15 Minute Read

Gym or Boardroom? How a Gen Z’s Workout Rebellion is Shaking Up Workplace Norms

Boy howdy! That sound you hear is 100 HR bloggers happily tapping their way across the keyboard this morning. it’s fascinating. what am I talking about? This Mirror article about an employer who was apoplectic about his Gen Z employee.

His big issue? A Gen Z employee parentheses (why gen Z is so important to specify I am not sure but we’ll get to that later) who refused to attend an 8:00 a.m. meeting because he had to go to a workout class. The employer wrote into a podcast where he was met with exactly what he wanted, simmering outrage.

All of the hosts stated that they didn’t think this Gen Z employee had any reason to say no to this meeting. a few caveats, though, that weren’t quite mentioned in the headlines:

  • First, the employee was told the night before that he was meant to come in at 8:00 a.m.
  • Second, the employee’s contracted hours, which is apparently a thing in the UK but it’s very similar to your normal working hours here in the US, are 9 to 5:00.
  • As I understand it, (and of course, I’m sure a lot is lost in this game of telephone), he was not to be paid for the meeting
  • He was expected to work a full day after this meeting, and it would have impacted his commute.

PLUS, As many of you who work out know (I am not one of you), sometimes you pay in advance for exercise classes. In a time of rising inflation and skyrocketing cost of living increases, is it really that weird for somebody to say no? I mean, if I paid for something, maybe a doctor’s appointment, a salon visit, or a certification class, can I really afford to miss it because you decided to hold an emergency meeting?

This incident isn’t just about a missed 8 am meeting; it’s a microcosm of the broader conversation about generational shifts in work attitudes and the sanctity of personal time.

The Gen Z worker’s decision to prioritize a pre-scheduled workout over a last-minute meeting, scheduled outside their contracted hours, has ignited a firestorm of opinions. The employer’s reaction, as broadcasted on the podcast “Demoted,” echoes a sentiment of disbelief and frustration, a reflection of traditional work values clashing with emerging ones. But is this simply a case of a young employee defying norms, or is it indicative of a deeper shift in workplace culture?

The employee was informed just the night before about the early meeting, a deviation from their usual 9 to 5 schedule, and without the promise of compensation for the extra hour. This context is crucial. In an era where work-life balance is increasingly valued, especially among younger workers, such last-minute demands can be seen as encroachments on personal time. The employee’s refusal, then, becomes a stand for boundary-setting, a concept that is gaining ground in today’s corporate environment.

Some commenters avidly agreed with the Gen Z employee’s decision. They emphasized the importance of respecting contracted hours and maintaining a healthy work-life balance. For instance, one commenter stated,

“The employee is contracted to start work hours at 9 AM AND was only informed about the meeting the day before, so they had already committed to an exercise class. It isn’t that they just deciding they weren’t showing up…it was outside of regular work hours without sufficient prior notice.”

The case of the Gen Z employee skipping a meeting for a gym session might not be an isolated mindset but a reflection of a broader generational trend. McKinsey reports that a significant 77% of Gen Z prioritize work-life balance, underscoring a shift in how the newest generation in the workforce views the traditional work environment. This inclination towards balance is not just a preference but a criterion for Gen Z when considering job opportunities.

The outrage and dismissal voiced by the podcast hosts reflect a generational divide in understanding work commitments. It’s essential to recognize that what was acceptable or expected in the past may not align with contemporary workforce values. Gen Z, along with younger millennials, are reshaping what it means to be committed to a job. For them, it’s not just about clocking hours; it’s about meaningful work, respect for personal time, and a balance that allows for mental and physical well-being.

The response on social media, particularly from Gen Z TikToker Alexandre Evidente, underscores this changing paradigm. Evidente’s satirical yet poignant query about compensation for the missed class and the demand for fair work hours resonated with millions, suggesting a widespread empathy for the struggle to maintain personal boundaries in the workplace.

Another perspective highlighted the broader issue of employee rights and corporate expectations.

“Companies have no right to ask employees to work outside contract hours. Especially without offering compensation. For too long, they have been getting free labor, which I’m ashamed to say I have contributed to as a worker. Good on Gen Z to refuse to buy into this corporate abuse.”

On the flip side, others felt the employee was way out of line, reflecting a more traditional view of workplace commitments. One comment encapsulated this view:

“This is an example of the work ethic among age groups. People in their 40s and 50s, and maybe older, would attend a mandatory meeting no matter what. The company normally pays you for your time. Whereas the younger generation feels entitled and things should revolve around their time. A workout class is not that important.”

Some weighed in on the debate, explaining the nuances of workplace dynamics and personal responsibility. A comment reflecting this balanced viewpoint read,

“It depends on the contracted start and end times. If this was 9am, then tough on the boss. Only if the contracted start time was 8am and this meeting was held ‘on the clock’ within expected working hours would the boss be right to see this new employee as not committed to the role.”

The discussion also brought forward varied perspectives and generational insights. A Gen X commentator provided a reflective view:

“What time does work normally begin? Gen X here and I can tell you that I jumped through every dang hoop I’d been brainwashed to jump through – in the long run it got me a big dose of ageism and PTSD. Go exercise, kid!”

The perception of mental health within Gen Z is a critical factor for employers to consider. Only 45% of Gen Zs describe their mental health as “excellent” or “very good,” according to Exploding Topics. This statistic points towards a need for increased mental health support and a work culture that promotes well-being.

While Gen Z values work-life balance, they do not overlook the importance of fair compensation. The Forage reports that 70% of Gen Zers prioritize pay/salary as a top aspect they want from their next job. However, this focus on financial stability goes hand-in-hand with a concern for mental health. Exploding Topics found that 61% of Gen Z report feeling “nervous, anxious, or on edge” over the past two weeks, indicating a significant stress factor that could be linked to work environments.

Another comment highlighted the changing attitudes towards work:

“Totally disagree, life should not revolve around work, balance is important. The younger generation knows the importance of self-care and so should employers. This is not entitled behavior, it is ensuring they stay well and don’t burn out.”

What this incident highlights is not just a generational clash but a call for a re-evaluation of workplace norms. The traditional 9 to 5 structure, the 40-hour workweek, and the employer’s assumed ownership of an employee’s time are all constructs that are increasingly being questioned. As we move into an era where flexibility, mental health, and work-life balance are prioritized, businesses may need to adapt to these evolving expectations to attract and retain talent.

Think about it: someone just made up the whole 40-hour work week. Someone just decided that employers can own your time, no matter when or where they want to use it. And someone just decided that the free market gets to determine wages. We might not like it, but there’s nothing that says Gen Z has to play by our archaic rules or change anything for that matter.

You know, it makes you wonder… If a Gen Z employee, or any employee really, told their boss the night before, “Hey, just a heads up, I’ll be coming in an hour later than I said, but you can’t deduct my pay. I’m not asking, I’m telling.” Do you think that employee would call a talk show, simmering with rage, to complain about their inflexible employer? I highly doubt it.

It’s crucial to note that Gen Z is rapidly becoming a significant part of the global workforce. As reported by Zurich Insurance, Gen Z currently makes up 30% of the world’s population and is anticipated to account for 27% of the workforce by 2025. Their preferences and values, therefore, are set to have a considerable impact on workplace cultures and employer policies.

I was at TA week recently, and I mentioned how a lot of the newer workers, especially Gen Z and some younger millennials, are simply refusing to follow the same old rules. And let me tell you, the outrage from boomers, Gen X, and even some millennials about this entitled generation (which, by the way, I thought was Millennials until Gen Z showed up) is really just frustration directed at the employers.

The demand for flexibility is more pronounced among Gen Z workers. A LinkedIn survey reveals that 72% of Gen Z is the most likely generation to have either left or considered leaving a job because their employer did not offer a feasible flexible work policy. This statistic highlights the importance Gen Z places on having control over their work schedules and the need for a healthy work-life integration.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m an employer too, and I definitely need my employees to work when I need them. But times are changing, and maybe it’s time for us to adapt too. As an employer, I understand the need for employee availability, especially in critical business situations. However, there’s a fine line between reasonable demands and encroaching on an employee’s personal time. Respecting contracted hours, providing adequate notice for extra work, and compensating for the same are not just legal requirements in many cases but also markers of a respectful and empathetic work culture.

What this incident highlights is not just a generational clash but a call for a re-evaluation of workplace norms. The traditional 9 to 5 structure, the 40-hour workweek, and the employer’s assumed ownership of an employee’s time are all constructs that are increasingly being questioned. As we move into an era where flexibility, mental health, and work-life balance are prioritized, businesses may need to adapt to these evolving expectations to attract and retain talent.

Consider this your wake-up call to re-examine your approach to employee time and commitments. It’s not about endorsing unprofessionalism or a lack of commitment but about acknowledging and adapting to a new set of workplace values. As employers, it’s imperative to strike a balance between business needs and employee well-being, recognizing that the latter is integral to the success and sustainability of the former. The future of work may well hinge on how well we navigate and reconcile these evolving paradigms.