In the evolving landscape of work culture, a clash is emerging between traditional
business models supporting in-office work and the preferences of Generation Z
employees who prioritize flexibility, environmental consciousness, and inclusivity.

It’s a pivotal moment in workplace dynamics, where the values of a new generation
— broadly defined as the first to have grown up with permanent access to the
Internet on various digital devices — collides with established norms and office work
ethics seen before the Covid pandemic changed things.


As large corporates and big business push for employees to show up and be present
during business hours, Gen Z workers are pushing back with demands for flexible
hours, arguing that commuting to work doesn’t fit with their environmental
consciousness and that working remotely is equally effective.
This conflict is becoming increasingly apparent as Gen Z becomes the dominant
demographic in the future workforce, and project-based independent contracting
and remote collaboration are gaining popularity as preferred modes of work.
The most recent Deloitte Global Gen Z vs Millenial Survey found that the majority of
Gen Zs (75%) prefer hybrid work or to work remotely, but fewer than half have the
option to do so.
Graphic designer Lexi Geddes, 27, of Weltevreden Park held down a permanent
office job for seven years only to give it up this year in favour of freelancing.


“It’s less money and no extra benefits but I am so much happier. I felt like I was
suffocating in that job, but for years I felt I couldn’t leave as everyone was telling me
‘understand that we all work long hours and put in overtime’ and ‘you can’t do your
own thing, you need a solid job and a stable income’,” Geddes said.


“But it was the environment that eventually got to me. Going into an office every
day where people were miserable took a toll on my mental health.”


“It’s less money and no extra benefits but I am so much happier. I felt
like I was suffocating in that job.”

Graphic designer Lexi Geddes, 27

Now, as a freelancer, Geddes works remotely and is building her client portfolio
with the end goal to go travelling and work from wherever she lands.
“As Gen Z we get a bad rap. Everyone tells us we’re bad and lazy and we’re
constantly reminded ‘when I was your age, things were so different’ when we are
really happy to deliver.”

Gary Silbermann, co-founder and director at disruptive digital hiring platform One
Degree, believes there is a need for radical flexibility in the job market.
“Tech big hitters such as Dell and Tata Consultancy Services have warned workers
to return to the office or face consequences. Remote working advocate Zoom has
demanded that all those who live within 80km of the office need to work in-person
twice a week,” Silberman said, explaining that the companies gave their reasons as
things such as lower productivity and a struggling or absent company culture.
But, he said, while these concerns were valid, an on-site office work culture was
becoming more difficult to enforce as the workforce becomes younger.

Recruitment administrator Courtney Sandilands, 22, of Pretoria — herself a Gen Z —
told the Sunday Times that while working from home was appealing, there were
benefits to being in an office.
“I think a hybrid work arrangement is a good one. There are lots of things I agree
with in the argument for working from home but the fact is that we are not nearly
as strong and dedicated as older professionals. We’re a soft generation that also
needs to be in the office to learn and ask questions and actually be part of the
business.”
Sandilands admits that Gen Z workers are more likely to want flexible work
conditions.


“I think a hybrid work arrangement is a good one. There are lots of
things I agree with in the argument for working from home.”

Recruitment administrator Courtney Sandilands, 22


“I have a friend who must be in the office all day every day, and it kills her. She
doesn’t like having to interact with people all the time,” Sandilands said.
But Silbermann maintains that an open-minded approach to an entirely different
way of engaging crucial skills, as opposed to hiring full-time staff, could be the
answer to improving productivity — a paradigm shift to suit Gen Z by aligning to the
worldview of younger, digitally inclined workers.


“In just six short years, Gen Z will make up 40% of the workforce. Unlike some of
their Gen X counterparts, they’ve grown up in a digitally-enabled world where
remote work feels effortless and second nature.”
Arguing against structured work hours, Silbermann said: “Gen Z can’t see how this
model results in financial stability or wealth creation. They can’t afford bonds; they
struggle to pay rent. They see their working parents constantly stressed and
exhausted — and 50% of their parents are divorced. It’s a model which doesn’t
inspire them.”

Isobel McAleenan, MD of Recruitment and Training Dynamix, who has explored the
Gen Z issue in depth, believes companies haven’t kept abreast of the changing needs
of the younger workforce, with company culture becoming a thorny issue.
“If you take a big company that takes a stand with their corporate social
responsibility — who do they appeal to? Is it the Baby Boomers or the Millenials? For
Gen Z a cause is important and they would prefer to see you using corporate
spending to upskill and boost young entrepreneurs rather than clearing lilies out of
the Vaal — not that cleaning the Vaal is not important to them.”
McAleenan said she had also encountered companies using job titles as a way to
exploit young workers.
“I can’t name the company but I had a digital marketing agency interview with a
young black female who was an account executive, and then appointed her as an
account manager, which is a more senior role with more responsibilities, but makes
the company look good. She was upset and asked me, ‘Isobel, am I being set up for
failure?’” McAleenan said.
“Your Gen Zs are not idiots, and they’re aware of the hustles and talk to each
other.”
Karien Strydom, founder and CEO of People Cube, believes it is business that has
the upper hand and that it will be Gen Z that needs to adapt. Her HR consulting and
recruitment company deals with local and multinational companies across a range
of industry sectors including medical, engineering, IT, financial and other
professional services.
“The so-called gig economy, or independent contracting, in my opinion is putting a
band-aid on a broken leg if a blanket approach is taken. Yes, Gen Zs are pushing for
digital workplaces instead of on-site working environments and, yes, they are the
most digitally advanced generation, but they are also the generation with the
biggest need for emotional connectivity and purpose in their careers,” she said.
“It’s crucial that employees, regardless of age, feel connected to the overall
company culture and purpose. Making use of contractors indicates that the focus is
purely on technical skills and would therefore only solve half the problem.”
Silbermann argues that Gen Z is motivated by short work stints and project-based
work and therefore is against restrictive employment terms.
“Gen Z will change jobs up to 10 times between the ages of 18 and 34 and won’t be
told where they can and can’t work. Not many businesses would want to invest in
expensive onboarding for someone who will be gone in a year to 18 months,” he
said.
But Strydom believes the answer lies in balance.

“As with everything in life, compromise will be key to success for both Gen Z
employees and the organisations that employ them. Many of my most successful
multinational clients allow for a hybrid working approach, allowing individuals to
work a few days a week from home.
“It is also important to note that though 40% of the workforce will soon be Gen Z,
they will still be working with both Baby Boomers and Gen X who easily feel
disconnected if their only interaction is via online platforms.”