Both True readers know I’m a member of Generation X. But just when we and the boomers have gotten our heads around the powerful influence of the mighty millennial, we’re seeing our newfound flexibility and grace put to the test by “quiet quitting” and “act your wage.”
Meet Generation Z.
Members of Generation Z — born between 1997 and 2012, so now age 10 to 25 — are joining the workforce and changing the millennial-dominated dynamics that we elders were just becoming accustomed to. Gen Z (or zoomers, as they’re sometimes called) arrived on the scene just as pandemic recovery and unprecedented low unemployment were changing work forever.
Gen Z is a much smaller generation in total number than millennials. Yet this generation is already having an outsized influence on cultural conversations, including the ones affecting our industry. We need to look past the bad rap they get in the headlines: At a time when more and more oil and gas companies are pursuing what I call real decarbonization—radical innovation around digital transformation, decarbonization, and social justice—why shouldn’t we seek out the generation most passionate about—and likely to drive innovation on—these topics?
Both of these things are true:
- Gen Z represents a relatively small part of the oil and gas workforce and overall population.
- Like all generations as they emerge into adulthood, Gen Z is changing what industry leaders need to do to be successful.
Across college campuses, the number of new petroleum engineering graduates in the United States this year is expected to total about 400 — an 83 percent decline from 2017, despite a 25 percent increase in American crude prices over the same period.
The reason for the decline? According to Jennifer Miskimins, the head of petroleum engineering at the Colorado School of Mines, it’s in part the energy transition and associated belief that the industry is heading toward obsolescence. Students at Harvard, MIT, and Brown are protesting oil and gas recruiting events with messages such as: “So long as [the industry] is undermining young people’s futures, it won’t be welcome on campus.”
Young people today have wildly different priorities from what oil and gas leaders think. In a nutshell, many see oil and gas as a sunset industry with unstable, blue-collar jobs that is harmful to society.
This perception is creating a powerful disincentive for zoomers to (1) pursue education that could lead to a job in oil and gas, and (2) consider the industry for career opportunities. Both declining rates of petroleum engineer graduates and record attrition attest to this trend.
Young people entering the workforce are also grappling with what they see as the workplace’s outdated cultures, habits, and expectations. Social media trends expressing their frustrations around overwork and overwhelm have spread beyond Gen Z into the larger workforce narrative. Here are a few examples:
- #ActYourWage. This hashtag represents the movement for employees to put in the amount of effort that they believe matches their salary. Growing numbers of highly educated, well-paid workers now maintain a separation between their personal and work lives without feeling pressure to go above and beyond.
- #QuietQuitting. Despite the polarizing phrasing, Adamantine Gen Zers assure me that this trend is not about quitting or being a bad employee; rather, their focus is on establishing work-life boundaries to prevent burnout in the midst of a mental health crisis. Some believe quiet quitting reveals a systemic culture of overwork — or the “hustle culture” of all-work-all-the-time that dominated the post-recession 2010s.
- #QuickQuitting. The newest trend on the block for Gen Z is to leave a job the first year. This trend appears most common among early-career workers who are paid less and have less at stake in their positions. Interestingly, however, quick-quit rates have also risen for managers, vice presidents, and executive-level positions since mid-2021, according to new data from LinkedIn. Whether it be through the influence of younger generations or a byproduct of post-pandemic reality, nearly three quarters of all workers said they would be open to leaving their current role—regardless of how long they’ve been in it — in the next six to 12 months.
Is your blood pressure up yet? These ideas are, admittedly, polarizing — and some workers of older generations are reacting negatively. Managers are asking if they can discipline quiet quitting — or retaliate with quiet firing. Managers may also believe that their younger counterparts aren’t doing their share.
It all sounds like a leader’s nightmare. But is it?
Seize the day
Don’t fall for the oversimplified hype and the alarmism around quiet quitting and its hashtag siblings.
Bottom line: As a leader, you can view quiet quitting and similar trends as giving you the opportunity to think differently about your company. Spend your time and energy strategizing on how to bridge gaps in your workplace to make it equitable and inclusive for all ages. You’ll succeed through intentional and positive organizational change rooted in motivating our newest cohort.
- Hone your climate narrative. Ninety percent of Gen Z believes companies should act in support of social and environmental issues. Gen Z is also more likely to ask questions about companies’ sustainability commitments and activities. Your leadership response: Develop a consistent climate narrative tied to company core values, and then make sure recruiting and hiring personnel are fluent in your climate narrative and values. Provide authentic talking points around decarbonization efforts that tell future talent you are forward-looking and innovative.
- Change the face of industry talent. Gen Z is considered our nation’s most racially, ethnically, sexually, religiously, and gender-diverse generation yet. Racial equity is a key social issue for zoomers, and they are more likely to value inclusion in the workplace. Your leadership responses: Revisit educational requirements in job descriptions that may be excluding new prospects. Abandon your business-as-usual ways of attracting talent from traditional feeder schools and widen your net to include two-year programs, liberal arts colleges, HBCUs, vocational schools, and online programs. Provide recruiting and hiring personnel with talking points around your company’s diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) and environmental justice initiatives.
- Listen. The next generation has different interests and expectations from those of many current workers. Your leadership response: Talk to them with real interest and integrate what you learn.
Addressing the interests of Gen Z means evolving to meet the changing needs of the entire workforce —from culture to work-life balance to DEI to climate commitments — for the better.
Thanks to Adamantine zoomer Savannah Bush for her work on this piece.
Unsure on how to articulate your social and environmental commitments with Gen Z in mind? Adamantine offers custom assessments of your peers, customer group, and operational synergies to help inform your company’s engagement strategies. Reach out today for a consultation.
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Zooming right along,