Gen Z is known to be a generation to take research about politics and the future into their own hands. With the internet at their reach at all times, it isn’t difficult to find resources to learn about political agendas and history. The increase in usage of platforms such as TikTok, which are primarily used as a source of entertainment for teenagers and young adults, has led to an online diaspora of its own, where Gen Z finds a community creating relatable entertainment made by people just like them.
In contrast to platforms such as Facebook or even Instagram, where adults, celebrities and even brands are frequent users, TikTok is a platform where teenagers feel free to express their opinion, interests, and not too rarely their political views, without a prominent adult audience. A genre of video that has been created a multitude of times is young users discussing their cynicism regarding their own individual futures; not simply about the collective future of countries or with reference to our growing technology. Individual fears of being trapped in the corporate hamster wheel and living to benefit a rich employer, while being miserable in one’s personal life, seems to be a distinguished fear for these TikTok users. It’s not that these are unique individuals with what happens to be a gloomy view on their futures: hundreds of thousands view these videos and a large portion of these comment, agreeing with the notion that they are depressed with the idea they could end up working a 9-5 job for someone else’s benefit, while being utterly unhappy in every other aspect of their life. It’s a startling idea when one looks at it this way, however after being exposed to this content multiple times, it’s important to consider what makes this sort of view arise.
It is undeniable that young Americans that begin to understand the work culture and capitalism that America thrives off of can be dispirited.
Modern day workaholic culture
It’s crucial to acknowledge that these users are primarily from the United States, a country although modern technologically, still adopts a rather discouraging work-life balance, with many large corporations having little interest in the workers’ lives and mental health. In the United States in 2017, the average worker at a company was given 15 paid vacation days a year for 5 years of experience at a company. Compare this to the United Kingdom, where workers are entitled to at least 28 days of paid annual leave, and one notices a significant difference. This American ideology of one’s life surrounding their work is one that many workers in the United States adopt, often because they have to, due to needing to financially support themselves and their families. This need is reinforced by the fact the United States does not offer universal health care and very limited parental leave, if any.
However, this work ethic also stems from Americans being lectured that whatever their job and income is, it is a direct representation of who they are as a person. An article by the Atlantic published in 2019, titled ‘Workism is Making Americans Miserable’ discusses how Americans view work as the ‘centerpiece of one’s identity’. This drive from a young age for success, financial stability and a rewarding climb up the corporate ladder, can be reflected in the poor work-life balance that the United States possesses compared to other developed countries. It is seen as a constructive trait to be a workaholic and flaunting your professional success is the perfect measure to prove your worth.
If this corporation that you are working for does not put your needs and personal life in front of its financial goals, that is when it can begin to feel like you are simply a hamster in a corporate wheel.
It is undeniable that young Americans that begin to understand the work culture and capitalism that America thrives off of can be dispirited. Not only can knowledge greatly assist the young people of today to advance society, it is also a tool to identify the adverse ideologies your country has and compare these to other countries’ views.
How is Europe different?
The European Union has put a direct spotlight on providing a proper work-life balance for all workers, with a focus on parents. It is no surprise that the leading 8 countries with the highest work life balance in the world are all in the European Union, with the Netherlands at the very top. Although it is logical that American youth are disheartened by the idea that their life is controlled by the traditional American drive for success and the deep-seated focus on hard work, it is an opportunity to learn about European standards of living and to deconstruct toxic beliefs about what it means to be successful.
To claim that due to capitalism it is inevitable you will end up serving someone else in a dreary office job also highlights the yearning for individualism, which is a key element of American worker culture. It does not have to be a distressing concept to work for a corporation that financially benefits others above you, most possibly to a larger extent than it is benefiting you. If this corporation that you are working for does not put your needs and personal life in front of its financial goals, that is when it can begin to feel like you are simply a hamster in a corporate wheel.
What can be learnt by this?
The most essential aspect of the job you have is that it gives you the freedom to pursue your interests and live a life that is meaningful for reasons other than financial success. What you work as does not and should not have to define who you are. If your job can give you the independence and financial freedom, by paying fair wages and allowing for sufficient vacation days, to pursue interests and spend time with family, that is most important.
Hopefully, the youth in America can break free from the sentiment that their life revolves around how high they can get up the corporate ladder. If they can adopt some European values about work-life balance, it will enable them to adopt a more positive view on what it means to grow older, become independent and live a successful life.
Cover: Tim Gouw