Gen Z Questions How Work Is Done? Good.

Best-selling author Dan Goleman explains why angsty young workers can turn into excellent leaders.

Daniel Goleman is author of the international best-seller Emotional Intelligence and of the forthcoming Optimal: How to Sustain Personal and Organizational Excellence Every Day. He is a regular contributor to Korn Ferry. 

“Thanks, Gen Z. The workers of America owe ya.”

This was the opening line of a recent article outlining the many ways this young generation is influencing the future of work. Well-known for prioritizing purpose, Gen Z has been adept at leveraging social media to push back against long-held business-word norms. From lobbying for a four-day workweek to pressuring leaders to address inequality in the workplace, Gen Zers can be insistent in advocating for things like well-being and sustainability, while lobbying against what they perceive as forms of workplace persecution.

Pradeep Philip, lead partner at Deloitte Access Economics, told Business Insider that this is possible partly because developed economies have created enough wealth in the past 50 years for those new to the workforce to question the status quo. In other words, in an economy that is relatively robust, it’s easier to think beyond working, day in and day out, just to put food on the table.

To be sure, this insight doesn’t recognize the many people who are financially struggling in the current economy. In 2021, the Census Bureau estimated that close to 12% of Americans—roughly 38 million people—were living at or below the poverty line. Gen Z, for all their future-oriented, altruistic efforts, may be more aware of this. Many are themselves working two jobs. A new survey from EY found that 39% of Gen Zers had both a job and a side hustle to earn extra money. This may explain why many members of this generation advocate for pay that is on par with the rising cost of living.

This combined focus—on doing what’s right and getting paid well enough at the same time—may bode well for the future of leadership. As Gen Zers move into positions of power, they may well demonstrate a commitment to both purpose and the bottom line—to supporting those who depend on them, while also refusing to do things that negate or override their more purpose-driven values. While Gen Z isn’t the first generation to live and work with purpose, they may have an innate ability to see profit and purpose as two sides of the same coin.

Creative, fiscally minded, and human centered: If these are the dominant qualities of Gen Z leaders, there is a lot to look forward to.

Co-written by Elizabeth Solomon


Click here to learn more about Daniel Goleman's Building Blocks of Emotional Intelligence.