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February 24, 2024

Gen Z — What’s a Paper Route?

Gen Z has prompted a warning that societal norms are changing, and the importance of hard work is on its way out.

By Dr. James Thrasher

Mike Rowe, the Dirty Jobs star and host of How America Works, has recently unloaded on Gen Z. Rowe said that the importance of hard work is on the way out, and we have seen the last days of a work ethic being a virtue. He said that work ethic, personal responsibility, delayed gratification, and a decent attitude were expected in the workplace, and those days are gone.

Gen Zers never had a paper route.

Delivering the Buffalo Evening News dry, on time, and left exactly in the right place for my customers, who regularly expressed exceptionally high expectations for me, forged my work ethic. The weekly charge was 55 cents, and I was taught to have change for a dollar in my hand when approaching every house. My mom would say, “It is wrong to force people to give you a tip because you don’t have change for their dollar bill. Present the 45 cents, and if they say keep the change, sincerely thank them.” I was ridiculed each week for getting change by the store owner where I picked up my papers. The owner said, “Take their money,” to which I responded, “No sir, it’s not the right thing to do.” When reconciling each account on collection days, I had to show my mom that the collected amount was correct down to the last penny. All of this helped to define my character, integrity, and work ethic.

My Baby Boomer generation represents the children of the Greatest Generation. Both my parents lived through the Great Depression. As Boomers, we were expected to work hard at an early age, believed in being loyal to one’s employer by giving more than a full day’s work, and believed in an employment philosophy of paying your dues. Growing up in my neighborhood meant doing daily chores, taking a paper route, mowing lawns, doing odd jobs, and having a job on Saturdays. This all began for us at the age of 14. On top of that, we took every opportunity to play outside, no matter the weather, learning the hard lessons of life. We loved real competition through Little League football and baseball, “Punt, Pass, and Kick” competitions, Junior Olympic Wrestling, and basketball open gyms. This expected work ethic continued into our high school and college years, when we were now juggling many more responsibilities and jobs in the midst of academic and sports aspirations.

Times have changed.

It has become apparent that Gen Zers do not have this same work ethic. Gen Z has prompted a warning that societal norms are changing, and the importance of hard work is on its way out. A number of factors have brought about this change.

A contributing factor is the upbringing of Gen Zers. This generation has had everything scheduled for them and given to them. Their helicopter parents have wanted to know who, what, where, why, and how about every aspect of their child’s life. Gen Zers have created their own protective home cocoons, and social media has become their reality. They have experienced sports without a score, COVID isolation, school shootings, participation trophies, mental health struggles, no responsibilities at home, an obsession with computer games, and CRT, DEI, and Woke philosophies. These influential factors have truly affected them and their work ethic.

Gen Z is currently being hammered for its abysmal work ethic. There are major concerns about the newest entrants to the workforce. This assessment is being validated by educators, recruiters, employers, and recent survey data.

Educators have described this generation as the entitled generation, unwilling to put in the time and effort to achieve its full potential. Intelligent.com found that over 50% of employers and recruiters think that Gen Zers have inappropriate work attitudes and present unprofessional behavior in the recruiting process. A Resumebuilder.com survey reveals that 74% of business leaders report that Gen Z is more difficult to work with than any other generation.

Survey data of these very transparent Gen Zers paints a troubling picture. They describe their expectations as: high pay with fewer hours, more paid time off, a newly defined work-life balance, immediate earnings of $75,000 to $100,000 right out of college, flexible hours, working remotely, and immediate job recognition and rewards. In the realm of work, they describe themselves as having a lack of initiative, short attention spans, limited interpersonal skills, no moorings, being depressed and burnt out (more than half of Gen Zers either have been diagnosed with or have been treated for a mental health issue), and having lost a sense of motivation and determination.

The well-established and long-standing virtue of hard work may be a fleeting memory of previous generations. The initial societal effect of a disappearing work ethic is being felt, and the long-term impact could be devastating.

Is there a silver lining in this devastating description of Gen Z? Well, not all Gen Zers meet this profile, which presents an incredible window of opportunity to those who are hard-working, responsible, motivated, and mature. These individuals will noticeably stand out amongst their peers, will be highly sought after by employers, and will have limitless possibilities in the marketplace.

Dr. Jim Thrasher is the Senior Advisor to the Vice President for Student Recruitment and the coordinator of the Institute for Faith & Freedom’s working group on calling.

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