The ‘Instagrammable’ Life: Why the New Generations View Work Differently

What do many members of Generations Y and Z do first thing in the morning? If your answer is “brush their teeth”, you’re missing a step. Long before that, they check social media. What is interesting is how social media rewires the ways in which these generations think about work and success. This can have serious implications for the workplace of the future — and not necessarily for the worse.

What you see is not what you get — but you still want it

If you’re confused about which generation is which, ‘Gen Y’ describes the millennials, born roughly between the 1980s to mid-1990s. ‘Gen Z’ is the demographic that comes just after, born between the mid-1990s and early 2000s. As savvy social media users, they know too well that the lifestyle portrayed on these platforms does not match reality. Yet, this does not mean that they are immune to the aspirational images they see. The title of this article picks on Instagram because it’s arguably the most effective at selling dreams. It is also more popular with the younger generation, compared to other media, and continues to be highly attractive for millennials.

Two unprecedented phenomena are taking place

Instagram is dominated by fitness inspiration, fashion influencers, models, humorous memes, motivational quotes, breathtaking travel images, mouth-watering food, and celebrities. Gone are the days when users only followed their friends. Even for the handful of users who only follow their acquaintances, they only get to see the best part of their lives: photos from parties, holidays and other exciting pursuits. Actually, users are now highly engaged with public figures who happen to make money from their social media presence. As a consequence, two unprecedented phenomena are taking place.

#1 Alternative role models are more visible

As opposed to previous generations, Gen Y and Z have many alternative role models contrasting the more traditional career paths. In fact, one thing that is absent from Instagram is any sort of representation of a large part of today’s workplaces: from hospitals, law firms, and corporations to charities or government organisations. Rather, those who are visible are food bloggers, artists, fashion models, entrepreneurs or fitness gurus, to name a few examples.

#2 Constant exposure to a glamourised version of life

There is also a constant exposure to a one-sided version of existence — one that is highly edited and desirable. This can often be at odds with the realities of life and, more specifically, working life. The latter certainly includes effort, hard work, some boring days and often unglamorous tasks. Although some may expect this discrepancy to create false expectations, Gen Z and Y are fully aware of the differences. Something more powerful is actually happening: a different value scale is being slowly created.

The result? A new value scale is emerging

If 20 years ago the goal was to have a steady job as a banker, doctor, accountant or lawyer, now even the brightest of the new generations are thinking twice about these career options. This has a lot to do with social norms and perceived prestige. If you could previously boast at a dinner party about your promotion as a lawyer and still impress your guests, what you really need now is an ‘Instagrammable’ life.

A career on their own terms

So, it’s not that the new generations do not want the traditional careers. But these are no longer on the top of their list. Or, more precisely, the new generations want these careers as long as they offer them a lifestyle that is compatible with what is socially valued today. This is not necessarily a bad development. Simply, the criteria that are starting to dominate career choices revolve around a different set of values. Beyond financial gains, a job should bring freedom, the possibility to derive pleasure from it, more time for leisurely activities and ideally, be slightly less formal and a tiny bit cooler.

Organisations that work in more traditional fields are therefore at risk of losing talent that would have previously considered them as first career options. The office bubble becomes less and less desirable in contrast to the opportunities in the outside world. To continue being attractive for top talent, organisations need to integrate the values that matter for the new generation in their way of operating.

I am a coach and trusted advisor to driven and gifted people who feel there’s an inkling of rebellion in them. I help them create more fulfilment and reduce stress in their work and careers, on their terms. Connect with me here:

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