How Can Gen Z's Digital Expertise Change Work-Life Balance?

Instead of the usual 9-to-5, Generation Z's work-life blend allows for flexible work hours that fit into our personal schedule.

How Can Gen Z's Digital Expertise Change Work-Life Balance?
VIdeo Blocks

They're known as "digital natives" — born into a world with Instagram accounts and iPads as toddler toys. They've never known a life without smartphones and internet. This is Generation Z, born between the mid-1990s and mid-2010s. By 2020, Gen Z will make up one-fifth of the workforce, working alongside millennials, Gen Xers, Boomers and Traditionalists. So while their counterparts may see "work-life balance" as a separation of the two, the constantly connected Gen Zers are actually blending them. That's according to 20-year-old Jonah Stillman, a Gen Zer whose insights into his generation have earned him consulting gigs with Fortune 500 companies. Stillman calls work-life balance:

"The most outdated model, because as everyone knows, work isn't really even a place anymore. It lives on our phones, it lives on our watches, it lives on our computers. ... Gen Z will push for a model called 'work-life blend,' where we know that work in life happens 24 hours a day, seven days a week."

This work-life blend is happening in what Stillman calls the "phigital world" — a blend of the physical and digital worlds. For Gen Zers, an office can be anywhere, anytime. We already see this happening in companies around the world, with an increase in remote work and flexible hours.Some call this new concept of work fluidity "the collapse of work-life balance" and peg it as a positive thing that will save us from the usual 9-to-5 office life. The benefits include giving individuals time for their personal lives, like picking up their kids from school.    However, research shows that work without time constraints or being "mentally at the office all the time" can lead to "strained relationships, a shorter life, and one-dimensional thinking." 

Stillman: "Gen Z's biggest downfall or problem is our is our inability to disconnect. … But it's really, like, a huge problem. I know, like, when 79% of Gen Zs say they show signs of diagnosed anxiety when removed from their devices. … It creates anxiety, not being able to connect." 

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Stillman says Gen Z values face-to-face communication, even if it's digital. He says they'll actually push the concept of a digital workplace to include more video conferencing, for example. 

Stillman: "My generation would consider this face-to-face communication. ... FaceTime communication, Skype, Google Hangout, you name it. … If I can see you, you can see me and we can hear each other, that's face-to-face communication. … We see no difference between the two worlds because we can operate seamlessly and both either different at different times or simultaneously."

But "Marketplace" host David Brancaccio says it may take a while for this to catch on with their older generation bosses. 

Brancaccio: "Odds are, their senior bosses are going to be people who've come late to the great digital revolution. There may be a cultural mismatch for a while. As the bosses think of approaches, management approaches dealing with the workforce, that's based on old-school, pre-digital times."

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If managers want to engage Gen Zers, Stillman says they can start by valuing their tech and digital knowledge.  

Stillman: "It's really one of the first times in history that you have a generation entering the workforce and being an authority figure on arguably an important factor that being technology and innovation. ... And if you're a manager and you invite those conversations and say: 'Hey, you know what? We're looking to change the way we communicate around here. We're looking for a better communication word for our clients,' you're going to have a great relationship."

Stillman says it's too soon to judge Gen Zers the way that millennials are being criticized by earlier generations. 

Stillman: "You start treating each generation as unique people and understand that there's no one's right, wrong, better or worse is when you really, really will understand how to operate and not only engaging Gen Z in the workforce, but how to fully capitalize on what we now have is one of the biggest multigenerational workforces."

Editor's note: This story has been updated to correctly identify Jonah Stillman's age.