaan. “My previous job was a lot less enjoyable than my current job, but even working in a field that I prefer, I would still prefer to do nothing,” he says. “Maybe if I did something that was vital to humanity like a doctor or a farmer, but most jobs seem so fake.”

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