Your Gen Z Co-Worker Is Hustling More Than You Think
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Your Gen Z Co-Worker Is Hustling More Than You Think

Ambitious 20-somethings are trying to knock down the stereotype that they aren’t into hard work

Wed, Apr 12, 2023 8:21amGrey Clock 4 min

Being young and ambitious right now often means proving that you can be both of those things at the same time.

That applies even to 25-year-old Charu Thomas, who earned an engineering degree in 3½ years after completing high school in three years. She founded supply-chain software firm Ox at age 18, raised $3.5 million in funding and, in 2020, made it onto Forbes’s 30 Under 30 list.

Yet in a breakfast with investors in the fall, she said they wanted to discuss “quiet quitting” and the motivation of younger entrepreneurs.

“They had this impression that Gen Z and younger founders were non responsive, were less legitimate, or lazier,” said Ms. Thomas on a recent morning from her Bentonville, Ark., office. She had just spent much of the night in the office to oversee a Fortune 500 client’s software deployment, she said, then attended a 9 a.m. staff meeting still in the T-shirt she’d worn the day before.

Such is life for many ambitious 20-somethings. Barely in the workforce, they are pushing long hours, building businesses, striving for promotions—even for their more-senior co-workers’ jobs. At the same time they are running into perceptions that their age cohort cares more about work-life boundaries and rejecting “hustle” culture than scaling the career ladder.

Like Ms. Thomas, many say they are intent on knocking down the stereotype. “I don’t want to be a representative of that kind of culture,” she says.

Gen Z, typically defined as being born between 1997 and 2012, isn’t the first generation to be typecast as it enters the workforce. Not long ago employers were hand-wringing over what they viewed as entitled millennials who, some bosses joked, wanted trophies just for showing up.

A growing body of survey research echoes the idea that workers in their early to mid-20s want control over how much they work. In a survey of nearly 5,000 adults by Prudential Financial last year, 43% of Gen Z workers said they went above and beyond in their jobs. More than half of millennials said they did, as did 62% of members of Gen X and 69% of baby boomers. A 2022 Gallup survey of about 15,000 U.S. workers shows younger millennials and Gen Z respondents reported declining levels of job engagement and higher rates of stress than other workers.

To show colleagues she works hard, 22-year-old Brianna Chang says she chooses to put in as many as 60 hours a week as a supply-chain planner at Microsoft Corp.

Ms. Chang said her work ethic was forged as a teenager, when she waited tables in her parents’ Chinese restaurant in Bellingham, Wash. She’s driven in part by the goal of making money to one day support her parents and says she’s disheartened when she sees peers on social media saying they don’t work hard.

But, she adds, that makes it easier for her to stand out.

“A lot of people my age, they are just stuck,” she says.

Managers and recruiters say that remote work made it tough for some young workers to find mentors and learn professional norms in the office. As a result, many of these young workers struggle with resourcefulness, professional networking and communications with clients and co-workers, says Julia Lamm, a partner in PricewaterhouseCoopers’ Workforce Transformation practice. Some also had to navigate layoffs at the start of the pandemic and are now on their second or third job since.

Jorge Tapia, a 26-year-old software engineer in Indianapolis, said he lets his work speak for itself as he wakes up at 6 a.m. to get to work an hour later. He’s given priority to building relationships with colleagues since starting his position last year at a logistics technology and software provider. On his first week of work, he sat down with a man he didn’t know in the office cafeteria.

The man turned out to be the company’s North America chief executive, who told him how he approached his own career.

It was a valuable lesson, Mr. Tapia said: “If I could talk to my CEO, I could talk to my co-workers, my managers, openly.”

Mr. Tapia said he is working hard in hopes of getting a promotion, which would raise his salary and allow him to better help out his mother and three siblings, ages 23, 15 and 8.

Financial security is important to Gen Z workers, according to interviews with and surveys of about 100 Gen Z workers between November and January conducted by the Conference Board. About half of Gen Zers and millennials said in a 2022 Deloitte survey that they live paycheck to paycheck, and about 30% of each group say they don’t feel financially secure.

Last year, Brandi Jones was working as a dance teacher and at the front desk of a dentist’s office, making about $25,000 and living with family, she said. She quit both roles in July to find a job that would cover her health insurance and pay enough for her to move into her own apartment.

To get that job, Ms. Jones, now 26, got certified in Salesforce’s customer-relationship management software, so that she could work at a nonprofit that uses the tool. She studied sometimes 10 hours a day to pass the exam, she said. After passing, she applied for more than 20 jobs over six months.

Aware of common stereotypes about young professionals, she says she asked questions in job interviews about company culture to get a sense of employers’ generational diversity and how they defined a successful employee. She says she eventually found a job at a nonprofit that pays about $100,000 a year.

No longer working weekends, she marvelled at having more free time at first. Then she started studying cybersecurity tools because she is considering a master’s degree. She wants to advance further, she says.


Consumers are going to gravitate toward applications powered by the buzzy new technology, analyst Michael Wolf predicts

Chris Dixon, a partner who led the charge, says he has a ‘very long-term horizon’

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Nothing stays these brokers from the swift completion of their appointed showings

Sun, Dec 3, 2023 3 min
What is the worst weather you have ever had to contend with while showing a home?

Justin Fox, broker/owner, Re/Max Professionals, Cottage Grove, Minn.

In the summer of 2011, I was driving some buyers—a mother from out of town with her two young daughters, each under 6—to look at homes. The first two showings were uneventful, but as we headed to the third, we encountered a giant wall cloud on the road. I see wall clouds all the time, but for those not familiar with them, it’s a giant tower of clouds, and it’s very dark and ominous-looking, so it can be scary. My buyer, who claimed to have been some sort of weather watcher, started freaking out, saying things like, “That’s a wall cloud! It’s dangerous! We’re going to have a tornado!” That in turn caused the daughters to start screaming and crying hysterically. They were kicking so much in the back that they caused the threading of my leather seat to come loose. I did my best to calm them down, but then the torrential rain and thunder started, and that led to more screaming from the kids. Thank God we made it to the next house within 10 minutes. I pulled my car into the garage to avoid the hail, and we sheltered in the basement for 25 minutes until it lightened up outside. Then we went on with our showings like nothing ever happened.

Victoria Rong Kennedy, associate broker, the Corcoran Group, New York, N.Y.

I wouldn’t say this was the worst weather, but it was definitely the weirdest. On June 7, 2023, I had three private showings lined up at 2:30 p.m., 3 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. to show my listing on the Upper East Side, which was a duplex penthouse with three terraces listed for $3.3 million. That morning, Canadian wildfire smoke was blowing through the sky of Manhattan. They were telling everyone on TV and radio to stay home all day, and I kept watching my emails and texts, hoping that all three groups of buyers would cancel their showings, but no one did. By 1:30 p.m., the sky was really dark. There was almost no visibility, but, still, there were no cancellations. At 2 p.m., I searched for an old Covid mask, put it on and walked out like a hero to go on the combat field. I could barely see anything a half block away, but I walked 11 blocks and two avenues and managed to get to the building. Well, all three groups of buyers and their brokers showed up on time. We all chatted about how strange the weather was. We put our masks back on when we stood on the living room terrace, which overlooks Billionaires’ Row, but we had no visibility. The sky was red and black, and all we could see was a small circle of light in the sky. It looked like the moon behind heavy clouds. It was like a scene from a movie.

Jeffrey Decatur, broker associate, Re/Max Capital, Latham, N.Y.

Living in upstate New York, I have experienced all kinds of bad weather—snow so deep it was up to my thighs and rain so hard that I wished my shower had that much pressure. However, the worst took place in April 2017, when I was showing a home in Waterford, N.Y., a suburb of Albany. It was during a late-season blizzard that came on fast, and there had to be about 2 feet of snow. The home had a normal-size driveway, but it was a foreclosure and was not shoveled. So, my client and I trekked up the crunchy, snowy driveway and eventually got into the house. As we were walking around, complaining about the Arctic blast and blizzard, I heard the sound of babbling water. I thought it was a fountain, so my buyer and I continued to walk around the house. As we moved toward the garage and family room, the babbling got louder, and as we headed for the basement, we saw that the pipes had frozen. The basement ceiling had fallen, and water was pouring in from the ceiling and the walls. The floor had about 3 inches of water and ice. I called the listing agent and left a message, but I couldn’t just leave the water running, so I waded through the freezing cold water in the basement and turned the water off. I didn’t really think that through, because I was drenched and then had to make my way back through the house and out into the blizzard again. When I opened the front door, I nearly froze immediately, and by the time I got to the end of the porch, I was crunchy and icy. When I got to my car, parked at the end of the driveway, my hair was frozen to my face, and I could barely bend my legs or feel my hands. I was walking like the Tin Man. It took me several hours to thaw out.

——Edited from interviews


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Chris Dixon, a partner who led the charge, says he has a ‘very long-term horizon’

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