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Young people at work: a more responsible and individualistic approach

Young people’s expectations of work have changed. The pandemic has created a clash of preferences by allowing workers to take back ownership of their time management, says Claudia Senik.

Why is it so difficult to attract and retain young people in the company? What are the expectations of the new generations with regard to work? Studies on the subject point to a new relationship with the future, an attachment to autonomy and a reappropriation of time management. These attitudes have been accentuated by the health crisis. They lead to a redefinition of the meaning of work, in an approach that is both more responsible and more individualistic.

The return to the company, after the Covid break, was not a return to “normal”. The 2020 break was an opportunity to take a step back during which many employees redid their cost-benefit calculations, experienced self-organization, etc. and chose not to return to their previous positions. Workers’ expectations have changed. This is not just an increase in the bargaining power of employees due to economic conditions, but rather what economists would call a preference shock. And this one is particularly relevant to the younger generations.


Paradoxically, even if the health crisis had little to do with the climate crisis, it has, by analogy, accentuated sensitivity to global risks, so much so that environmental concern is now strong and almost universal. For the younger generations, this is synonymous with loss of future and a factor of anger and anxiety, and in turn calls for forms of eco-action as a remedy. That’s why it’s important for them to see their company credibly committed to preserving the environment. Uncertainty about the future also pushes them to demand immediate meaning from their work, which can no longer be seen as a sacrifice of their time.

Working in project-based mode

The other clash of preferences resulting from this crisis comes from the experience of teleworking. While for the majority of employees, a full return to the office is unthinkable, for some young people, work, even in a company, should no longer even be associated with a geographical location. This distancing from the office, the result of the increasing digitization of work, reflects a very strong demand for autonomy in the use of one’s time, but also a displacement of any space for socialization outside the walls of the company, therefore outside the work collective. This new delineation of the place of work in life does not necessarily mean that work has become less important. On the contrary, it is perhaps because young people have reappropriated work that they intend to arrange it more freely in time and space.

It is also certainly a more individualistic attitude in the workplace. Because in parallel with taking back control of one’s time, the other great expectation of the younger generations is expressed through the notion of impact. Far from accepting to merge into a large organization with distant objectives, the younger generations demand to be able to identify the precise outlet of their work. Thus, “having an impact job” does not only mean ensuring the consequences of the company’s activity on the world, but also the possibility of evaluating the results of one’s own work. In other words, it’s about working “in project mode”.

In a world where the future has become much more uncertain, taking better control of one’s time and identifying the immediate consequences of one’s work is perhaps a way to regain control of one’s life.

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