June 6, 2023

The Truth About ‘Funemployment’

A new trend is taking hold in Generation Z, but it’s not all it’s cracked up to be.

As thousands of college graduates wrap up their academic careers, they’re met with a moment that we of prior generations might well remember: the moment when their parents say, “Great, now get a job!”

However, the job prospects that at the start of the school year were believed to be nearly 15% better for the Class of 2023 than their Class of 2022 brethren have now deteriorated to the point where The Wall Street Journal called the job market “jittery.” The paper recently noted that those now seeking employment are “getting ready to enter a job market that is suddenly less eager to hire new grads.”

Granted, the concept of a “gap year” between high school and college isn’t new, and those who are graduating from college this year saw the class after them (which otherwise would have been the Class of 2024) take full advantage of it as the pandemic played havoc with on-campus learning for several quarters. And given that a number of students now work their way through college doing menial jobs, the idea of taking time off before embarking on a “real career” could appeal to them.

With this as a backdrop, “funemployment” was the subject of a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed by Suzy Welch, who may be better known as the widow of former GE CEO Jack Welch. Mrs. Welch, however, is a professor of management practice at NYU’s Stern School of Business, which means she comes across a lot of Zoomers, as the generation we’ve known as Generation Z has come to be called. While the concept of “funemployment” shocked her at first, she’s come around to understand their thinking, if not their priorities. When a friend who runs a large media company told Welch about the employee who left a meeting because she had to meet the plumber, Welch could counter with the student whose homework was late because she chose to attend a concert.

It’s a bold assertion, and in subsequent interviews Welch explained that “members of Gen Z took a more short-term view of their future and didn’t feel as beholden to their employers.” Part of that, she argued, is that the Zoomers have seen their parents who were productive and gave everything to their jobs be laid off anyway. As she told CNN host Michael Smerconish, when she asked her classes how many wanted to work in an office five days a week, “Zero hands went up.” The maximum seemed to be three, although many would prefer just one day a week.

Moreover, when students were asked about the topic by The Wall Street Journal, opinions were mixed. “Glamorizing ‘funemployment’ shows disdain for hard work and is based on a hedonistic conception of happiness,” opined Anika Horowitz of the University of Wisconsin.

“Our generation has been sold a lie,” countered Dartmouth student Eli Thrasher. “Irresponsible fiscal and monetary policies from politicians have caused the economy to stagnate. We were not responsible for kick-the-can stimulus packages, or a prolonged zero-interest-rate environment, yet we’re the ones paying the price. Companies we have dreamed of working for have instituted hiring freezes and layoffs, most of which specifically target junior positions.” In other words, it’s life — last hired, first fired when things go south.

Yet while Gen Z may believe they’ve come up with this merging of fun and joblessness, the dirty little secret is that their parents have likely already encountered the idea in their lives. Remember the Great Recession and the efforts to paper the “jobless recovery” as the Obama administration got underway? “Funemployment” was defined even back then as “a period of joblessness that you actually enjoy.” In fact: “Maybe you get to lay out, sleep in, work out, read up. It helps to have savings, severance, or an unemployment check to help pay the bills.”

Oddly enough, Suzy Welch mentions in the here and now that “some of her students were ‘getting a lot of help from their parents’ and they’re likely the ones praying they’ll get help from the government forgiving their student loans as well.”

Apparently, “funemployment” is made much more fun with other people’s money.

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