As college and university classes of 2022 head out into the real world this month, they’re poised to take workplaces by a storm — and bring their politics with them. In an era of tense culture wars, this newest crop of recent graduates could emerge as a potential HR disaster for corporate America.
A recent survey of 15,000 members of Gen Z reveals just how willing America’s youngest workers are to bring activism into the office. The data shows that during their first few years in the office, Gen Z has eagerly infused their generational ethics into the workplace and demonstrated a willingness to turn down jobs and assignments based on personal politics.
It’s no wonder Gen Z is so willing to pipe up if they don’t get what they want — they’re simply repeating what they were taught on campus. In recent years, college kids have made countless headlines for their often illiberal — and immature — activist tactics. Students today regularly shout down speakers they don’t like. They demand trigger warnings, safe spaces, and cry closets to insulate them from uncomfortable ideas. Students are even willing to tattle on classmates and professors who don’t adhere to “woke” political orthodoxy — in fact, 69 percent support reporting “offensive” speech to administrative higher ups.
By almost universally capitulating to the student mob, university administrators have instilled a sense of entitlement in students while stunting their conflict resolution skills. As far as Gen Z is concerned, it’s been their way or the highway on campus; so why should corporate life be any different?
Unsurprisingly, Gen Z has rolled into the office place with demands. Bosses report employees asking for time off for period cramps or anxiety. They pressure their employers to take a stand on contentious social issues like BLM. And, if they don’t get their way, they’ll simply walk out. Remarkably, despite only just entering the workforce, 37 percent of Gen Z-ers say they’ve already rejected a job or assignment based on personal ethics and more than a one-third say they would quit a job without another lined up.
Workers in the previous generation — millennials — have served as a test case of how this mindset wreaks havoc on the workplace. Filled with 25 to 40-year-old activist employees, corporations have been forced to choose sides in the culture war. Last month, Disney workers walked out over the so-called ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill in Florida (and tanked the company’s stock while they were at it). Equinox — which also includes SoulCylce — faced strike threats in 2019 because its owner supported Trump’s candidacy. More than 500 employers experienced walkouts just within the three weeks following George Floyd’s May 2020 murder. And, in June 2020, Facebook employees working from home still managed to stage a “virtual walkout” over Zuckerberg’s choice not to censor Donald Trump.
Business leaders are stuck between a hard rock and an even harder place when navigating these conflicts, and there’s truly no winning. Fail to give into their employees and they’re accused of bigotry from progressive activists; but give into leftist demands and they risk accusations of wokeness from conservative onlookers. Either way some constants have emerged from these standoffs: Cookie-cutter solidarity statements (like the countless released in June 2020), awkward all-hands meetings (like Disney’s leaked town-hall advocating “adding queerness” to its content), and insane DEI workshops (like Coca Cola’s suggestion that employees “be less white”).
As more and more members of Gen Z enter the workforce — their viewpoints blazing along with their threats to resign — there’s no better time for corporations to stand firm on serving customers, not political ideologies.
Surprisingly, Netflix is leading the way in doing just that. In the wake of the Dave Chappelle stand-up comedy controversy last October, the streaming giant refused to cancel the comedian’s show following accusations of transphobia. Six months later, Netflix went even further, releasing an updated corporate workplace policy: “You may need to work on [movies or shows] you perceive to be harmful,” the memo warned prospective employees. “If you’d find it hard to support our content breadth, Netflix may not be the right place for you.”
Although Netflix has been hard hit from a post-pandemic subscriber slump, the company is still in business — despite calling activists’ bluffs. It’s time fore more corporations to not just follow suit, but set firm ground rules that encourage truly diverse workplace opinions before employees are even hired. Otherwise, Gen Z’s political stranglehold on corporate America will likely be far stronger than millennials’ — and that was pretty strong.
Perhaps most crucially, it’s also time for my generation to grow up. Of course workplace conflict is inevitable, but it should be solved meaningfully and constructively, not by whining to HR or staging a walkout. That’s not to say that a vegetarian should take a gig at a slaughterhouse, but any mature adult should know to park their personal politics at the office door.