A day in the life of a Gen Z employee working from home , according to TikTok star Corporate Natalie, goes something like this: “I brush my teeth, but then realize my meeting’s in one minute, so I sprint down the hall and sit down for the next seven to eight hours.” She’ll then try to go for a quick walk, “but realize I forgot to submit something, so I’ll turn around.” For dinner, it’s a Cup of Noodles and an entire box of Wheat Thins. “What happens after this? I do it all over again tomorrow.”
For the newest generation joining the workforce, it has been a rocky two years. According to Microsoft’s 2021 Work Trend Index , 60 percent of Gen Z workers—those between the ages of 18 and 25—said they’re either merely surviving or flat-out struggling. Compared to older generations, Gen Z workers said they were more likely to struggle finding a work-life balance and feel exhausted after a typical day of work. Some are coping in a distinctly Gen Z way: through TikTok.
The video-sharing social media app was the world’s most visited website in 2021, exploding in popularity among Gen Z and beyond. The content creators on TikTok and other platforms skew young: 76 percent are under 40, and 27 percent are part of Gen Z, according to research from consulting firm MBO Partners.
Enter Corporate Natalie . With more than 300,000 followers, she’s a viral sensation on the platform, poking fun at work culture in deliciously resonant 20-second clips. In one hilarious video , she satirizes omnipresent jargon like “aligned” and “unpacking your pain points.” In another , she jokes about finding the right way to respond to a message from her boss that she missed because she was taking a nap.
Natalie, who’s 24 (and for privacy reasons, asked that we omit her last name), deeply understands the unique struggle of Gen Z workers adapting to hybrid early in their careers. After graduating college in 2019, she moved to Silicon Valley to work in tech. She had only a year in the office before the pandemic forced her job to go remote. Being in video meetings all day—not to mention sleeping, eating, and working in the same room—gave her the idea to make light of her experience, and she posted her first video in November 2020.
“There are so many things that are so uncomfortable and funny and weird and oddly professional and oddly stiff that we do,” she says. “I saw the shared hilarity of us all working from home and figuring out all these new nuances that we were experiencing day in and day out, working from our bedrooms mere feet away from where we sleep. We’re all in that together.”
Here, she shares her personal insights on how the youngest generation in the workplace thinks about work—and how leaders can help them succeed.
“Be open to how strange it might be for someone to have never worked in a real office.”
1. They need help building their networks.
According to a December AP-NORC Center survey , nearly half of Gen Z workers say the pandemic has made their career or education goals harder to achieve. Many started their careers during the pandemic, and have never met colleagues and teammates in person. It’s harder for them to feel connected without hallway conversations or small talk over coffee. “We can only do so many virtual happy hours,” Natalie says. Once it’s safe to do so, “prioritize those in-person meetings and going to dinner together as a team.” That will help them feel more engaged with work and set them up for success as they advance in their careers.
2. Empathy matters.
“Be open to how strange it might be for someone to have never worked in a real office,” she says. “Understand that it’s hard to join this world in such a nontraditional way.” To start, leaders should ask questions and really listen to the answers. You’ll be surprised at how much you learn.
3. Their side hustles can help them build skills, grow in their roles, and advance their careers.
In the creator economy —the ecosystem of content made and shared on TikTok and other sites—side hustles are a crucial outlet for Gen Z workers to explore passions outside of work and build their personal brands. Half of the Gen Z workforce freelanced in 2020, according to a survey from gig platform Upwork. For Natalie—whose employer knows about and supports her social media persona—making TikToks has helped with her confidence, which in turn has helped her at work. “I just recently gave a presentation and someone at my work was like, ‘How are you so confident and eloquent?’ I truly think it comes out of posting publicly.”
4. They’re more open about their vulnerabilities.
Gen Z employees often feel more emboldened to speak up about their mental health, personal struggles, and other areas of their lives that have traditionally been kept separate from work. Call it the TikTok effect. “Social media gives everyone a platform to share their story,” Natalie says. “When you’re sharing that publicly to the entire world, you’re more comfortable sharing with your five-person team.”
New generations bring new ideas, and Gen Z isn’t afraid to try new things, take risks, and challenge the status quo—all of which support their ability to be creative and innovative at work. And if leaders give them space to be themselves, they might even be able to unpack your pain points—as long as everyone’s aligned.
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