The self. Our self. Who we are. It’s at the core of Western viewpoints of ourselves as humans. Take it too far and we end up in the self-satisfied level where humans are deemed superior to other lifeforms because of our complex sense of self. But, for the purposes of this post, we’ll include GenZ as ‘human’ rather than ‘other lifeforms’.
GenerationZ have seen their predecessors, the Millennials, subsume their own sense of self into the group. GenY have taken ‘There’s no “I” in team’ very seriously indeed. And GenZ is wondering where that’s got them. No chance of buying a house, entire industries destroyed, careers on hold thanks to everything from Covid-19 to AI.
Millennials also expected the group, the organisation, to come up with much of the heavy-lifting solutions to their problems. GenZ notes that hasn’t worked out well either. Yet throughout it, Millennials were told from birth that they were special, they could be anything, they were unique. As it turns out they could be anything, from unemployed to redundant to stuck in a mid-level job.
So GenZ aren’t going to be doing any of that if they can help it. And they have several elements on their side as they enter the workforce in increasing numbers. As Ernst&Young put it, they are ‘self-aware rather than self-centred [like Millennials].’
They are also self-reliant, self-starting self-learners. While that may sound rather intimidating to others within an organisation, the upside is that they need to check what they think, what they’ve learned and their direction of travel with their managers, so there’s a chance for regular feedback. GenZ are reliant on themselves to a huge degree, but they still need assistance on their journey from others, and that after all is what a good manager is for.
But it’s hard to manage people when they’re not there. Getting over distrust of staff working from home is going to be a big step forward for many organisations, but we are already seeing that doing so, effectively self-isolating while working, has its own upsides and downsides. Upsides are increased productivity, motivated staff and the chance to lower overheads and costs.
The downsides are exemplified by what they’re calling ‘Zoom fatigue’. Conference calls make a lot of sense a lot of the time, but they’re no substitute for real human interaction. The stress of trying to understand all six people’s non-verbal signals on a group call sends people into a spiral of exhaustion. We’re just not designed for it. And anyone, GenZer or not, spending significant amounts of time locked down on their own, working or not working, could well be getting into a dangerous place.
Solitary confinement was originally devised in prisons as a way to help a prisoner spend some time quietly reflecting on their actions, without interruptions. The idea was that the prisoner would ponder their crimes and behaviour and slowly become a model citizen again. That was the idea. The reality is that we know from grisly experience that eventually it breaks the individual down.
Effects of overlong solitary confinement include: ‘confusion, depression, insomnia, apathy, feelings of inadequacy, isolation, severe boredom and fatigue’. Doubtless several readers can relate to all or some of that after spending a prolonged period in solitary pandemic lockdown.
And going on to Google Meet orZoom and talking to the team is no replacement for real human interaction, partly because of ‘self-dissolution’, where our sense of self is dependent on our interaction with others, if only at the level of maintaining the ‘narrative self’ that tells ourselves stories – and we need to tell others those stories.
So that’s you, yourself. And into this weird state, that the world has never quite witnessed before, comes a new generation at work, GenZ. Somehow they have to navigate through it all and stay sane, productive and optimistic. Perhaps it’s the role of older, wiser heads to forget about themselves and aid these young souls in their quest for constant self-improvement.