Chicago — I recently wrote about high stress levels that Gen Z is facing in the workplace. However, I tend to think people in our generation are facing another stress-causing challenge that’s just as great: poor work-life balance.
Many Gen Z who have secured decent-paying jobs find them meaningful. They feel grateful to be advancing in their careers and in life. They feel fortunate to be working amid economic instability and rising costs. But at the same time, many of them find themselves working from morning to late at night for those benefits. They find themselves sacrificing time with family and friends to finish up projects. They shorten their break times for meetings. They do all this and more, wondering if their efforts are worth it for the kind of life they want.
That’s how I've felt too, in my first year in the workforce. For the first time, I had a chance to live in a different state than the people I love. At the beginning of that journey, I was laser focused on providing for myself and saving to pay off my student loans. I understood that it would take hard work and sometimes a lot of overtime, considering my experience level. I was okay with that. “I just have to stay focused,” I thought, convinced that spending the next few years of my life dedicated to work would fill me with a sense of pride.
The reality was different.
I was tired. I was lonely. I wasn’t making as much as I was worth, and the overtime I put in didn’t satisfy me as much as I thought it would. My work was meaningful, but for some reason that just wasn’t enough for me.
It was a confusing time because you hear about these legendary figures in history, who were hardworking, probably worked around the clock and changed the world because of it, like the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., for example. You look up to people like that, thinking you have to follow in their footsteps by emulating their behaviors, including their work ethic. But there I was, working long hours on meaningful work, sacrificing a social life and sleep, feeling unfulfilled. Every night I’d go to bed thinking about what mattered. “Is this all there is,” I’d ask myself. “Is there something wrong with me?”
Eventually, I left that job and moved back in with my parents to save up as I started a new job, a new chapter in my early career journey. I still had a lot to learn but that first work experience taught me this: life should be about more than just work, at least for me. There are indeed some people who enjoy the long work hours and long nights. Not me.
Apparently I’m not alone, according to a study by Microsoft. Young people have been quitting their jobs because of well-being or mental health (24%), lack of work-life balance (24%) or because of a lack of flexibility in work hours or locations (21%).
Here’s to those of us prioritizing our lives outside of work.